Friday, October 8, 2010

Fostering Dignity & Hope for Women in Kenya: The story of my friend, Jared Akoma Ondieki

When women activists and advocates gather to create their battle plans for winning gender parity, they often forget to engage one of their greatest weapons: the men who advocate on their behalf. In a world that continues to be dominated by male voices at the table, it is essential for us to acknowledge and further support the work of male advocates and leaders that share our belief that all human beings are created equal and that by empowering women, you are also igniting increased growth of larger systems and influencing global economics. It is with this thought in mind that I share with you the work of one young Kenyan father and community organizer, Jared Akoma Oniedki, who is walking right beside his sisters as they march forward.
Although he is remarkably humble and small in stature, Jared Akoma Oniedki's sage wisdom and inspiring voice of courage leaves a room of activists, artists, scientists, and some of brightest individuals in politics, business and academia attending Interdependence Day 2010 in sheer awe and breathlessness. As a 29 year-old citizen leader and the founder of CEPACET (Center For Partnership And Civic Engagement), Jared serves as a perfect representative of a global movement to foster connection and cooperation between diverse people and cultures.  He is shaping a better future for the Kenyan people, and doing amazing work that deserves to be recognized.  I am particularly excited to share with you the Kilimo Bora Kwa Kina Mama Project, an inspiring project that is economically empowering widowed women in Kenya through crop cultivation.

Setting the Stage…..
There exists much gender inequality in the Kenyan society, particularly for widowed women who are unable to inherit the land owned by their deceased husbands.  Even with a new Constitution in Kenya that establishes social rights and land ownership rights for women, implementing and funding such initiatives will take time and is embraced with skepticism by many who are most affected by the existing inequities (

Widowed women are often confronted with significant challenges in providing economic support to their families.  When their husbands pass away, property owned by widowed women is often immediately “grabbed” by male in-laws, leaving women landless.  Without being able to support herself off the land, she must resort to alternate means for economic support, including fish mongering---or the selling of fish at markets and on the street. Although this livelihood may seem fine, unfortunately women do not normally fish in the Kenyan society and must rely on male fisherman to acquire fish to sell.  With little money, women are often sexually exploited by male fisherman.  Not only is this exchange demoralizing to the women who are forced to resort to "sex for fish", but it is also one of the root causes for the 24% prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection in the Homa-bay region (

To address some of the challenges that widowed women face, as well as restore dignity to thise women Jared and CEPECET created the Kilimo Bora Kwa kina Mama Project to help the districts large number of widowed women gain self-sufficiency through food cultivation.  To better describe the project and how it works, I have included a recent project report below. As you will see, the demand for project participation far exceeds the projects current capacity.  If you are able to, please consider making a donation to this critical women’s empowerment project at  I also encourage you to contact Jared Akoma Oniedki at with your words of support, ideas for funding, and any potential opportunities for collaboration.
REPORT by CEPACET on the Kilimo Bora Kwa kina Mama Project

The farming project dubbed Kilimo Bora Kwa kina Mama Project (Food crop cultivation for Women) was designed to provide an alternative source of income for the widows in Homa-bay district far from the fish mongering business that is rampant in the area due to its proximity to the lake Victoria, which is largely responsible for the high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates amongst the women, most of whom are widows in the district.

The Kilimo Bora Kwa Kina Mama Project is to provide the women with technical know-how on and to popularize extensive food crop cultivation as a means for income generation. It seeks to provide 100 widows, who initially were fish mongers, with an alternative means of income generation away from the preying eyes of the fishermen who have taken advantage of their dependency syndrome. The women are trained in the following topical areas:

* General understanding of Agriculture(Small scale and large scale)
* Agricultural trends around the country
* Food security and causes of food insecurity in Kenya narrowed down to insecurity in   Homa-bay District.
* Types of soils and viable crops
* Food crop production as a means to income generation
* Climate change and environment conservation.
* Women economic empowerment (MDG3)
* Marketing
* Savings and access to agricultural loans.

On the registration day after mobilization, a total of 1,308 widows from one turned out for the exercise. A method agreed upon by the women, provincial administration and CEPACET was employed to come up with the 100 widows who were to be beneficiaries of the project.

During the training, with advice from the facilitator from KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research institute) and after examining carefully the type of soil in the project area, it was decided that bulb onions, tomatoes and cabbages would be cultivated in the demonstration plot for trials. However, other crops like carrots, green paper, potatoes were also mentioned amongst the viable crops.

The project was well received and owned by the widows and the entire community. This is evidenced by the turn out during the registration and other project activities. The activities were well attended by an average of 80 women per activity, provincial administration with a representative of the area chief anytime the area chief missed, and other members of the community including community opinion leaders. CEPACET would like to mention in this report that the kind of community involvement witnessed in this project is not a common occurrence in this project area, not even in projects that provide money in terms of allowances and other provisions.

The women’s participation in the project activities has been a clear indication of the way they have owned the project and their determination to improve their lives socio-economically. 
To get a turn-out of 1,308 widows for registration and an attendance rate of 80% in the activities is an indication that perceptions are changing and slowly the society is waking up to the realization that it is better to learn how to catch your own fish than wait to be given one at the owner’s time and will.
The project which was supposed to start in October 2009, due to unavoidable circumstances was begun on the 25th November 2010. As a result, activities had to be pushed forward giving space for proper learning and maturation of crops. It is because of this that the field day has been pushed to 8th May 2010, when all the crops shall have been harvested. The field day shall provide the platform for the women to showcase the harvest and also to sensitize the community to prioritize the needs of women and children in the society.

