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Giraffe Heroes

Next up in our banner here, a teen who's a veteran activist. SAVING THE EARTH FOR HIS GENERATION Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez loves the outdoors. Maybe it’s the Aztec genes passed on through his father’s side of the family; maybe it’s the environmental activism modeled by his mother. Or maybe it’s just that the forest around Boulder, Colorado, is stunning, and Xiuhtezcatl has grown up loving it. Whatever the reasons, when he was only six years old, Xiuhtezcatl realized that something was happening to his forest, and that something wasn’t good. It was getting warmer, the trees were dying, the logs were feeding huge fires, plant growth was disappearing, and species of animals were becoming endangered. The changes are so real and so serious that 6-year-old Xiuhtezcatl gave a speech at a rally that was organized to make people aware of the human causes of climate change. It's not abstract for him, and his up-close and personal familiarity with the forest holds him in good stead with climate change-deniers, as well as others who may deride him for being overly concerned. “The proof,” he says, “is right in front of us. This is happening now, this is happening here, and this is real.” Xiuhtezcatl has been working for the environment ever since that first speech, particularly as the voice of the Earth Guardians, a nonprofit environmental group for youth. Before he was even a teenager, Xiuhtezcatl had persuaded the Boulder City Council to remove pesticides from parks, to require companies to contain coal ash, to implement a fee on plastic bags, and to end a 20-year contract with a gas and electric energy company (in favor of renewable energy). He accomplished the pesticide action by organizing a press conference of over 50 youth and over 200 attendees. He accomplished the coal ash action by speaking at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing. He accomplished the plastic bags action by creating a multimedia presentation using “plastic bag monsters” and showing it to youth and city representatives. And he accomplished the gas and electric energy company action by going door-to-door and by speaking at Council meetings. He has helped to organize dozens of rallies, marches, presentations, and other events. He's worked with officials from the city, county, state, and U.S. government, and he’s collaborated with over 50 environmental organizations. He started and performs with a music group called Voice of Youth, for which he writes original music and lyrics to educate people about environmental issues. Imagine the guts it must take for a boy of 12 to deliver an address to a mayor, or a U.S. Senator, or a throng of hundreds. But Xiuhtezcatl is motivated: “I am on a mission to bring the awareness of our environmental and climate crisis to my generation.” Xiuhtezcatl’s message is simple: “We deserve to have a say in the kind of world we are going to inherit. Youth are innovative and have a clear understanding of the environmental crisis and what it will take to turn things around. We have a powerful voice, and people are listening.” It’s more than education, of course: It’s getting people to take action. Xiuhtezcatl is only too aware that he’s too young to vote and that he has to depend on adults to make substantive changes: “It’s really important,” he points out, “to let people know that instead of just knowing what the problem is and feeling terrible about it, you know what to do about it.” And that could be a good working definition of an activist. www.earthguardians.org. Age when commended: teen (13-19) Year commended: 2013 Occupation: Student

How's this for an amazing young person?

Just got word--I've been a great-grandmother for a little less than an hour. Wahoo!

Guinevere

Look at the center of this image for 30sec Then watch Van Gogh's *Starry Night* come to life

Spirals--moving ones. Watch Van Gogh's sky spin.

Outing the Mermaid: A Novel of Love, Fear & Misogyny

amazon.com

“The prose is poetry, yet completely unselfconscious, and that ain’t easy.” –Robert Page Jones, Screenwriter & Novelist From the Jane Austen room at The Sylvia Beach Hotel: “Outing the Mermaid is Jane Austen with sex.” –Goody Cable, Hotel Proprieto...

Only 11 reviews so far--10 are 5-star, so that's good. But if you downloaded the freebie of Outing the Mermaid, please read it and go say something about it, OK? 'Preciate it.

