Posted by: nickysmith | November 24, 2009

Kiva/Palestine Lending Team Goal

From my friend Mohammed working in Palestine:

As a Kiva Fellow currently working with two microfinance organizations in the West Bank (Palestinian Territories), I am embarking on a goal to strengthen the connection between Palestinian microentreprenuers and like-minded groups and individuals drawn to the Palestinian people and their cause.

If you are unfamiliar with Kiva, it’s an online lending platform that lets people lend to low-income entrepreneurs around the world to aid their businesses and help their livelihoods. One of my tasks as a Kiva Fellow is to increase awareness of the important work that Kiva’s local partners in Palestine are doing.


One of the tools I’m using towards this aim is the “Palestine” Kiva lending team ( Palestine lending team is a group of individuals coming together to support Palestinian microentrepreneurs through the Kiva platform. I have set a goal to double the size of the team from 50 to 100 members by year’s end and after two weeks, we’ve increased our number to 68!

** If you could all join the lending team and pass this information along to friends and family (especially those interested in lending), you can directly help those living in the West Bank and Gaza obtain the financial resources to improve their livelihoods. **

Thank you for your help and collaboration. I truly believe, and I’m sure you agree, that economic stability and enhanced self-worth are integral parts to justice in Palestine.


Mohammed Al-Shawaf
Kiva Fellow, Palestinian Territories (West Bank)
Skype: mohammed.alshawaf
Twitter: moshawaf

Loans That Change Lives:
Fellows’ Blog:


In Bangalore, the city I am working in and the third largest city in India, there has been no local government for three years! With the upcoming local elections, I am sitting in a meeting with concerned citizens who are partnering with local schools to have students (7-10th grade target) go to 10 people and explain the importance of voting in local elections and to sign a commitment form to vote. The citizens participate in Bala Janaagraha, a program at the NGO I work at where citizens volunteer to teach citizenship and governance to schools. The students also design a civic project in the community near their school, and now they are equipped with maps to understand their community.

12/15 of the participants at the meeting are women and I’ve heard a lot of discussion about mobilizing house wives in active citizenship. The meeting is extremely lively with discussion and ideas from the relevance of “greening” (pollution, electricity, water issues) to their communities, such as changing corporate jingles to promote picking up garbage, and reaching out to community members who don’t speak English.

Awareness, although a word used annoyingly often and without meaning especially in student groups and NGOs, is the goal of this project as the volunteers here argue that most citizens in Bangalore don’t even know that no local government exists and that elections are tentatively in February (haven’t been confirmed and could be delayed).

This is their “Me and My City” text, it’s quite fun and informative to read. Right now the programs reaches 5,000 students and the goal is to reach 50,000 students.  I wish a program like this existed when I was in school, and I don’t know of any such programs in the US.

The only program I know that is similar to this is the approach of the The Miguel Angel Asturias Academy which is a private, non-profit Pre K-12 school founded in 1994 to eliminate education disparities through subsidized tuition, and create informed, critically-thinking, socially conscious citizens through its curriculum. Jorge Chojolán Pacajoj, the Academy’s founder, is an indigenous Mayan from Quetzaltenango and the first Guatemalan honored with the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship.

The approach where students first learn about their social realities from their own perspectives, then analyze them, then discuss how to change their society.  This is achieved through monthly social issue focuses from gender and feminism to environmental justice, andis based on the pedagogy of Paolo Freire, whose books are absolutely transformational and powerful and short so please check them out (especially Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Hope).

Posted by: nickysmith | November 13, 2009

Petition against Military offensive in Central India

I’ll be writing more on this soon, but please read the below petition and click on the link to sign


Dear Mr. Chidambaram, Hon’ble Home Minister of India

cc. Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

cc. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi

We the undersigned are alarmed at the Government’s adoption of a military solution to the conflict in the tribal belts of central India. Operation Green Hunt will exact a toll in terms of innocent human lives and a long-lasting hatred in the hearts and minds of those who survive. We strongly believe that what is being called the war against Maoists will result in a war against adivasis, even if that is not the intention, because military operations will directly impact all the adivasis in the geographical area.