The Kilimo Bora Kwa Kina Mama Project started with little optimism from us at CEPACET since such agriculture projects are rarely received and owned by the communities living along the shores of Lake Victoria. This was the first time such a venture was being made by the non-governmental organization and expectations were relatively low. However, the response thus impact has been overwhelming. 
To have an average of 80 out of 100 widows consistent in their attendance of project activities and showing passion is just incredible. This show how much there is need for an alternative for fish mongering and CEPACET has provided these women with an opportunity to turn their lives over.
It is our desire that this project receives funding for expansion in order to ensure sustainability and create a major impact by moving empowering women and changing their predicament. In this way more children will be able to go to school, get good nutrition through feeding, and have clothing and proper shelter. As a result, we shall have contributed significantly in reducing the high rates of infant mortality, HIV prevalence and poverty and also end the circle of violence in the community.

There are other vulnerable groups including older widows who cannot practice farming any more and young teenage mother who do not have land to farm but are in dire need of income generating activities in order to provide for their dependents. CEPACET hopes that in future we will be able to train women on alternative methods such as poultry farming and dress making to provide them with the much needed opportunity to earn a decent living away from the eyes of the mean fishermen who use them to satisfy their sexual desires.
We are now moving on to Phase 2 of the Project where we want each of the 100 widows who have undergone this training to be helped to work on their individual gardens and farms.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

River Gypsies of Bangladesh

The waterways of Bangladesh are home to nearly 800,000 “river gypsies” or bedey (as they are known locally) that navigate along Bangladesh’s network of over 700 rivers and canals on their hand-constructed bamboo houseboats. This photo documentary depicts the lives of the families I met near Savar, Bangladesh.

As you will see in some of the images, many river dwellers are women. Women are expected to maintain their daily routines of cooking, washing, collecting clean water, and raising a family within the tight confines of a small boat. Not much longer or wider than a typical automobile or minivan, the typical houseboat is small in size, but surprisingly capable of fitting all of a family’s physical possessions onboard.

More of my photographic work can be found at or

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Strength In Our Common Dreams: Brick Factory Workers near Keshabpur Upazilla in the Jessore District of Bangladesh

Photo Documentary by Ellie Van Houtte
Web Portfolio at
Blog at
In my months of international travel, and years of community and political organizing, I can say that I have encountered people from many walks of life. From farmers and homemakers in the small towns of Iowa to day laborers and textile shop workers in India and Bangladesh. As different as their lifestyles, religions, and economic circumstances may be, the thread that weaves all people together is the common vision in goals yet to be achieved.

If you take the time to look in the eyes of someone different then yourself to genuinely listen to the story of who they are, you may be quite surprised to find a kinship that you may never have anticipated. When I met the women above at a brick factory on the narrow dust road near Keshabpur, Bangladesh, I felt closer to her than I had with almost anyone else that I had encountered before. I had not known this women for more than a few minutes, but her struggle to support her family by toiling tirelessly to mold earthen clay into bricks was a struggle that I understood.

The sweat on her brow and the strength in her face were like the expression that my mother and father wore on their faces as they separated the the flowers from the noxious weeds as they cultivated life on their farm in the United States. My parents devoted their lives to this work in order to enable my sister and I to lead lives of more prosperity than their own. With the privilege that I had been fortuitously granted, comes great responsibility, and in taking this photo, I was inspired to make a commitment to sharing her struggle so that one day her children could also find opportunities.

To share the stories and struggles of people I have met during my travels, I will post a weekly photo story. I hope that the images will inspire you to change your own life to make a positive difference for another life.

To share the stories and experiences of the people that I met during my recent travels, I will be posting weekly photo documentaries. I hope they will inspire you to change your life in ways that make a difference in the life of someone else.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A New Chapter Begins: Join me on my international journey!

Like the wide-sweeping emotion that transcends an audience to a heightened level of consciousness at the conclusion of a Greek tragedy, my journey of spiritual purification and enlightenment began during an epiphany that I experienced on August 24, 2009. In what seemed like a singular moment of katharsis (see definition below), I realized that my personal and professional success was being challenged by my narrowly delineated notion that someone else was going to create the "perfect" opportunities for me to thrive. In this life-changing moment, I decided to take control of my own destiny by becoming the person that I want and know I need to be.

In re-kindling my creative intuition, as well as fostering my strengths as a tenacious, curious, and entrepreneurial individual, I began planning an international adventure that would launch my “new life”. In less than six-weeks (August 4th-September 11th), I have orchestrated the elements of a global trip that will take me to the cobblestone streets of old and new Poland to visit one of my most inspiring childhood mentors, to the mountains of Nepal, the culture and spirituality of India, a wedding celebration in Bangladesh, and even a few other destinations along the way that are sure to be just as memorable.

My personal travel blog, “Katharsis, will document my journey to worlds of people, places and experiences that will feed my soul and guide my inner compass. I hope that my discovery, artistic curiosity, and cultural engagement will bring joy to you through poetic journal entries and captivating photographic imagery. I invite you to join me on my journey as I write about my trip and share the stories and images that I gather along the way. Perhaps you too will discover your own means to enlightenment!




1 : purgation 2 a : purification or purgation of the emotions primarily through art b : a purification that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension 3 : elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Home on the farm...

When I go home, I embark upon a journey back to my family farm in Grand Rapids, Ohio.  