Giraffe Heroes

As more women in the military refuse to keep quiet about assaults by their fellow personnel, we think of one of the first women to break the silence. BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON MILITARY MISOGYNY ~ PAULA COUGHLIN It’s one thing for a whistle-blower to stand up to a company; it’s quite another for a whistle-blower to stand up to the United States Navy. And when that whistle-blower is a woman—well, that takes real courage. In September 1991, when Paula Coughlin was a helicopter pilot and a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, she attended a Navy-sponsored conference called “Tailhook” in Las Vegas. Officially, the point of the conference is for officers to learn about advances in aviation technology. Unofficially, it was a wanton free-for-all that plays to the libidos of male officers. At the 1991 conference, hundreds of Navy personnel indecently assaulted the attending females. Emerging from an elevator, Coughlin herself was forced to “run the gauntlet”—passing along a line of officers who pawed and groped her, grabbing her breasts and trying to undress her. As she later told the WashingtonPost, “It was the most frightened I’ve ever been in my life. I thought, ‘I have no control over these guys. I’m going to be gang-raped.’” She was not alone. It turned out that at least 80 women were assaulted at Tailhook that year by these “officers and gentlemen." Coughlin dutifully reported what had happened to her superiors. Her complaints were treated casually or dismissed outright. She filed a formal complaint and was reassigned to desk duty. After more efforts, Coughlin succeeded in obtaining an investigation by the Naval Investigative Service. None of the more than 1,000 Tailhook attendees who were interviewed were willing to testify that anything was amiss at the conference. Nobody saw anything; nobody heard anything. Coughlin went public, and as a result some heads finally rolled. President George H.W. Bush saw the report on television and called Coughlin into his office and to the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Bush appeared emotional, saying that he could just imagine how Coughlin’s father—a former Navy pilot, like Bush himself—must have felt. On the other hand, a much less sympathetic Cheney told her, “Because of your complaint, I have had to remove the Secretary of the Navy.” Several other officers were subsequently disciplined, if lightly, but the damage to Coughlin’s career was done. She was ostracized at work and reviled in public; in February 1994 she resigned from the Navy. She sued both the Tailhook Association and the Las Vegas Hilton, settling out of court for with the former and getting a favorable jury determination from the latter. After the trial, though, it was no longer possible for her to associate with anyone in the Navy population. “I was in a café just after the trial,” says Coughlin, “and an irate woman came up to me and said, ‘God forgive me, because I’m a Christian, but you got what you deserved.’” The woman was referring to the groping, not the jury award. So Coughlin married a childhood friend—becoming Paula Puopolo—moved away, and took up both practicing and teaching yoga. All these decisions calmed her, drained her of her anger, and gave her some hope for the future. As she points out, “The philosophy [of yoga] opened me up to the idea that I could really stop hating . . ..” Women are still treated harshly in the U.S. armed forces, with thousands of reports of sexual abuse filed against military personnel each year. But Coughlin hopes that her incident—with all the negative publicity—helped to start the changes that must happen, but she’s concerned: “The climate for women in the military is probably better than it was just by the sheer number of females now entering. If a woman is lucky enough to work for a woman, she might get good support during a sexual-assault crisis—otherwise, it is completely up to the chain of command to informally or formally make the incident go away.” With more Paula Coughlins speaking out, the incidents will not go away. Update: As women members of the armed service follow her lead in refusing to keep quiet, Coughlin-Piopolo continues to speak in the media in defense of women’s right to serve without attacks from their fellow service members. Year commended: 1992

Good to see more women in the military speaking out, as Lt. Coughlin did.

