The Plight

She sat on the plane, heartbroken

the faces of the girls she photographed

etched on her mind.  Child brides.  Girls

married off as young as eight.  She knew

child marriage existed in India but now

it was there in front of her face.

 

A photojournalist living in Nepal, she traveled

back and forth between there and New Delhi,

using her camera to tell about the plight of young

girls forced into marriage due to poverty

and lack of education. Mothers, former child

brides themselves saw their daughters doomed

to the same fate because of lack of viable

options.

 

Girls too young to get married or to

have kids were forced to become women

before their time. How she wished she

could do more.  She sighed, looking out

at the overcast sky.  For now she would

continue to turn her lens on the communities

where this practice continued to flourish.

 

149 words

This was written in response to the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers.   For more information, click HERE.

Source:  National Geographic

Advertisements

Soho

Lord Nelson Hadley always prided himself in being a man in control of his faculties. He was more analytical than emotional when it came to the affairs of the heart.  And being ultra conservative, he was staunch in his stance against abortion, premarital sex, same sex marriage, drug use and other practices that were contrary to his religious and moral beliefs.  He was never married.  Marriage was something which he held in very high regard and he wanted to get it right because he didn’t want to end up divorced like some of his friends.  He wanted to take his time and make sure that he married the right woman.

Over the years, he dated several high society women. Currently, he was dating Agatha Sullivan, the youngest daughter of Ted Sullivan, retired Supreme Court Judge.  Agatha was a beautiful, accomplished woman and a philanthropist.  They met at a charity ball two years ago.  She shared his faith and his political views.  He enjoyed her company and cared deeply for her.  His family and close friends highly regarded her and thought she would make him a very suitable wife.  He began to seriously and prayerfully consider marrying her.  And then, he met Regina Davis…

Their meeting reminded him of David’s and Bathsheba.  Like David, he was where he shouldn’t have been.  It was around noon and he was hungry.  He was in the mood for spicy food so he decided that he would go to a familiar Caribbean restaurant in Soho.  Besides, it was a nice change from the upscale establishments he frequently went to where the food was sometimes bland.

He didn’t notice her until after he had given his order to the waitress.  After closing the menu, he glanced up and his gaze fell on her.  She was sitting two tables away, alone and she looking at him.  She wasn’t the sort of woman he would be attracted to although, she was attractive.  Perhaps it was the excess makeup or the fact that she was wearing too much jewelry.  Yet, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.  He was like a moth drawn to a flame.

They stared at each other for a long time and when the waitress came and placed the plate in front of him, he barely glanced up at her.  He didn’t touch his food right away.  He found himself wondering who the woman at the table was and for a maddening moment was tempted to invite her to join him.  Then, she smiled at him and his heart skipped a beat.  Without thinking, he smiled back.

His response seemed to be all the encouragement she needed and his heart began to pound when he saw her get up from her table and walk over to him.  She was wearing a blue long sleeved sweater which hugged her and a pair of faded jeans which fitted her snugly.  She was medium height and looked to be in her late thirties.  She stood behind the chair opposite him, her manicured hands resting on the back.  She seemed a bit nervous and cleared her throat.

“Lord Hadley, I’m sorry that I was staring at you,” she said.  “It’s just that I went to a fundraising event last week with a friend and saw you there with Agatha Sullivan.  I wanted to come over and thank you both for your generous donations to the Olive Davis Community Center but something came up and I had to leave.”

This close, she was even more arresting and he found it hard to stop staring.  “Do you work at the Olive Davis Community Center?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’m the Director.  The center was founded by my grandmother Olive Davis who wanted to help the youth to stay off the streets.”

“What’s your name?”

“Regina Davis.”

He saw that she wasn’t married.  “It’s nice to meet you, Regina,” he said, holding out his hand.  She moved around the chair and closer to him so that she could shake his hand.  Her hand felt so soft and very small in his.  “The Olive Davis Community Center is doing excellent work in the community and we wanted to show our support.”  Am I sounding like a politician?