To many, the first images that they think of when they hear the word farm are cows in pastures of grass, rows of field corn, and maybe a farmer in overalls riding a big green tractor (most likely a John Deere). Every one of these images are familiar to me from my experience growing up and living in rural communities across America---from Ohio to Iowa, but the images that greet me on my family's flower and vegetable farm in early summer are fields of blue and purple bachelor buttons, peonies popping into full-blown puffs of decadent fragrance, and vegetables like lettuce, zucchini and peas.  And I must not forget the tender asparagus that is so sweet, you can eat it raw like celery.

Although the farm is a place of much work----planting, weeding, harvesting, selling, and beginning the cycle again almost every week, it is also a place os serenity.  A place where one can wonder freely without the slightest ounce of worry and concern, as nature encircles you in the comfort of knowing that everything in life has a purpose.  Even though my purpose has yet to come to fruition, by witnessing the seamless coexistence of all elements of nature with one another, I have confidence my skills will somehow work their way into supporting the greater good.

As I straddle universes over the next few months, I plan to write about my experiences home on the farm.  I hope to share anecdotes from the customers that are like family and friends on the market, and also to illuminate the unique experiences of returning to the place of my childhood, and the place that has been an integral component of who I have and am becoming. So, I hope you'll enjoy the journey with me!

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Friday, May 22, 2009

WEEKEND EVENTS: Retreating Away---near and far. Garden Jazz, Sengalese Art, and Health-N-Wellness Expo.

The winds of life try to blow us in many directions, and sometimes we must simply allow them to sweep us away. So, this weekend I am retreating away from the city to rekindle my soul. No particular itinerary, nor particular destinations delineated on paper, simply a list of country festivals and quaint towns along the scenic mountainside drives of Virginia (North Carolina too, if I happen to make it that far south). My country meanderings reconnect me to the explorer within, and challenge me to let go of the weights that carry heavy on my shoulders.

Everyone “retreats away” in their own ways, and for some that may mean actually silencing time and staying right where you’re at. With rooftop pools and parks across Washington, DC open for the season, there are many places to find peace as we launch into the early months of summer.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this weekend is also Memorial Day, our national holiday for celebrating the brave souls whose bodies were lost during service to our country. Even if you’re not one to visit cemeteries or to participate in Memorial Day parades and festivities, I hope you will take a moment to salute the men and women who have made sacrifices for our freedom and how they have shaped who we are today. I’ve included just a few of many celebrations and events happening around town below.

JAZZ in the Garden
Lady A (jazz and R & B vocalist)
Friday, May 22nd (and every Friday through September 11th)
5:00pm - 8:30pm
National Gallery Sculpture Garden (Metro: Navy Archives or the Circulator)

Sangria, Food and Beverages are available for purchase at the Pavillion Cafe. You can also bring your own picnic and be sure to bring a blanket to chill out on the grass with your friends as seating is limited. For complete details and more info please click here! For a map of the Sculpture Garden, please click here.

Constructed Color: Amish Quilts
All Weekend
The Textile Museum
2320 S Street (Metro: Dupont Circle, Q Street Exit)
Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-5pm
Sundays from o1pm-5pm
Free Admission
Celebrate one of America’s most beloved artistic traditions at The Textile Museum this spring and summer.

Senegalese Folk Paintings with Artist, Niang Thierno
Saturday, May 23, 2009
1:00pm to 4:00pm
The Culture Shop
341 Cedar St., NW
Washington, DC 20012

Memorial Weekend Sale! 50% Off Senegalese Folk Paintings. 20% off any one item of your choice. Sizzling summer items arriving daily - shop early. In-store promotion only

Invited artist, Niang Thierno, is returning to France after an extended stay in the States.
Culture Shop patrons have a unique opportunity to purchase his fiery paintings at closeout prices. Mr.Thierno discovered his passion in 1966 during the African Art Festival in Dakar, Senegal - which ultimately led to his first exposition at the historic Goree Island in Senegal. His artistic technique is indicative of his origin - with everything around him reflecting a source of inspiration and creativity.

Pure Love Unity Festival & Health-N-Wellness Expo

(An event of DC Black Pride Weekend)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Love Night Club
1350 Okie St, NW
Washington, DC 20002
Admission: $10.00 or FREE w/ Pure Love Pass
Open to the public - 18 y/o or Older - No Children
The Pure Love Festival is a combination of celebration of the arts and
a celebration of self love, through health and wellness. The 19th
annual festival features local and national talent, vendors, food,
games, prizes and special guest. The Health & Wellness expo consist of
health and fitness providers from various arenas to offer fitness and
exercise training, healthy cooking, diabetes, syphilis, HIV, sickle-
cell anemia, cholesterol screenings and body mass index evaluations.
Special Guest: City Gym Boys, De Marco Majors and National Recording
Artists Crystal Waters.

For more information about these and other events (including parties,
poetry slams, movie screenings, interfaith services, and a bbq), see: and

Kennedy Center National Memorial Day Choral Festival
May 24, 2009
2 p.m.
Admission: $10
A 90-minute program features American choral classics in honor of those who have fought to preserve our nation's heritage.

PBS' National Memorial Day Concert
Sunday, May 24, 2009
8 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m.
PBS sponsors a FREE concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The concert features actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise, and other guest artists along with conductor Erich Kunzel and the National Symphony Orchestra.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finding Community: A Lifelong Journey for Some

“The current state of the economy suggests we are needed as much now, as ever before. Working to help women step up and out of homelessness is a process. Change may come slowly, but when it comes, it comes with great reward.”
Dawn Swan, Executive Director at Rachael’s Women’s Center in Washington, DC

Community is something that many of us take for granted everyday.