We stand against violence of all forms, structural and physical, from all sides, whether it is from Maoists, the State, corporate powers or independent citizens and groups, or dispossession, loss of livelihoods and endemic malnutrition. Instead of a paradigm of meaningful and participatory development, India’s recent decades of growth has exacerbated disparities in society. Surely, your government realizes that such uneven development will only intensify the cycle of violence without any promise of real or lasting benefits for the poorest. There is ample evidence around the world, and in history to suggest that uneven development and state sponsored violence leads to a breakdown of democracy – to failed States and “puppet governments.” In Chhattisgarh too, the State- backed Salwa Judum has only added fuel to the ongoing conflict.

We strongly urge you to hold talks with civil society groups that work very closely with the people to understand ground realities better. These groups can provide valuable advice for long lasting peace and justice in the region and should not be dismissed or penalized as “Maoist sympathizers”.

Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), a Gandhian organization has been working in southern Chhattisgarh for the last two decades on issues of health, education and empowerment of the adivasis. Led by Mr. Himanshu Kumar, VCA has courageously worked for the rehabilitation of villagers made refugees on their own lands by the atrocities of Salwa Judum and by the cyclical violence resulting from it. We urge you to hold talks with Mr. Himanshu Kumar to understand and adopt this alternate paradigm of development.

In the interest of innocent tribal families living in the forests who will surely come in harm’s way through the planned Operation Green Hunt, we demand that:

1. The government retract military operations in Central India with immediate effect.

2. Hold meaningful conversations with adivasi representatives and development workers such as Mr. Himanshu Kumar.

3. Disband Salwa Judum with immediate effect and end covert militarization through arming of civilians as Special Police Officers.

4. Support rehabilitation of refugees and ensure responsible governance so people can return to their homes, pursue their livelihoods and democratically participate in the development process.

5. Initiate action against government functionaries who have perpetrated or promoted extrajudicial violence.


Posted by: nickysmith | November 11, 2009

Great Quote from Friend

“If you can not express yourself you are already behind bars”  Mbana Kaitako

South Korea: Woman passes driver’s licence exam on 950th attempt

* Associated Press in Seoul (from my friend Becca)

“A woman in South Korea who had tried to pass the written exam for her driver’s licence on 949 occasions has passed on her 950th attempt. The aspiring driver, who needs the licence for her business, spent more than £2,500 in application fees, but until now had failed to score the minimum 60 out of 100 points needed to attempt the actual physical driving test. Cha Sa-soon, 68, finally passed on Wednesday, said Choi Young-chul, a police official at the drivers’ licence agency in Jeonju,80 miles south of the capital, Seoul. Local media reportyed that she took the test 950 times.”

Other than a spelling era and the British way of spelling “licence”, quite inspiring indeed.  Thank god I’m not driving in South Korea…or India…or anywhere (here’s to cycling in crazy traffic that still is safer than the US)

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Nationally, only 10 percent of the more than 23 million people who need addiction treatment actually receive it.

The Milwaukee Addiction Treatment Initiative (MATI)

As the health care debate passes my country’s two wars and economy to be the most discussed US news topic, I started to think about the many ways ignored aspects of health care (MENTAL HEALTH!), like the rest of our health care system, are defined by class ie your ability to pay.

Beyond the likelihood that Obama will get at best a watered down public option, there are issues always ignored in health because those with access have them and those without resources don’t. The Substance Abuse Treatment Gap is one such issue that I have never heard discussed in all the student groups and academic, activist and policy conferences and classes on social services that I have been involved in. Someone may bring up one of these forgotten health concerns and people will clap and remember a friend of a friend whose affected and then it will come right back to how we can address healthcare as if it’s an island, as if we can reform our way out of our massive health inequalities, as if true universal health care is possible in our current economic system.

I hear a lot in media and films and local gossip about drunk driving and overdoses, but how often do you hear about successful treatment stories. One reason is that for the majority of wage workers and their families (both lower- and middle-class) treatment is out of reach.

I will explore this issue more later, but one resource I found was the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator, which maps treatment options throughout the US, some of which have sliding scales of payment. If you know someone who may be in need of treatment, please share the link.

