Sunday, February 21, 2010

Half the Sky

I am currently finishing "Half the Sky," a fantastic book about global gender equality by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I just read a section entitled "Family Planning and the 'God Gulf'" in which the authors talked about the difficulty of getting anything done on maternal health and population control issues due to the deep seated distrust and differences between conservative evangelicals, and secular liberals. They say:

"...There is a "God Gulf" in American foreign policy. Religion plays a particularly profound role in shaping policies on population and family planning, and secular liberals and conservative Christians regularly square off. Each side has the best of intentions, yet each is deeply suspicious of the other--and these suspicions make it difficult to forge a broad left-right coalition that would be more effective in confronting trafficking and overcoming the worst kinds of poverty."

I feel like I am in both of these worlds right now. In some ways I feel a part of both of these groups (there are people I love and respect who strongly represent each side) and I feel like I can envision a world where they could work together on this issue. But it is so sticky and difficult. Kristof and WuDunn go on in the chapter to give examples of each side's excellent work, as well as pitfalls. At the end of the chapter they say:

"If there is to be a successful movement on behalf of women in poor countries, it will have to bridge the 'God Gulf.' Secular bleeding hearts and religious bleeding hearts will have to forge a common cause. That's what happened two centuries ago in the abolitionist movement, when liberal deists and conservative evangelicals joined forces to overthrow slavery. And it's the only way to muster the political will to get now-invisible women onto the international agenda."

I agree whole-heartedly. And here I am, feeling like I am in both of those camps at the same time in different ways, and all it seems I can do is make everyone confused by "what side I am really on." Is it completely impossible to not take a side? For these sides to acknowledge their differences, yet find common ground in education? In saving the women's lives that they can?

Diverse groups waging war on social ills instead of each other. Eboo Patel talks about that a lot. Many people I respect talk about that a lot. I talk about that a lot.

Is this idealism, or a real vision of what the future is? I pray I can do my part to help to make the latter the reality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I feel such an urgency today in my work. I know reading this blog that my talking about malaria is probably similar for you to beating a dead horse, but I have come to re-realize recently how important this is. I was re-reading this article by National Geographic, and it put into perspective again the enemy I am up against.
It talks about how some scientists think one in every two people in history have died of malaria. How there are parts of Zambia where for every 1000 kids, there is 1335 cases of malaria. That was not a typo, it means kids get malaria multiple times. The virus is smarter than we are in a lot of ways, and the ultimate answer for eradication will likely have to be a vaccine.

So, here I am in snowy inner-city Chicago in a heated office, surrounded by a thriving metropolis of people--most of whom don’t know anyone who has had malaria and might not even know what malaria is, or that it has killed more people than Spanish influenza, the plague, scarlet fever, measles, and polio. Combined. And I think about the accident of geography. How I was born here, ate a nutritious breakfast this morning, drove to work today, and have never had a family member suffer from malaria (other than myself, and I got it because I flew 7500 miles away from where I grew up). How I arrive at work every morning and think about Godlisten, Patrick, Agnes, and others who live by accident, coincidence, or fate in a place where they can suffer from cerebral malaria and die any day of the week. And that would be considered sad, but normal.

And the vast majority of people here are largely silent. This is not a guilt trip, it is just an interesting fact I think about a lot. That things that do not affect me or those I care about I simply do not pay attention to. If I did not have a relative currently suffering from Alzheimers, I probably would not want to give money for research for the disease, and I would have loved the movie The Notebook. But instead I do give money, and the movie makes me feel horrible and sad. Unfortunately for my family at this time there is not a vaccine for Alzheimers, and it is not treatable and preventable. But malaria is treatable and preventable. And vaccines are in the works. And 1 million people die every year from malaria. Kids. Pregnant women. People with futures.

That is why I get up every morning, drive to work when I am tired or it is snowy or I just don't want to, and talk about malaria and the importance of interfaith work in the solution with everyone I talk to, even if they don’t want to hear it. Because I am fighting. One of the most formidable foes in the history of health in the world. Because my voice has an impact, and I told my friends in Africa that I would say something, and that this disease would not always be a reality for them.