Our colleagues at work, our families and neighbors, a church congregation, or perhaps our sorority sisters---communities that many of us rely upon on a regular basis (consciously or subconsciously). Community is the network of support that helps us sew together the patchwork pieces of our personalities and talents together into a vibrant quilt that defines who we are. As difficult as it is to imagine, there are many women who are not encircled with a community of personal support. Even the strongest individuals among us, would struggle to find our self-confidence and individual strengths if we lacked the materials and sewing circle for seaming together the ups and downs of our lives into something that ironed out into an inherently beautiful creation.

I first recognized the gifts that I had in my community of family and friends when I met women who had none during a semester long, service-learning program in the Over-the-Rhine community of Cincinnati, Ohio during college. Second-Floor, West, was the corridor where many of the women of the Drop-In Center’s Substance Abuse Recovery Program found a community they could belong to for the first time in their lives. It felt like a prison to some and an escape to others. Through tears and testimony they shed their fears and found hope that they could find forgiveness in themselves and in the people in their lives that had failed them. Seeking to heal themselves would take self-discipline and personal will power, in addition to an ability to trust in themselves and the community of people around them to be there when they couldn’t handle the rough road alone.

Family was obscured for many. My friend Kim, a homeless, recovering alcoholic, had expended her wild cards with her family, and they no longer wanted anything to do with her. Erratic behavior, and decisions that spun her life out of control caused some of her self-destruction. Without a “home”, both figuratively and metaphorically, she followed a pathway into loneliness---a pathway into loneliness that only those that have experience losing their way can understand. The bottle became her friend, and the only constant she could count on in her life.

During long walks through Washington Park (the only substantial green space that was accessible to the women) and on the way to the Family Dollar Store or church for worship and concerts, we bonded together. We learned from each other---I received as much as they received from me. In the 6’x15’ closet, turned smoke room, the women shared with one another, and grew closer. Even though there was still much discordance between them in the ways that they would recover, they now had each other. Their bonds, and the halls of their temporary home, provided a safe haven and a place for picking up the pieces of their lives and finally finding the internal and external peace needed to rebuild.

I was reminded of how important community is on a visit to Rachael’s Women’s Center, a space of growth that has existed for homeless women in the Washington, DC area for the past 30 years. Although the center services over 400 clients every year---some women that are facing substance abuse (50 women a year) and others mental health crisises (70 women a year)--- for most of the remaining clients, the space is a place for seeking support and friendship. One client that I talked with described the weekly bingo games as the reason she returned to Rachael’s Center on a regular basis---an unexpected answer considering that the center provides many other substantial services including meals, showers & laundry, case management, intensive care management, employment counseling, and even computer training. This “real” answer revealed an underlying reality----without the power of friendship and community, all of the other tools that are of our disposal may fall short of meeting one’s needs.

The friendship of community is the thread that seams the quilt together…particularly for women who find home at Rachael’s Women’s Center and other safe havens in Washington, DC and across the country. You can chose to be a friend to those around you by reminding yourself to be there for those closest to you when they need you, and also as a friend to complete strangers---through volunteer service, or simply a warm hello or smile to someone that you pass on the street. Your outreach may help someone find new hope and community.
I encourage you to learn more about volunteering at Rachael’s Women’s Center by visiting

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

WEEKEND EVENTS: Curb Day 2009, Sitar Concert and an 18th Century Market

This seems to be the time of the year during which we grow and adapt. Intellectually as we find new hobbies and subjects to educate ourselves on, physically as we change our wardrobes and bodies to match the changing seasons, and emotionally as we reconnect with the stories of our history.

I’m planning to spend the weekend rediscovering myself, and there are some ways that you can as well. Start the weekend out by doing some spring cleaning (or helping someone else out with this task) by participating in Curb Day 2009. On Sunday, clean out your closet and upgrade your wardrobe simultaneously by participating in a Recessionista’s Closet Clothes Swap.

If you’re in the mood to learn something new, enjoy a Sitar Concert (see photo) with a native of Bangladash, Alif Laila this afternoon, or stop in to see one of the featured films of the Reel Time Brazil Film Festival this weekend. To top the weekend off, travel back in history by participating in the festivities at the 18th Century Market Fair at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, just a few minutes outside of the city.
Alif Laila Sitar Concert

Presented by the Dakshina/Dan
iel Phoenix Singh Dance Company
Saturday May 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm Westminster Presbyterian Church 400 I Street SW (Waterfront Metro)
Alif Laila was born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her connection with the arts was very deep since early childhood. After initial training in vocal music, she was eventually inspired to learn the sitar by her mother, Shehida in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Alif embraces the Sitar as the instrument of her soul. For more information please visit her and blog:

Curb Day 2009

May 16, 2009

More info. at

Saturday, May 16, 2009 has been designated 'Curb Day 2009: the world's biggest giveaway'. The idea is for people across North America to participate by bringing their extra (but still still valuable) items to their curbs for others to pick up that weekend.

Recessionista's Closet: WIN Clothing Swap!

Sunday, May 17

WIN office (11 Dupont Circle, NW Suite 243)
For more information and to RSVP email the Environment Network Chairs at
Don't throw away your clothes when you resurrect your summer wardrobe. Clean out your closet and get "new to you" items while helping the environment -- just imagine how much cotton we will save. Wearable or easily repairable items - no undies please! Clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories welcome. Extra clothes go to good causes - Dress for Success, Amicus Green Building Drive (to become insulation for habitat homes in the gulf coast), and Goodwill.