“Please thank Miss Sullivan for me.”

“I will,” he promised.

She hesitated and then said, “Well, let me not take up any more of your time.”

“I would like to stop by your center some time,” he heard himself say and he knew that the reason for deciding to drop by had nothing to do with the center itself.  He was just using it as an excuse to see her again.

She smiled.  “That would be great,” she said and reaching into her handbag, she took out a business card which she handed to him.   “Here’s my card.  Call me when you plan to stop by.”

He took it and put it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  “Thank you,” he said, his eyes meeting hers.  He wanted to ask her to stay but decided that it would be unwise to do so.

“Goodbye, Lord Hadley,” she said.  After a lingering glance, she turned and walked out of the restaurant.

He sat there for a long time, watching the door through which she had left and feeling like a heel because all he could think about was how badly he wanted to see her again.  By the time he left the restaurant he had made up his mind that he would stop by the community center the following week.

On Monday morning, when he called her to let her know that he was going to stop by on Wednesday afternoon, she sounded very pleased to hear from him.  The sound of her voice did things to him and he wondered if he sounded as breathless as he felt.  His heart was racing and his hand gripped the phone tightly to stop it from trembling.  What on earth is the matter with me? he asked himself after he hung up.  He was acting like this over a woman he met just last week when he was contemplating marrying another.  Perhaps, he should call her back and tell her that he couldn’t go but the desire to see her again was too strong.

Wednesday came and he was both nervous and excited.  He keep looking at his watch.  When it was time to leave, he quickly shut down his laptop, got up, pulled on his jacket and left the office.  On the drive over, he kept asking himself why he hadn’t mentioned to Agatha that he was going there today.  He had conveyed Regina’s message to her but left out the part about stopping by the center.

Regina was waiting in the reception area when he got there and a bright smile came over her face as she quickly closed the distance between them to greet and shake his hand.  She looked lovely in a cream pantsuit which flattered her figure and he noticed that she wasn’t wearing that much makeup or jewelry.  “It’s so good of you to come,” she said, after introducing him to Jasmine, the receptionist and they were walking down the hallway to begin the tour which she had promised him over the phone.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t think of it before.”  That was true.  He remembered how Agatha had mentioned visiting the center to get a better perspective of how it was operated and to meet the staff and maybe some of the youth whom they were helping but they never got around to it due to conflicting schedules.  Again, he felt guilty about not arranging for a convenient day and time for them to come together.  Pushing these feelings aside, he concentrated on what Regina was telling him about the center and the different programs.

“We offer services to women, children, youth, immigrants and the homeless.  We have programs for teenage mothers, at risk youth, parenting workshops, health and cooking programs.  Last year we launched a food bank which helps people from all ethnic and educational backgrounds and low in-come families.  My grandmother, Olive, believed strongly in helping people from all walks of life, especially the vulnerable, needy and faceless in our communities.  She was a God-fearing woman who was determined to show God’s love to everyone, no matter who they were.  She always said, ‘Love is not about feeling, it is about doing.  Jesus was always doing’.  I thought that was a great saying to put as part of our mission statement.”

“I think your grandmother would be proud of the work you are doing,” he said, genuinely impressed by what he saw and it made him want to do more.

She smiled.  “Thank you.  This center means a great deal to me because not only is it here to help many people and to make a difference in their lives but it keeps my grandmother’s dream alive.”

When the tour was over, they went to her office where they spent a little while longer talking about the center.  “I was wondering if you would be willing to come and make a presentation to my church one Saturday.  It may encourage members to get involved.”

“I’d love to,” she said.  “Just let me know when.”

“Thank you.”  He stood up.  “I must be going.”

She followed him to the entrance.  “Thank you again for coming, Lord Hadley.”

