About Me

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Policy provokes me to think, write and verbally spew. I currently work in ivory towers inspiring young people to engage in their world. I am a student of the human condition and my classroom is the world. I don't need credentials to have an opinion but I've got paper to prove I know a few things about public health, social welfare and economics. I'm coming out of the tower and taking the words to the people and hope you will send some words back at me.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peace-Building in the Middle East: Joining hands across borders, religions and institutions

This is a story of peace-building amidst all the stories of war-mongering. The McGill Middle East Program (now known as the International Community Action Network - ICAN) is based on the ground even as rockets fly through the air. It is a story of hope, faith, trust, hard work, and cross-border, inter-faith and institutional collaboration. It is a story of people much more than a story of politics.

Amidst the fray of Middle East dramas (btw the USA bombs kids too - they are called 'collateral damage'), it is good to remember that that there are many people in Palestine and Israel wanting and fighting for peace. People who believe in peace despite all the reasons that make it seem impossible. People who have risked life, limb, sanity, health etc to create community-based peace solutions (that also involves politicians at high levels). 

In the interest of disclosure I acknowledge  that this blogpost is also committed to giving props to my mentor, friend and best teacher ever -- Jim Torczyner of McGill School of Social Work -- an energetic, tenacious rebel of a (Jewish and Israeli) man, who has always believed in peace solutions and has applied his incredible gifts of gab, humour, intellect and tenacity to creating peace strategies. He inspired who I am as 'intellectual', practitioner, teacher and activist as he so strongly believes in, and acts on, the belief that ordinary people are at the heart of social change and that all humans deserve basic human rights. As an academic he is brilliant and as a 'doer' he is amazing! There are many more people like him (well, not quite... as he's quite the character:-) who believe in peace and are fighting for it but it is difficult to see and hear them among the cacaphony and visual horror of Middle East geopolitics. 

This is also the story of a peace project rooted in human rights, collaboration, community mobilization, political strategy, practical 'intellectualism' and a whole lot of trust and faith. It is a story of bridge-building across cultures, faith systems, institutions, political ideologies and national borders.

"“The argument is: Look, there will be an earthquake,” Torczyner explains. “It’s not going to be a Jewish, Muslim or Christian earthquake. It’s going to kill people.” He argues that to save lives, victims must be taken to the closest medical facility, even if it’s across the border. Protocols for such cooperation are being developed now. Thanks to the efforts of the MMEP, 18 Jordanian students are now studying emergency medicine next door in Israel—instead of Australia, as they needed to do in the past."

As an example of 'practical education' and education for social change, the project builds networks of like-minded people to change people's lives. It directly links classroom and community to make education useful and relevant to the people whose lives are the focus of study.

"Each MMEP centre is founded and directed by a McGill graduate, and that initial connection blooms into even more connections on the ground. “It connects universities with practice and practice with real people,” Torczyner says." 

Despite the never-ending challenges that are presented by conflict, mistrust, history, politics, stereotypes and discrimination, Torczyner is focused on the future of the lives touched by the project, and war makes things more difficult but he plans to keep going.

"Torczyner doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. He’s planning 20 new centres and aims to enlist young volunteers in the next five years as part of a cross-border social movement: “Imagine having 10,000 Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian social entrepreneurs in these neighbourhoods, pushing the same message and learning from each other!”"


Friday, April 11, 2014

Why Are We Racist?

I appear on this week's episode (Friday, April 11, 2014) of the BBC World Service show, 'The Why Factor' as they explore the whys and wherefores of racism.  Listen to the podcast by clicking here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Perkins Paranoia

When Tom Perkins, founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers wrote an inflammatory letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal on January 24th, I wonder if he knew how explosive his letter would be. He should have. We all know that Holocaust references are only made to create a firestorm. Which makes one question the editorial choices of the Wall Street Journal which most likely gets hundreds of letters a day on much more pressing issues than the brief tasteless burst of paranoia that was Mr Perkins letter.

What Mr Perkins feels in terms of hostility towards the ultra rich in America is undeniable. People want to find a target for their economic frustrations and so they find a group to pick on. That is never a good idea as Mr Perkins so inappropriately acknowledged in his short missive. Whether it is immigrants, the wealthy or bankers, making any group the target of hate does not reflect the complexity of the problem nor does it solve it or make us feel better.

However, be sure that whatever frustration Mr Perkins may feel it does not come close to the hungry bellies, inadequate housing or unstable employment that is the fate of the poor in the USA. If you are poor in the USA it is easy to feel that someone thinks you are not worthy of the basics of human life: food, shelter, a good education for their children etc.

That said, there need not be a contest for who has it hardest in the USA because noone, not even Mr Perkins himself, could possibly feel that his luxurious life is one to be pitied. His poor little rich boy pity party was quite unbecoming a man of his stature.

What is to be pitied are the policies that permit Mr Perkins his fabulous wealth while depriving others of basic sustenance. Hating rich people gets us nowhere. Instead, their should be vitriol for food stamp policies. For tax policies that give poor kids poor schools and allow the wealthy to maintain their wealth through tax loopholes and low tax rates (relative to other countries in the OECD). Even the generous who set up foundations are coddled by the taxman for their philanthropy, which is needed to plug the holes left gaping by a social safety net with holes so big it is saving noone.

I am sure that Mr. Perkins has been duly chastised by his Jewish friends for his unfortunate use of metaphor. Perhaps if Mr Perkins knew some not so wealthy people he may not feel so persecuted. In the meantime he could take his formidable legal skills and work with other rich folks like Bill Gates Sr. to reform taxes to make this country more economically equal, and thus a less scary place for Mr. Perkins.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Simple Argument for A (Barely) Living Wage

I couldn't say this any better so I will repost it.