Brazilian Film Festival
Friday, May 15th – Sunday, May 17th


The Hirshhorn Museum
(Independence Avenue at Seventh Street, SW---L’Enfant Plaza Metro) AND The Greenberg Theater (4200 Wisconsin Ave, NW---Tenleytown Metro)
“II Reel Time Brazil – a Documentary Film Week” The Embassy of Brazil, along with the Smithsonian Latino Center, will present the film festival – II Reel Time Brazil this weekend, May 15th - 17th. The festival will showcase five documentary films that highlight Brazilian culture through the stories of historical Brazilian icons. Three of the films will make their U.S. debut. The Embassy has once again invited film directors and special guests to speak with audience members about the making of the featured films. All festival events are free and open to the public. Seats are on a first come, first served basis.
Saturday, May 16th

4:00pm – 5:30pm "Pan-Cinema Permanente" Permanent Pan-Cinema, Greenberg Theater 6:00pm – 7:15pm "Panair do Brasil" Greenberg Theater
Sunday, May 17th
4:00pm – 5:30pm "Só Dez Por Cento é Mentira" Only Ten Percent is a Lie, Greenberg Theater 6:00pm – 7:30pm "Simonal – Ninguém Sabe O Duro que Dei" Simonal – No One Knows How Tough It Was, Greenberg Theater

Spring 18th Century Market Fair at "Claude Moore Colonial Farm"

Saturday & Sunday, May 16 & 17

11 am - 4:30 pm
6310 Georgetown Pike , McLean, VA 22101
A visit to the Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a visit to another world ...the world of an 18th Century family living on a small, low-income farm just prior to the Revolutionary War.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

WORDS to INSPIRE: Liberating our colorful inner spirits...

As we approach Mother’s Day, a poem that reminds us to be forgiving of our mothers, grandmas, and sisters for the times they made us turn red in public from embarrassment. Eventually, every one of us will discover our colorful inner spirits. And when we discover our inner audacity, we may just be more liberated souls.
Jenny Joseph

(1960 at Age 28)

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

WEEKEND EVENTS: Yoga on the Mall, Greek Festival and Passport DC

May is one of my favorite months (not to mention the month I was born in)! It is a time of transition between seasons and a month when the blues of winter fade away to reveal the smiles of summer-time fun.

Start the first Saturday of May off right with FREE “Yoga on the Mall” with the Younger Women’s Task Force in celebration of National Women’s Health
Month (I'll blog more about this soon).

If you’re itching to leave town, but your pocketbook is a bit too light, fear not. Washington, DC will be teeming with low budget opportunities to take a sneak peak at
destinations around the globe during Passport DC 2009. Over 27 embassies will open their doors to the public from 10am to 4pm on Saturday to showcase the culture, history and traditions of their countries. If feel like you’d rather sail off to the isles, join your extended family at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for authentic Greek food, an Agora marketplace, church tours, and even some parathosi dancing (aka…Greek dancing). I’ve attended the festival a few times in the past, and have really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and family-friendly crowd.

Want to feed your inner beat? Head on over to the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop on Saturday night to celebrate Saartjie Baartman, a South African women that was finally returned to her homeland to rest in 2002 almost 200 years after her body was exploited as exhibit in Europe. Join musicians and a collection of artists to explore the intersection of art and
music in the healing process.

If you’re looking to extend your weekend to support some great organizations, join Ru
nning Start next Tuesday to applaud the next generation of young female leaders at the “2009 Women to Watch Awards”. Another highlight of the coming week is the FairFUND’s “Pearls of Purpose”, a fundraiser to support the survivors of human trafficking. This year’s FairFUND honoree will be Congresswoman Shelia Jackson-Lee, a legislator who has taken the issue of assisting trafficked children to heart.

Have fun, and feel free to forward your photos and recommendations for next weekend my way!

Join the Younger Wome
n's Task Force for Yoga on the Mall!
At no cost in honor of National Women's Health Month
Saturday, May 2nd 11:00 am
At the Constitution Gardens near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
(The closest intersection is Constitution Ave and 23rd St NW)
Don't know where to go? A group will be meeting at 10:30 am outside the Foggy Bottom metro stop to walk over together. Bring water and a mat/towel.
Email for more information.
To see the full schedule of YWTF meetings and events, add the YWTF:DC google calendar to your calendar. You can also join us on Facebook!

St. George’s Greek Festival Friday, May 1st- 11:30AM-10:00PM Saturday, May 2nd- Noon-10:00PM
Sunday, May 3rd- Noon-8:00PM
7701 Bradley Blvd
Bethesda, MD 20817
Information: here:
Rain or Shine! FREE Admission and Parking!

The Saartjie Project hosts a Juried Artist & Benfit Concert May 2, 2009
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
545 7th Street, SE
Washington, DC
Donation: $20

Running Start “2009 Women to Watch Awards” Tuesday, May 5, 2009
6:00pm-7:00pm VIP Reception

7:00pm-9:00pm Dinner and Awards Program
National Press Club
529 14th Street, NW, 13th Floor
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit
The Women to Watch Awards, held each spring in Washington, DC celebrates Running Start’s efforts to inspire young women to run for public office.

airFUND “Pearls of Purpose” THURSDAY, MAY 7TH, 2009
$100 General Admission
$60 Young Professionals
FAIR Fund's 3rd annual gala, Pearls of Purpose, celebrates the creativity and strength of each young woman nurtured by FAIR Fund's circle of support, who is now truly leading a life safer from human trafficking, exploitation, and sexual assault.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