They were alone.  The receptionist had left for the day.  “Please call me Nelson,” he said quietly.  Heart thudding, he asked, “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening at that restaurant where we met?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I could meet you there, if you like, because I live about ten minutes away.”

“All right,” he agreed.  “I will be there for seven.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

The next evening when she got there five minutes before seven, he was there sitting at the same table as the last time.  He rose to his feet and held out the chair for her to sit.  His eyes traveled over her, admiration shimmering in their depths.  She was wearing a red long sleeved dress and heavy makeup.  Big, gold earrings dangled from her ears and this time, her nails were painted bright red.  He was wearing a charcoal grey suit, matching tie and black shirt.  After they ordered dinner, she asked, “Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“I asked because you mentioned that your church service was on a Saturday.  My grandmother, Olive was a Seventh-day Adventist.  As you can tell, I’m not one.”

“You are referring to the makeup and the jewelry.”

“Yes.  If I were to show up at your church like this, they would probably run me out.  With the exception of my grandmother, I always thought that Adventists were intolerant and judgmental.”

“Most of us may come across that way because we are passionate about the Bible and its application in our lives.” Right now if one of the members were to see me with you they would have a conniption.  Agatha had gone to church with him on a couple of occasions and they welcomed her but he suspected that it was because of her Adventist background.

“When I come to your church I will be makeup and jewelry free, I promise.”

“Thank you.” He turned the topic on to other things.  Dinner turned out to be a very pleasant experience and he was sorry when it was over.  He took her home and walked her to her door.  Outside, they faced each other.  His heart was pounding wildly against his ribs.

“Wouldn’t you like to come in?” she asked.

“I shouldn’t,” he said weakly.  His mind yelled, Run but his body was screaming, Stay.

She turned and unlocked the door and pushed it open.  “Just for a nightcap,” she said.

Temptation cast itself like a net over him and drew him into the flat.  When the door closed, he knew he was in deep trouble.  Desire seized him in an iron grip and blindly, he reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  His mouth found hers and devoured it like a ravenous lion, pressing her up against the door, groaning when he felt her eager response.  Hands tugged at clothes until they were discarded on the ground by their feet, nails clawed at bare skin as they moved like two drunken people toward the hearth where a cream shaggy rug was spread.  There, in front of the electric fireplace, they made wild and passionate love, beginning what was to be a torrid love affair.

They saw each other as often as it was possible and spent most of their time at Regina’s flat.  They went out occasionally and were careful to avoid the places where they might run into familiar faces.  The only place they frequented was the Caribbean restaurant in Soho.  It became their favorite haunt because it was where they met.

On the Saturday when she was invited to speak at his church, they were careful not to give themselves away, always acting circumspect around each other, especially since Agatha was there.  After the service, as Nelson watched the two women chatting over potluck in the church basement, he couldn’t help comparing them.  As usual, Agatha looked regal in her lime green suit with matching hat, shoes and purse.  She was a very beautiful woman with thick chestnut hair and bright blue eyes yet it wasn’t she who make his heart skip a beat whenever he was around her.  His gaze shifted to Regina.

She was wearing a below the knee black and white dress with long sleeves.  Her face was devoid of any makeup and she was not wearing any jewelry.  She had kept her promise.  She looked incredible.  He had to be careful not to be caught staring at her.  After the afternoon program, she left.  That evening, he went to her flat and didn’t go back home until the following afternoon.

It wasn’t long before his affair with Regina began to affect other areas in his life.  He found it difficult to concentrate on his work and when he was in sessions, he found himself thinking about her.  When he was with Agatha, he was distracted and when she inquired about it, he was evasive and said that he had a lot of things on his mind but assured her that it was nothing for her to be concerned about.  Whenever he read his Bible and came across passages talking about fornication, he was filled with conviction.

Finally, it was yesterday when he had resolved, I must end my relationship with Regina.  With a set expression on his face, he had closed the Bible and gotten up from behind the desk in his study and left the room, determined to push all feelings aside and do what his faith and conscience dictated.