Giraffe Heroes

Bringing you, every day, a new Giraffe Hero from our storybank of hundreds... A TEEN STANDS UP TO THE SHAMERS~KATELYN CAMPBELL Consider, if you will, these messages about sex: “If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you.” “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” “Condoms aren’t safe. Never been . . . never will be.” “Girls, you’re scarred for life.” “Sex can lead to scarred fallopian tubes and cancer . . . and you need to ask Jesus for forgiveness.” Now consider that these very messages are given routinely in U.S. public schools by a woman named Pam Stenzel, who spreads the word about “God’s plan for sexual purity.” In at least one instance, those messages didn’t go over very well. Katelyn Campbell was an 18-year-old honors student and student body vice president at Charleston, West Virginia’s, George Washington High School; she had already received a scholarship to Wellesley College for the following year. When she heard about Stenzel’s upcoming speech, she did some research on the woman and was appalled. She refused to attend the mandatory assembly, filed a complaint with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and was interviewed by the local newspaper about the public-school-sponsored event. And that’s when the trouble started. The school principal thought that Stenzel’s speech was just fine. A student who recorded the speech, said, “Some of the people were crying as they left, because she [was] telling us that we’re trash and we’re useless if we’ve ever had sex before.” The principal went on the offensive: He called Campbell into his office and said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell filed an injunction against the principal and the school board to protect herself from retaliation; the injunction was denied. Her story spread through the national media. The local community took up sides, and students and others turned against her—in newspapers, online, and in the halls. “It started out with people saying, you know, ‘She’s a slut, she’s a liar, she’s doing this for attention,’” Campbell said. Then the Hate on Katelyn Facebook page appeared, and things got worse fast. People ostracized her. On one occasion, a football player spat on her. Then, a week before graduation, Campbell was told that though scheduled to be a commencement speaker, she wouldn’t be speaking after all. “It was really a slap in the face,” said Campbell. Then there was some good news: Wellesley College found out about the incident and issued public statements welcoming her to the university. A petition was circulated to let Campbell know that “Your actions prove that the college couldn’t be a better fit. . . . At Wellesley you will find students just like you: strong, independent, intelligent women who speak their minds and work to make the world a more just and equitable place.” Others supported her as well. Campbell continued to speak out about abstinence-only messages, particularly God-based abstinence-only messages (States such as West Virginia that promote such messages typically have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases): “West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S.; I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW . . . information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.” After the incident, Campbell received a national student leadership award. Her college plan, she says, is preparing for a career in public health. And she’s still speaking out about sex education. “I feel like I’ve been given a unique position to be a vehicle for social change,” she said. “I have the mic, so I might as well use it.” UPDATE: Campbell is studying at Wellesley, which welcomed her with great enthusiasm. Age when commended: teen (13-19) Year commended: 2013 Occupation: Student

I'll be fascinated to see what this now-college student does in the years to come. She's off to quite a start. #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut

With all the renewed horror about police shootings of black men, these lines from the new curriculum I've imagined for a police training that makes sense: "Reasons to not enter such a re-imagined police training: If you think you're joining an army and you're eager to fight The Enemy, you've already flunked out. If you think Job One is protecting yourself, you're not brave enough for this job. If you can't experience the humanity of people who don't look like you, you're not civilized enough to be an officer of the peace." The full article is on The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-medlock/cops-courage_b_6249508.html

Giraffe Heroes

In the current crisis about water shortages on the farming lands of California, we're remembering the late Giraffe Hero George Ballis, who devoted his life to championing small farmers. Here's what he started doing for them over 30 years ago. CHAMPIONING SMALL FARMERS George Ballis is a change agent. And he’s implemented change in two entirely different ways. An ex-Marine, Ballis had been standing up for social justice since he was a young photographer documenting the struggles and the dignity of migrant workers in the 1950s. He knew it wasn’t fair that giant agribusinesses were illegally appropriating federally irrigated lands meant for small farmers, so he founded National Land for the People (NLP) and led a 30-year battle for farmers’ rights. He brought his fight all the way to the Supreme Court, organizing pro bono lawyers to successfully use the Homestead Act of 1862 as grounds for guaranteeing farmers’ rights to their land. The Homestead Act granted 160 acres of public land to anyone willing to cultivate it. But railroads, banks, and agribusiness giants like Southern Pacific Company, Standard Oil, and Tenneco were taking water for parcels far exceeding 160 acres, squeezing out small farmers. NLP legal victories allowed farmers to purchase desirable land and become economically independent, but eventually these legal successes were overturned by Congress. Disappointed, Ballis realized that the deepest social change is founded on a change of consciousness—from an emphasis on individual greed to the awareness of inter-connection and the sacredness of all life. “We can’t do it alone,” says Ballis. “We must become vulnerable, open our hearts, and work together.” To that end, Ballis and his wife, Maia, poured all their resources into developing Sun Mountain, a 40-acre land trust with an environmental and spiritual mission in Toll House, California. At Sun Mountain, visitors can learn about such things as organic, sustainable agriculture; alternative energy sources (they’ve built a 5,000-square-foot center fueled by passive solar energy); the building of inexpensive hay-bale houses. The Ballises even provide shamanic journeying and training in herbs and natural healing. “What this place says to any middle-class American person is, ‘Get off your ass, buddy, take control of your life. Assume your own power, the responsibility, and the authority,’” says Ballis. When asked to name a tool that could be useful to anyone working for the common good, Ballis answered, “A mirror. It will remind you that you are part of a lot of the society’s problems and that you have a lot of authority to change things.” UPDATE: George Ballis died in 2010 after a lifetime of fighting for justice and for the right use of US land. Year commended: 1986 Occupation: Farmer