It's Not OK That Your Employees Can't Afford To Eat
by Peter Cappelli
Professor of Management at the Wharton School
Harvard Business Review Blogs Facebook Page
December 16, 2013

http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/scrooge-is-alive-and-well/

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Feminist's Thanks Giving

Today is a day when I want to give thanks for some human rights I deserve and some things I am lucky to have as a woman.

I am grateful that my parents were happy I was born a girl.
I am happy that my parents valued my education, and for all the education I have achieve,d and that I can use my education to take any job I choose.
For tampons and feminine sanitation, I feel lucky.
For contraception and the right to abortion, I thank the women who came before me.
For being free to marry who they choose when they choose, I am happy for my sisters who thinks this the right choice for them.
I wish my 16 year old daughter would appreciate her good fortune at having the right to drive.
I am thankful for a job that allows me to buy as much or as little clothes that I can wear as I please.
I am grateful for laws that protect me from rape and violence (the effectiveness of such are left for another day)
It's great to be able to have sex outside of marriage.
Happy to not need a male escort to appear in public.
Without wanting to practice any religion, I am happy that I can change my mind at any time.
Lastly I am grateful for being able to write this piece without impunity and censorship.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Good Intentions and Questionable Outcomes: The 'Voluntourist'

To be clear, I honor the good intentions of people who take trips around the southern (and sometimes Eastern) part of our world trying to alleviate the pain and suffering that can be found there. However, good intentions is not enough and sometimes it gets in the way of doing good and being useful.

As someone who made 5 trips to Belize with (mostly) white girls in tow to spend 2 weeks (for college credit) doing sustainable service in collaboration with local non-profits, I have spent a lot of time questioning my intentions and challenging the intentions of my students. I still find it hard to reconcile some of the racial, economic and geopolitical implications of the work that I did there, and also on another project on which I worked in Uganda.

So for those considering taking a trip abroad to do service, perhaps you may find these two pieces relevant. Perhaps you may question the implications of your good intentions. Perhaps you may find ways to make your trip more useful or perhaps you may find that there are other ways to contribute. These pieces are here for you to ask questions of yourself; questions for which you may not find answers, at least not easy ones.

A repost of a Guardian piece titled, 'Beware the 'voluntourist' doing good", written by Ossub Mohamud, published on February 20, 2013 in Guardian Africa Network.


Since first posting this post in November, I found another blogpost which is germane to this topic. It's called, "The Problem with Little White Girls (and boys). Why I stopped being a voluntourist"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

'Partnership' in the Context of Global Health

The word 'partnership' is trending in global health and has been for quite some time. Foundations, NGO's, and universities in the global north and south  'partner' with local communities in Asia and Africa to implement research or programs that will move forward knowledge about what works and what doesn't.

But what does 'partnership' mean in the context of huge power imbalances that come with differences in human, knowledge, institutional and fiscal resources? How do hierarchal institutions that assign power based on title, rank, alma mater, publications, departments etc share power with people who, if they had any, would preferably not be 'partnering' with people they do not know, who do not know them and who view them as in need of assistance?

With good intentions, professors, doctors, nurses, social workers and various sundry 'helping' professions write proposals that say they will listen to the local folks and link with the existing power structures although most do not integrate with public heath providers on the ground but choose to provide parallel services because of distrust of local systems.

But evidence-based practice is also trending in global health which means that helpers must implement what has been shown to work, regardless of the fact that the effective program was proven such in another country in another language or with another ethnic group. So what does partnership mean if one already arrives in-country with plans and cash? How many organizations involve communities in the writing of proposals for programs that will impact their lives?

And what of the products of these partnerships? The grants, the accolades, the publications, the promotions? How do local people get their share.

Granted, there are increased efforts to bring local voices to the mostly useless meetings where unenforceable documents get written and unachievable goals get set. And this is a good thing when the practice has been to sit on stage and tell the story of that mother, that child, that grandmother that foreign expert met in whatever country that moved them, changed their life or is evidence of the need for their program. Those stories get old when told 'on behalf of' instead of in-person. And after a while, one wonders why we need such stories at all. Is it not enough that said community is resource poor? Would we not expect sad stories of non-existent health services that caused death, injury or disability?

So what does partnership mean?

Partnership means equality in the relationship, and given the lack of respect for local knowledge and local intellectual resources, and the mismatch of status and money, partnership has a hollow sound when said in the context of global health. Partnership requires humility. It requires transfer of power. It requires acknowledgment of the legitimacy of existing structures.

Partnership requires that we (those who go to help) accept and acknowledge that we are pretty clueless about if it will work and with who and how. We all can't go around the world doing randomized controlled trials in each community to 'prove' what will work. But starting out by asking for permission, for guidance, for leadership with the communities we hope to change, is a start.

After reading this post, Dr. Joerg Maas, head of DSW in Germany (who is a friend) said the following, "Not sure I agree fully with the article - equality is not a prerequisite for partnership - isn't it more complimentarity and playing roles organizations can play best given their experience which matters?"

In response to his question, I believe that equality is about power and not necessarily about having the same skill set. Complimentarity is ideal but one partner is receiving and one is giving and that is often the key fact that drives this notion. And because the roles are somewhat determined by who is picking the partner, the same roles tend to get played by the same players.

One thing to note is that partnerships are often based on serendipity with regard to people connecting with each other, but also quite often academics and NGOs choose their locations and thus choose their partners by going south. It is rare that communities from the south come seeking a particular partner.

As the phrase goes... he who pays the piper calls the tune.