INTERVIEW: CA-32 Congressional Candidate, Judy Chu

The Feminist Queries: Judy Chu

Published April 26, 2009 @ 03:45PM PST

For today's Feminist Query, I interviewed Judy Chu PhD who is running a Congressional campaign in CA-32, the seat vacated by Hilda Solis. Dr. Chu is an EMILY’s List candidate with a strong record on women’s issues, and she would be a great addition to Congress. Dr. Chu has dedicated her life to improving the quality of life in the San Gabriel Valley as a public official. For the past 23 years, Dr. Chu has represented San Gabriel Valley neighborhoods as a local School Board member, Mayor and City Council member, State Assembly Member and as a member of the California State Board of Equalization. Dr. Chu holds a B.A. in Math (!!) from UCLA, and a PhD in Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. During her time in the California State Assembly, when she represented the Western San Gabriel Valley, Dr. Chu passed legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, to crack down on hate crimes, to promote environmental justice and to modernize aging schools. Her tax amnesty program brought in over $4.8 billion in revenues to improve schools, health care and public safety. Additionally, she served as Chair of the Assembly Appropriation Committee where she fought to protect student, seniors and the disabled from budget cuts. As a member of the nation's only elected tax authority, Dr. Chu works to close special interest tax loopholes, protect small businesses and to administer the collection of $53 billion in state taxes and fees.

Take a look at her interview and feel free to donate to her campaign and help get more women elected to Congress!

Do you consider yourself a feminist? If not, why? If yes, how so?

Yes, I consider myself a feminist. While growing up, I never even contemplated the possibility of being a leader, let alone an elected official. It seemed entirely outside the realm of possibilities for me as an Asian American woman. So I was a math major when I went to UC Santa Barbara. I actually remember the moment I realized that it was even possible for me to be a leader. During the first quarter there, I decided on a lark to take an "experimental" Asian American Studies Class. They had a guest speaker, Pat Sumi, a strong community activist committed to anti-war issues and civil rights. As I listened to her, a light went off in my head. I realized that it was possible for me to be a community activist too, and to be a leader in changing people's lives for the better. I got active in campus and community activities, transferred to UCLA, and changed my major to psychology in order to better help people. I joined the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and then taught classes at UCLA on Asian American Women. That was the beginning of my 25 year history working on behalf of equality for women.

What made you decide to run for office?

In 1985, I had not even contemplated running for office. However, I was teaching in psychology in the Los Angeles Community College District and living in Monterey Park. A group of people asked me to run for the board of the Garvey School District. So I ran, but I was a complete unknown. I do remember a critical moment. It was when I went before the National Women's Political Caucus in Pasadena for an endorsement. They interviewed me and were so supportive of this completely unknown candidate that I felt incredibly encouraged. They endorsed me and gave me a donation. I realized from that experience that it is so important to have an infrastructure helping women run for office. Then an "English Only" movement occurred in Monterey Park where long time residents scapegoated new immigrants who were moving into the city. They wanted English only on the signs in the city and for the books in the library. The last straw was when they got a resolution passed in the city council saying that only English should be spoken in the city. I joined a coalition to defeat the resolution. We were successful, and out of that movement, I ran for city council. I made it my goal to bring the city together, and bring about an appreciation of diversity. Seven years later, I was so gratified when our city won the grand prize for Innovation in Addressing Diversity by the League of California Cities.

Have you faced any "glass ceilings" as an Asian American female running for political office?

I felt a very strong glass ceiling as an Asian American woman running for political office. Though it was difficult running for the Monterey Park City Council because of the polarization in the city, but it was still possible to win through hard work and door-to-door walking. But I found that running for state office to be a totally different story. In the state, there was an Old Boy's Network that had institutionalized its power. When the Assembly seat opened up in 2001, I decided to run. But the Old Boy's Network wanted a male, and they put all their resources into backing him and putting up roadblocks for me. Thus, the then-Speaker did not support me. It looked bleak, but then there was a turning point. It was when Congresswoman Hilda Solis decided to support me. She had gone against the Old Boy's Network herself when she did something unprecedented. She ran against an incumbent do-nothing Congressman who was part of the Old Boy's Network, and won. She wanted a new California like I did. Her support provided the critical boost that I needed to win.

How can we encourage more women to run for office?

It was very powerful to have the support and endorsement of the National Women's Political Caucus. It is important to have groups in place that will help women when they run for office. I applaud the work of NWPC, the Women's Political Committee and Emily's List. They have truly changed the landscape for women running for office. It is also important to encourage women to get involved on the local and grassroots level, so they can gain experience and a base when they run.

What is the single most important issue to you today?

The single most critical issue that we are facing today is the economic crisis. Seniors don't know if their 401K will hold any value, business people don't know if they can pay their next month's salaries and young people don't know if there will be a job waiting for them when they graduate. In addition, the foreclosure rate is overwhelming. I want to use the fiscal expertise I've gained as Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, as a member of the California Legislature's Budget Conference Committee, as a member of the Board Equalization collecting the taxes for the state, and as the author of the Tax Amnesty bill which was supposed to bring in $300 million but actually brought in $4.3 billion for this state and was the most successful tax amnesty in the nation in history. I want to bring this out-of-the-box thinking to Washington D.C. The economic crisis has hit women particularly hard because there is a gender gap in wages for women. Women still earn only 77% of what men earn. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, at the present rate of progress, it will take 50 years to close the wage gap between men and women nationwide.
To me, this is unacceptable. I have worked hard at the Board of Equalization to close this gender gap. I've done a series of women entrepreneur workshops to close this gap, so that women can get the resources they need to be economically independent.

If you could ask feminists everywhere one question, what would it be?

What are you doing to help women attain equality in America? Women everywhere need your commitment and help.


If you would like to make a contribution to Judy Chu's campaign, you may do so at

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Would You Do with an Extra $434,000?