Here's another Giraffe Hero, from our free online treasury of real heroes. There are hundreds more at http://giraffeheroes.org/giraffe-heroes.

Giraffe Heroes

Ada Balcacer was honored as a Giraffe Hero almost 30 years ago. Now approaching 85, she's still a force in art, still a champion of women in the Dominican Republic. Here's the work she was honored for, and is still doing. FOSTERING CULTURAL ENTERPRISE When renowned painter Ada Balcacer was asked to give a speech to low-income women in her home city of Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic, she responded with a better idea. “These women are tired of speeches. Why don’t we teach them something so they can earn a living?” These wise words were the foundation of a new project – Women in Industry – a way to answer two of Balcacer’s biggest concerns - maintaining the historical arts and crafts of her beloved Dominican Republic, and helping local women gain financial security and independence. As an artist, Balcacer was proud of her country’s 500-year heritage of European and African cultures, and worried that future generations would lose touch with the traditions and crafts of the past. As a volunteer in a poor section of the city, she was also concerned about the lack of jobs for women. Women in Industry answered both issues – teaching women how to make traditional crafts for modern markets. “It’s what I call cultural enterprise,” Balcacer says. Linking the past to the future, Women in Industry teaches skills to a small group of women, who then train other women, who in turn train more women. “That’s the way things stay alive,” Ada explains, “when it goes from one generation to another.” Using Dominican themes, the group designs jewelry, dolls, masks, and pottery, and even creates fabrics for clothing. All items can be made from local materials. For Balcacer, nature and creativity go hand in hand. “Nature produces constantly a series of materials that will somehow be a part of our industrial future,” Balcacer says about her island. “Products from the sea, fibers from the trees… we live in an eternal spring…” Balcacer developed three levels of training to help women learn crafts, sell the crafts, and become independent businesswomen. Determined to see her project succeed, she worked tirelessly 80 hours a week and was willing to do all jobs necessary. “If I have to teach, I teach,” she says. “If I have to sell, I sell. If I have to administrate, I administrate.” Within it's first three years, Women in Industry grew from 45 members to 545. As small groups of trained women left the cooperative to open their own businesses, new students took their places. After only ten years, Balcacer could look with pride at thriving businesses run by women who once had had neither skills nor hope. She’s counting on these women to pass their skills and their new awareness of their cultural heritage to the next generation. Her first nine pupils went on to run Women in Industry. Balcacer, an internationally known painter, can devote more time to her own art. But she’ll always help others. “I will never be satisfied just working for myself” she declares. “Never. I have to work for myself and others. I feel it is the only way to be happy.” [Photo by Nicole Sanchez]

I'm sworn to posting a Giraffe profile every day at Giraffe Heroes. Here's today's real hero... The stunning photo is by Nicole Sanchez. #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut.

Leek and fresh pea soup, garnished with creme fraiche, scallions, and chopped mint. Delicious but way too much trouble unless you have a Vitamix. I do. A garage-sale treasure.