He had gone over to her flat, with every intention of ending their affair but when she opened the door, pulled him inside and pushed him up against the door, after slamming it shut, his resolve weakened.  He blushed now as he remembered how she had dragged off his jacket, tossed it on the floor before ripping open his expensive white shirt, sending the buttons flying.  His body reacted when he remembered how she had buried her face in his heaving chest even as her fingers loosened his belt.

They had ended up making passionate love right there on the rug in front of the door. All the reasons he had come up with for ending things between them went straight out of the window.  His mind and senses were dulled by the desires which consumed him. The guilt of his hypocrisy and his duplicity which had plagued him all the way to Regina’s flat that evening had taken flight in the face of his insatiable hunger for her.  He spent the night with her.

He came home a couple of hours ago after another one of their explosive trysts.  Now that he was alone, all the guilt and self-recrimination came flooding back and he sank down on the bed, burying his face in his hands.  And to make matters worse, he didn’t even remember that Agatha and he were supposed to attend the opera that evening.  If she hadn’t called an hour ago, he would have stood her up.  He spent all day, trying to figure out what to do.  Regina was like a drug that he was addicted to.  He wanted more and more of her.  The carnal feelings she aroused in him were terrifying and foreign to him.  In all of his forty-two years, he had never felt like this about any woman.

That evening as he got dressed, he couldn’t stop thinking about Regina and as he buttoned his shirt, he thought of the shirt he had to discard because she had ripped off the buttons.  He closed his eyes briefly as an intense longing filled him, making him whisper her name as he remembered the rapt expression on her face as he made love to her that morning.  Frustrated, his eyes flew open.  Get a hold of yourself, Nelson, he chided himself.  Dragging on his jacket, he left the bedroom.  He had no idea how he was going to get through the night being in the company of one woman while thinking of the other.

Regina sat on the sofa, an opened book on her lap but she wasn’t reading it.  She couldn’t concentrate.  All she could think about was Nelson.  They were worlds apart and moved within different circles.  He was a Lord and in a relationship with a cultured woman.  There was no question that one of these days they were probably going to get married.

Regina closed her eyes at the thought and painful jealousy filled her.  She had no doubt that Nelson wanted her.  It was evident whenever they were together but she wished that he felt more than desire for her.  I wish he were in love with me like I’m in love with him.

She opened her eyes and tossed the book aside, rising to her feet.  She had to face facts.  There was no future for her with Nelson.  The only option was end their affair.  She couldn’t continue sharing him with Agatha, dreading the day when he would announce their engagement.  Still, the thought of never seeing him again was just too unbearable for her.

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She felt helpless–trapped.  Why did I have to be in the restaurant that day when he came in?  Why did I have to fall in love with him?  Why? Why? Why?  A sob escaped her lips and the tears fell.  Dear God, please help me, she begged silently.  Just then, the phone rang.  Brushing the tears away, she hurried to answer it.  “Hello?”

It was Andrew, her nephew.  He was in the area and wondered if she would like to go to the movies and then grab a bite afterwards.  She readily accepted his invitation.  It would take her mind off her problems and it would be nice to catch up since it had been a while since they saw each other.  After she hung up, she showered, got dressed and left to meet him in the lobby.

It was while they were sitting at a traffic stop when Nelson spotted Regina coming out of the cinema with a tall, athletic young man.  He watched as she looked up at him and laughed when he said something before she slipped her arm through his as they started down the sidewalk.  Nelson’s face suffused with color.  Red, hot jealousy surged through him and he knew that if Agatha weren’t in the car with him, he would have jumped out and gone after them.  He wouldn’t have cared who saw him.  He sank back against the seat, his head spinning.

“What’s the matter?” Agatha asked, touching his arm, making him start.  When he turned to look at her, there was concerned expression on her face.  “All you all right?”

He stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out what to do.  Should he be honest with her and tell her that he was upset because he had just seen Regina with someone else?  And what would he say if she asked him why seeing the Director of Olive Community Center with another man should matter to him?  Or should he just tell her that he wasn’t feeling well?  How could he do that when he knew that for weeks she had been looking forward to seeing Verdi’s opera, Un Ballo in Maschera?  He didn’t want to ruin her plans.  “I’ll be okay,” he finally said, with a forced smile before he turned away to stare out of the window.

It was after eight by the time Regina let herself into the flat.  She put her keys on the table in the foyer before heading straight for the sofa where she plopped herself down.  She reached for the remote and switched on the television.  It was nice going to the movies with Andrew, grabbing pizza afterwards but she couldn’t stop thinking about Nelson.  I wonder what he’s doing right now.  The flat seemed lonely without him.  She hugged the cushion tightly, wishing he were there with her.

Finally, the opera was over and it was time to leave.  He had no idea how he sat through it when all he wanted to do was leave and head over to Regina’s flat.  During intermission, he had excused himself and gone toward the bathroom but instead of going inside, he went somewhere quiet to call her.  There was no answer and when he tried her cell, it was turned off.  Frustrated, he dragged his fingers through his hair, wondering where she was.  He returned to the balcony and sat down just as the lights dimmed.

Now as he sat in the car as it merged into traffic, heading to the Sullivan estate, he thought, she should be home by now.  Is she alone or is he there with her?  Unable to stand it any longer, he turned to Agatha, “Agatha, I have a confession to make…”

Regina woke up with a start.  Somehow, she must have dozed off.  Sitting up, she was about to turn off the television when she heard the doorbell.  Scrambling off the sofa, she rushed to answer it.  It was after ten.  Peering through the keyhole, her heart skipped a beat when she saw who it was.  Eagerly, she unlocked the door and flung it open.  The smile that lit up her face faded when she saw the expression on his.

Stepping aside, she let him go in before locking the door and turning to face him.  “Don’t I get a hug or a kiss?” she asked, longing to put her arms around him and kiss him.  He looked very handsome in the black silk suit, matching tie and white shirt.

“I called you earlier but there wasn’t any answer.  I tried your cell phone but it was turned off.”

She frowned.  “What time did you call?”

“I called during the intermission which was around five minutes past seven.”

“Intermission?” she inquired.

“Yes, I was at the opera.”  He was a walking contradiction of emotions.  Jealousy, anger and desire churned inside him.

She pursed her lips.  So that was where he was tonight and it explained why he was all dressed up.  “You went to the opera with Agatha.”

“Yes.  Regina–”

“Did she enjoy it?”

“I’m sure she did.”

“What about you?”

He almost lost it.  “No, I didn’t enjoy it,” he muttered tightly, his eyes dark and stormy.  “And do you want to know why I didn’t enjoy it?”

She looked wary now.  “Why?” she asked in a small voice.

“Because of you.  Are you seeing someone else?” he demanded thickly, almost beside himself with jealousy.

She stared at him, her eyes wide.  “Of course not,” she said, shaking her head.

“Then who was the young man I saw you leaving the cinema with this afternoon?  I saw the two of you when Agatha and I were on our way to the opera.”

“That was Andrew.  He’s my nephew.”

“Your nephew?” he repeated.  “That young man I saw you walking down the sidewalk arm in arm was your nephew?”

“Yes!”  She turned and abruptly walked away, returning a few minutes later with a framed photograph.  She showed it to him.  It was of her, another woman and the young man.  “That’s his mother, Beryl, my older sister when we were at our parents’ home in Florida last year Christmas.”

He closed his eyes, slumping against the door as relief washed over him.  “I was out of my mind with jealousy when I saw you with him,” he told her.  “If Agatha weren’t with me, I would have jumped out of the car and come after you.”