Just imagine what you could accumulate with an extra $434,000 in earnings over a lifetime...

3 Houses in the Midwest Region of the US
(The median home price in the Midwest was $131,000 as of 4/8/09 according to the National Association of Realtors)
9.5 Years of Ivy League Education
(Assuming that the average Ivy League Tuition & Room and Board is $45,000 a year)
15 New Cars
(The average price of a new car according to the National Automobile Dealers Association)
$2.5 Million Dollars in Additional Retirement Savings
(If the $10, 850 in annual lost salary for the average women was invested into a retirement savings that yielded 8% return annually before retirement---Bloomberg retirement plan calculator)

April 28, 2009 is Equal Pay Day. This date is significant because it marks the extra days and months into 2009 that the average women would need to work to “catch-up” to the average salary of a man in 2008.

When a women’s job, even within the exact same field, with the exact same hours and obligations as a the same role occupied by a man, yields 12% less income, one obviously wonders why the issue can be so easily ignored. As illustrated above, the female worker has an average career wage gap of $434,000-----ranging from $270,000 for a women with less than a high school education to $713,000 for a women with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, staggering figures that have directly affect a family’s well-being over the long-term. Pay equity is not only an issue of improving the economic security of our families, but also placing value and dignity in the critical roles of every member of society and the contributions they make.

According to Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress at an Equal Pay Day Panel, the implications of salary inequity are becoming even more evident in the current economic crisis. Nearly 80% of the 5.1 Million jobs lost since the start of the recession have been occupied by men; and because men earn 2/3rds of a family’s income on average, when a women becomes the “breadwinner” of their household, they are expected to support 100% of their family’s financial needs with a salary that had previously only been 1/3rd of their household’s income.

Although we may not be able to change the root causes for workplace wage inequity without changing the stereotypes and social factors that define women and “pink collar” jobs (a term used by Lisa Maatz at the American Association of University Women), we can use political will to change policies and laws to be more family friendly. The most important legislation pending in Congress for women is the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182), and I encourage you ask your Senators to support this bill by calling (202) 224-3121 (a switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request). You can learn more about the bill’s history at

As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a committed advocate and legislator who has been working to pass pay equity legislation since getting elected to Congress 12 years ago says of our country’s current political and economic state, “Inertia is a powerful force, and the political will is with us on fair pay…the window of opportunity is open, and we must march through the window now.”

Need a primer on Equal Pay Day 2009 and the Wage Gap?
Check out the Center for American Progress’ insightful overview:

Wage Gap by the Numbers:

Previous posting on pay inequity of professions dominated by women:

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Friday, April 24, 2009

WEEKEND EVENTS: Work-A-Thon, UNIFEM Walk, and More...

Volunteering in the community is the perfect way to embrace the changing signs of the season in our city, as well as within ourselves. By lending a helping hand, we become more aware our our surroundings and more connected to the issues and challenges that weave all people together. You may even find your volunteer efforts so inspirational, that they lead you to re-discover your passion....

To start my weekend, I'll be participating in the Hands on DC WORK-A-THON on Saturday with the Miami University Alumni Association to help create better schools and brighter futures for students in the District of Columbia. Across DC, hundreds of volunteers will be literally swinging hammers and fixing up classrooms so that every child can learn in an environment that makes them feel valued. My team will be spending most of the day painting murals, building book shelves and sprucing up classroom fixtures at KIPP Academy. Check out the Work-A-Thon webpage for more information on joining a team.

If you're more intersted in volunteering your time during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month to rally together with other like-minded activists, consider participating in the UNIFEM Annual Walk to Stop Violence against Women and Girls on Sunday. All of the proceeds for this event go to the UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence Against Women. The UN Trust Fund is the only global multi-lateral grant-making mechanism exclusively devoted to supporting local, national and regional efforts of organizations to combat gender-based violence. Since it began operations in 1997, the Trust Fund has awarded more than US$19 million to 263 initiatives to address violence against women in 115 countries.

A few other events of note below:
"Rally to Rescue the Invisible Children of War"
Sunday, April 26th
Starts at 2:00pm at he Ellipse, and ends at the Natioanl Mall
On April 25th, 2009 thousands of participants will gather in 100 cities across the world to symbolically abduct themselves to free the abducted. A civil war, originally contained within Uganda’s borders, has now evolved into a widespread regional crisis. Invisible
Children, in concert with other policy organizations including Resolve Uganda, The Enough Project, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, now believes an international effort to apprehend Kony and rescue his child soldiers is the most viable way to end the most neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today.

All the info is online. There are many ways to get involved. You can
donate $$ online.

Sisters4Sisters April Networking Event
Sunday, April 26
Come Join Sisters4Sisters Network, Inc. for our April Networking Event scheduled Sunday, April 26, 209 at 3:00pm at Bowie State University, Center for Learning and Technology, Room 102, 14000 Jericho Park Drive, Bowie, MD. Our guest speaker will be George C. Fraser, author of Success Runs in Our Race and Click. Come learn how George Fraser inspired us to form Sisters4Sisters Network, Inc.

This event is FREE, but you must RSVP at or call us at 240 678-0117 to reserve your seat. There will be door prizes, entertainment, lite food and refreshment. George will be available for a booksigning as well!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

URGENT: Keep Women's Voices at the Table in DC!!!

Did you know that 80% of homeless households in Washington, DC are headed by single WOMEN? With a 25% increase in homeless in the city this past year and domestic violence on the rise, the female residents of DC deserve a strong voice to advocate for them in city government. Unfortunately, Mayor Fenty's 2010 budget reduces the Office of Women's Policy Initiatives (OWPI) to just one full time employee. Not only does the OWPI staff cut reduce the representation that some of the DC's most vulnerable citizens will have on DC City Council for important budget and program decisions, but it also undermines the vital role that women play in the local community.