Giraffe Heroes

HEALING SOMALIA In 1983 gynecologist Hawa Abdi, a member of Somalia’s elite and one of its first women doctors, left her job at a large hospital to open a one-room clinic on her family’s farm near the country’s capitol, Mogadishu. Her plan was to serve poor Somali women who had no medical care. “Within a few months,” she remembers, “I was seeing a hundred patients a day.” Eight years later, the Somali government collapsed, drought came, and many international aid groups that had been helping care for the poor, fled the country. With a civil war raging, Dr. Abdi expanded her clinic to a 400-bed hospital and established a camp for displaced people on her 1,300-acre farm. There are 90,000 living there now, mainly women and children. “The men,” Dr. Abdi says, “are dead, are fighting, or have left Somalia to find work.” To help handle the enormous work load, Dr. Abdi often works side-by-side with her two daughters, Deqo and Amina, both also physicians. Conditions on the farm are perilous, both from the war and from famine. After more than twenty years of fighting, food is being traded for weapons. “Warlords blockade the ports, intercept food, and sell it for arms,” the doctor reports. As part of sheltering so many people, Dr. Abdi is training formerly nomadic tribeswomen to farm and to fish, and she has started a school for 850 children, mainly girls. She runs literacy and health classes for women, as well as programs to discourage female genital mutilation. A small jail on the farm is for those who break a camp rule: No man may hit his wife. The only other rule is this: You help others. The security of the farm was breeched in 2010 by a band of Hizbul Islam soldiers—aggressive young men with hennaed beards and fingers heavy on the triggers of their guns. They ordered Dr. Abdi to hand over the hospital to them. “This is my property,” she told them. “I am the doctor here. I have the knowledge for it. On what legal basis should I hand over a hospital to you?” “You’re a woman,” their leader replied. “You’re not allowed to have authority.” Dr. Abdi did not back down. “If they shoot me,” she told her staff, “at least I will die with dignity.” The militants didn’t fire their guns then, but they returned in a week in greater number. Fully 750 soldiers surrounded the enclave, beat the camp’s guards, fired mortar shells into the hospital, and transported the doctor and nurses at gunpoint to a cell at the militia’s headquarters several miles away. Public attention was crucial to turning this disaster around. Dr. Abdi was on the phone with a BBC reporter when the gunfire began, so the attack was no secret. She managed to speak to her daughters by phone, telling them to let people know what was happening. News stories appeared around the world. After the hospital had been closed for a week, five armed men gave Dr. Abdi a new order: “We told the media that the place is open,” they said. “You need to open it.” Dr. Abdi insisted on a letter of apology, and got it. She told the militia officer who delivered it, “I am Somali. I am a mother. I am a doctor. And I deserve to be respected. I care for so many people around you. This was a tragedy you could have prevented.” Many had died in the time the hospital was closed, and the facility itself was in wreckage. Today, through the generosity of donors, the hospital has been, bit by bit, rebuilt. The attack, however, had a lasting effect: the last of the international aid groups still working in Somalia, left. With no other refuge, people are arriving at the camp now from as far away as 150 miles, walking for days without food or water. There is no room for them to live on the farm, but Dr. Abdi gives them what she can: free water and health care. “The need in our area is unimaginable,” says Hawa Abdi, “but my mission as a doctor is the same. I rise long before dawn with a single focus: to meet my patients’ needs.” #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes

Today's post, from the treasury of real heroes at www.giraffe.org.

Lessons learned abroad--a small one among many huge revelations--all you need for a beautiful centerpiece is a glass bowl of water and something green under the water. This is from a dinner table at Pilgrimage Village Hue, Viet Nam. The window frame is, I think, mahogany--rarely closed, so you can hear the frogs in the adjoining canal. Now I have to find a bowl like this for home.

Outing the Mermaid: A Novel of Love, Fear & Misogyny

amazon.com

“The prose is poetry, yet completely unselfconscious, and that ain’t easy.” –Robert Page Jones, Screenwriter & Novelist From the Jane Austen room at The Sylvia Beach Hotel: “Outing the Mermaid is Jane Austen with sex.” –Goody Cable, Hotel Proprieto...

Is it unprofessional to get weepy over reviews of your book? Veterans may have tougher skins than I have--as a newbie I'm finding it overwhelming to read the reactions at http://tinyurl.com/pefz4km. The five-star notes from people who seem to deeply understand the story make me cry-for-happy. And then there's the anonymous reader who seems to want it to be a really short book. I guess it's REALLY unprofessional to be pissed off by that. (If I'd wanted to write a novella, I would have.) If you downloaded the freebie during the publisher's promotion, I hope you'll go back to that url and leave a comment/rating about this semi-long novel. And I'll try to be more detached/professional. Maybe.

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