That is what I am thinking about today. The accident of geography and the urgency of acting now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

National Prayer Breakfast

I just got back a few days ago from the National Prayer Breakfast in DC. I stayed with the fabulous Randa Kuziez, my dear friend and fellow Faiths Act Fellow, who ushered with me at the breakfast. We got to be international hosts and together met people from 16 different countries, then we got to usher in the ballroom for the breakfast. It was really cool to be in the same room as all these famous, powerful leaders from all over the world, and hear some of them talk about their faith, and how it influences their lives and decisions. I feel like people like the Obama’s do not actually exist, but seeing them talking and laughing with a waitress and sharing about their lives with us in the crowd made them seem like real people. I like that. Pres Obama talked about a return to civility, and discussed how people of all faiths should work together. Our country has such a long way to go, but in that moment it was powerful to be in that room with 3,500 others and imagine a world where men and women from diverse faith backgrounds and from both sides of the aisle could wage war on social ills instead of each other. It was cool to be a Christian there with Randa, a Muslim, and share a common dream of our faiths working together to have a positive impact on the world. Definitely a powerful experience, I was so thankful to be there.

Life in Chicago is really picking up steam. The last couple weeks have been a turning point in our work. Really exciting things are coming at us from every direction, and it is hard to keep up. But it is starting to make all those hard days early on slugging through difficult things worth it now as our work begins to pay off with lots of interest from diverse groups of people. It is definitely an exciting time for us here. Also, for those of you who do not have facebook or are not my friend on facebook, I want to let you know that Tony Blair told us in a phone call that he will personally match any donations we receive for bed nets. I think that is so cool! This means that giving $10 can now save up to 8 people instead of 4. If you give through the following website, the money will be recorded by his staff, then doubled. Please consider giving.

In other personal news, I have decided to become a mentor for a teen mom in Chicago. I don’t know who she is yet, my first meeting is next week, but I am really excited about it. A few other girls in my small group are also doing it, and it will be fun to hang out with our teen moms and their babies all together. Maternal health is an issue that is becoming a larger and larger passion of mine, and this is such a tangible way to invest in someone, and meet some new people in Chicago. I will keep you posted. I am sure I will learn a lot.

Back to work, planning events and connecting people on 7 different campuses is time consuming! And fun. : ) And bad for the future of malaria……

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

it goes on.

Life goes on here.

In West Englewood, where my office is, there was a knife fight 2 days ago. Across the street. The people involved were 13 year olds. Why is this happening? It seems whenever the community takes steps forward, it is paired with steps back. So frustrating. There is a guy I have been reading named Gary Slutkin who did work for the WHO all over Africa as an epidemiologist. He studied cholera, AIDS, TB, etc, and is renowned for his prevention methods. He moved back to Chicago recently and discovered violence showed the same “symptoms” as an epidemic disease. He has launched a campaign called Cease Fire to confront violence the same way he did disease, and deaths in some of the worst neighborhoods have been down over 50%. I think the solution to a lot of the world’s most intrinsic problems is creativity. Thinking outside the box like Mr. Slutkin did, and getting incredible, sustainable, results.

As far as work goes, some fun things have been happening. Tony Blair has decided to match all donations we receive toward bed nets, which was an encouraging and unexpected announcement that will hopefully garner a lot of interest in our work. Here in Chicago, we hosted a Hunger Banquet for Haiti this past weekend. This is an event that shows hunger disparity in the world (some people sit on the floor and eat only rice, others get a full meal, etc). It was a smashing success, co-sponsored by over 20 diverse clubs and religious groups at UChicago, and raised almost $500 for Oxfam in Haiti. There was lots of interesting discussion about global poverty and what people can do to connect to issues that are far away (ie, Haiti, malaria, etc). Also, I am now used to always having a layer of weird crust on my shoes from the salt constantly being dumped on the roads; and I am incredibly grateful for the radiant heating in my apartment.

Multifaith cooperation and demonstrating how we all can work openly across faith lines with people different from us without compromising the intrinsic parts of what we believe has been woven into the fabric of who I am. I don’t know what is coming after this Fellowship, but I do know I have the most diverse group of friends one could ever ask for, and the communities they represent I want to respect and defend because of the friends I have within them. I more than ever believe my own faith is real and true, but that does not dissuade me at all from wanting to work with others who think differently than I do. It is fascinating and encouraging for me to hear so many diverse perspectives on why others are motivated to serve, and it challenges me to be a better version of myself.

Also, I have recently become completely addicted to the musician Matt Morris, and am now convinced that Huck Finns in Chicago has the best apple fritters on the face of the earth.

Off in a few hours to DC for the National Prayer Breakfast.

Like I said, life goes on. Thanks for being a part of my journey!