Why does the Mayor's 2010 budget appropriate funding for every constituent services office to have at least 2 full time employees, while reducing the Office of Women's Policy Initiatives to only one? President Obama prioritized the voices of women and the issues that affect families with the formation for The White House Council on Women and Girls, and we need to help ensure that local government reflects similar priorities.

Please join our colleagues at The DC Women's Agenda (SEE ACTION ALERT BELOW) to call Mayor Fenty and your DC City Council Members today. Additionally, the DC Women's Agenda will be forwarding on a sign-on letter for local organizations to support tomorrow in preparation for an IMPORTANT DC BUDGET HEARING on Friday, April 24 at 10am (1350 Penn Ave NW). If your organization is interested in supporting a sign-in letter, please email Debbie at, or check back tomorrow.

Thank you in advance for keeping women's voices and issues at the table in DC.


date Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 9:06 PM
subject FW: [DCWA] Mayor Fenty's Cut to the Office on Women's Policy and Initiatives

We need your help! The Mayor’s FY 2010 Budget proposed cuts to the OWPI leave it with only 1 Full Time Employee while all other offices in constituent affairs have at least 2 Full Time Employees (FTEs).
Other offices are:
Ex-Offender Affairs (3 FTEs)
Veterans Affairs (3 FTEs)
Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (3 FTEs)
African Affairs (2 FTEs)
Youth Advisory Council (2 FTEs)
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs (2 FTEs)

Call or email the Council Members below and tell them that women still need our support in DC!
Please include the following points:

1. The FY 2010 proposed cuts would leave the OWPI with only 1 FTE while all other offices under constituent affairs have at least 2 FTE.

2. Women make up 53% of the DC population.

3. There are many important issues facing women in DC such as homelessness and domestic violence. The number of homeless families rose nearly 25% in DC over the past year. 80% of these households are headed by single women. Many organizations are reporting that domestic violence has been on the rise in recent months due to the economic down-turn.

4. OWPI is an important liaison between the Mayor’s office and non-profits.

Call and email Yvette Alexander- Chair of Office of Aging and Community Affairs- today!, (202) 724-8068

Call and email Michael Brown-Member of Aging and Community Affairs- today!, (202) 724-8105

Call and email Mary Cheh- Member of Office of Aging and Community Affairs- today!, (202) 724-8118

THANK YOU! Together we can make a difference!

If you need additional information call:

Debbie Billet-Roumell
Coordinator, DC Women's Agenda
1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036
202-464-1596 ext. 117

Thursday, April 16, 2009

WEEKEND EVENTS: LIVING [in theory] and LOTS of Films and Fun

"out there people judge me, in here I’m always right. out there people abandon me, in here I’m loved. out there I’m scared, in here I’m safe. life on my own terms is better even if it is in theory. what’s in your fort? "
An excerpt from LIVING [in theory], a musical that is making its World Premiere this weekend in Washington, DC.

So much to do, so little time! Although, I am compelled to spend as much time as possible this weekend indulging in the decadence of the early Spring weather and greenery of Washington, DC (perfect for picnicking on the mall to celebrate the Nation's Largest Earthday this Sunday), I've spotted several other events that will open our eyes to worlds away from our own:

1.) LIVING [in theory]---A performance by DC Young Adults in the "City at Peace" program

Join the region’s most diverse and talented teenage performers as they explore the answers, in a riveting world premiere musical that will challenge, enlighten, unsettle and entertain as only the rawest of real-life stories can do.
LIVING [in theory] is a world premiere musical written and performed by the cast (based on their life stories), and directed by Sandra Holloway, Shae Washington, and W. Thompson Prewitt, with original scores and musical direction by e'Marcus Harper.
April 17 @ 7:30pm, April 18 @ 2:00pm and 7:30pm, and April 19 @ 2:00pm
Atlas Performing Arts Center
(1333 H Street, NE) Tickets are $25 for Adults, and $15 for Students. Click HERE to purchase!

City at Peace is a youth development organization located in Washington, DC that uses the performing arts to teach and promote cross-cultural understanding and non-violent conflict resolution. With an emphasis on youth-led programs and artistic excellence, the organization challenges participants to effect positive community change in pursuit of a city at peace.

City at Peace serves approximately 50 - 70 youth ages 13 to 19 each year in its core program. Participants are chosen through an audition process. The young people are diverse in terms of race, culture, ethnicity, socio-economics, religion, gender and experiences. If they are students, they might attend public, independent or home schools. They live in urban, suburban and rural environments in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. They come from two-parent families, single-parent families and no-parent families. They are impoverished and middle class. They embody one culture and multiple cultures. They have lived abroad and they have lived on the streets. They are powerful evidence that people who seem different can learn, work and build peace together.

2.) Women Film Directors in Korea---
An event of the Korean Film Festival DC 2009
Sunday, April 19 @ 3:15 pm

Freer Gallery of Art (Independence Avenue at 12th Street, SW---Smithstonian METRO)

FREE Tickets distributed beginning one-hour before the event.
Panelists Include: Yim Soon-rye and Lee Kyoung-mi [filmakers]

Kelly Jeong and Seung-kyung Kim [scholars]

3.) Portraits from a Peruvian women's prison by Chan T. Chae
Now through May 23
G Street Fine Art (1515 14th Street, NW)

4.) 23rd Annual DC International Film Festival

April 16-26

ALL OVER TOWN...need I say more.