As the Milwaukee Addiction Treatment Initiative report goes on, these services fail to address the huge resource gap:

The consequences of the treatment gap are profound:

  • Each year in Wisconsin, more than 2,160 deaths and 8,500 traffic crashes are attributed to alcohol and other drug use and addiction, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

  • Annual economic costs associated with drug and alcohol use in Wisconsin total $4.6 billion.

  • Nationally, untreated drug and alcohol abuse costs $500 billion a year in health care expenditures, lost productivity and related crime, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse; and contributes to the death of more than 100,000 Americans a year.

“Recovery from addiction takes many forms, but the ability to access appropriate treatment the moment you need it — similar to receiving treatment for any other disease — is the most crucial component,” said Mark Fossie, president and CEO of M&S Clinical Services, Inc., which provides addiction treatment to low-income men and women. “As it is, if you’re poor in Milwaukee County you have little chance at getting appropriate and unlimited treatment on demand, and if you’re middle class in Milwaukee County your outlook is hardly any better.”

“It is scientifically proven that treatment is an effective way to help people recover from addiction, regain control of their lives and become contributing members of society,” said Dr. Francine Feinberg, executive director of Meta House, a treatment center for women and their children. “Our inability and unwillingness to provide treatment to all who need it is shameful and hurts us all, costing us lives, money and resources.”


Let me remind you all of one thing: this is not a game we are playing for fun and entertainment – this is a fight we must win.

– Bhuvan

I first read about this film in my friend Marcos’s book on “films you need to see before you die and to talk with people who watch films” book (not exact title). It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for India, but it should have won for best song as I now know how to say such helpful words as “tax” and phrases as the command “walk ahead” and the comforting “oh friend, oh friend: don’t be afraid, we have the sky, we have the land” in Hindi”.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India is a fictional tale (but it could have happened or did it…) about a a bunch of villagers that are upset with the new taxes or lagaans. It takes place in the late 19th century where the British Empire ruled India. The British soldiers challenge the villagers to a game of cricket to see if they will pay taxes or not.

Some random thoughts/stories from it:

  • There’s a song about the deity Krishna, and my roommate told me that Krishna runs around messing with women and stealing their clothes when they shower or taking butter from their house, generally teasing them. There’s a saying today with young boys where they ask, “If Krishna does it, it’s fine but when we do it, it’s not! We’re just following god.”
  • Great scene where villagers dance outside in their town to the theme and then the theme is Europeanized for the British soldiers to dance in the old Indian temple they occupy
  • Other than women, everyone is involved: a Sikh, a Muslim, an Untouchable (lowest caste, he’s crippled), but hey the women pray, and in the thousands of cricket games I’ve seen people playing on the streets here I have yet to see a woman playing
  • The main actor looked a lot like Eminem to me and reminded me of 8 Mile where Eminem overcomes the British by using the foreign (in the sense he’s white and sucks at rapping) medium of hip-hop (I think that’s what the film is driving at but I never saw it)

The way he is - Eminem in a scene from his semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile. I still think they look the same.

Posted by: nickysmith | November 5, 2009

May Regret This: Video of Me Dancing Bollywood Bollywadly

Putting the Y in Bollywood

I am bringing Bollywood back to Wisconsin (although Wollywood sounds too much like Dollywood or Wally World so yea we’ll have to bring in the ad wizards on this one (sorry Seinfeld couldn’t find the original)).

To borrow another great idea from April’s: Talent aside, the American India Foundation didn’t send 20 Americans to India to launch 20 Bollywood careers. The fellowship’s aim is to aid NGOs and their communities while grooming young people invested in India and (its) development.

India is vast, and so is the span of our experiences. Check out the fellows’ blogs and read about everything from strep throat in Gujarat to school conditions in Andhra Pradesh:

Gotta add Nafisa’s blog especially the post from today…
Posted by: nickysmith | November 5, 2009

Freire, Food and Fizzinoodle: April’s Awesome Blog

April Eats

Fizzinoodle is Finnish for “My friend in Bangalore April has an awesome blog”. I wanted to share the link and the quote she uses from Freire (April is working on teachers and students using technology in the classroom) whose work is relevant for understanding not only his Banking theory of education but how education is a symbol of society where those in control want the majority to know just enough to work, and not to think critically and change their reality:

A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.

The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration — contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Books, 1993.

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