Regina put the photo on the table besides her keys and then she reached up and slowly unbuttoned his jacket.  “It seems like we both had a miserable night,” she said quietly.   “I was over there on the sofa wondering what you were doing and missing you like crazy and you were at the opera with Agatha thinking that I was cheating on you.”  His jacket was off and on the floor.  Next, she started on the buttons on his shirt.  He opened his eyes then and what was in them matched what she was feeling.

“I told Agatha about us,” he admitted, staring at her bent head.  “I couldn’t continue lying to her and to myself.  I ended our relationship tonight and then I came straight here.  I love you, Regina.  Seeing you with Andrew today only made me realize that I can’t be with anyone else.”

Her hands paused as she raised her eyes to his face.  “I love you too but what about your family and friends and your church?  What will they think about you being in love with a sinner?”

“We’re all sinners, Regina but the good news is that we have a Savior who loves us.”

“You know, when I was at your church, the members made me feel very welcome.  Do you think they would mind if I started going regularly?”

He shook his head.  “No, they wouldn’t mind at all.”

“Good.” She bent her head and resumed unfastening the buttons.  The shirt soon joined the jacket on the floor.  When he was standing half-naked before her, she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  His arms went about her waist, holding her tightly against him as he kissed her back.

A year and a half later after she was baptized and became a member of his church,  they got married.  The service was held there and the reception at the Park Plaza County Hall and among the guests was the staff from the Caribbean restaurant where this all began.

“[Soho] is all things to all men, catering comprehensively for those needs which money can buy. You see it as you wish. An agreeable place to dine; a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life, one of the best shopping centres for food in London, the nastiest and most sordid nursery of crime in Europe. Even the travel journalists, obsessed by its ambiguities, can’t make up their minds.” ― P.D. James, Unnatural Causes

For Nelson and Regina, Soho was everything to them because it was the place where they met and fell in love.

 

Sources:  Agincourt Community Services Association

National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

national-native-hiv-aids-awareness-day

Courtesy:  Indian Country Today

It was just few days ago when I learned that March was designated as Women’s History Month.  Well, today, an identical thing happened to me which prompted me to put this post together in a hurry.  I found out just a few minutes ago that today is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  I also discovered that my ignorance of the day is not surprising given that it is a little known observance day.  NNHAAD is a day geared toward drawing attention to and building support for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations.  Here are some facts, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), women account for 29% of the HIV/AIDS diagnoses. 
  • For Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) populations given a diagnosis, 78% were men, 21% were women, and 1% were children (under 13 years of age) in 2005.
  • From 2007 to 2010, new HIV infections among AI/NA populations increased by 8.7% (CDC).

While these percentages may seem low, one must remember to take into account the size of these populations compared to more populous races and ethnicities in the U.S. For example, according to the CDC, in 2005 American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked 3rd in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, following blacks and Hispanics. To put this into numbers, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in 2008 per 100,000 persons were:

  • 73.7 Black/African American
  • 25.0 Hispanic/Latinos
  • 22.85 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 
  • 11.9 American Indian and Alaska Native 
  • 8.2 Whites
  • 7.2 Asians

Given that many of these populations live in rural areas, access to health care services can be difficult. Not to mention other roadblocks to obtaining needed services such as language and cultural barriers. Native communities have some of the shortest survival times after diagnosis of HIV/AIDS of all race and ethnicity groups in the U.S.

The report also showed that Native communities are not accessing the much needed care and attention after being diagnosed with HIV.  I also learned that about 26% are living with HIV and don’t even know it.  So, this means that since they don’t know that they have it, they wouldn’t seek medical help.  On the other hand, those who know that they have it, take steps to protect their health and take action to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Thankfully, there are public services like the IHS (Indian Health Service), an agency whose mission is to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.  Our goal is to assure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people.  The IHS operates within Department of Health and Human Services.

The IHS National HIV/AIDS Program is committed to partnering with communities to create lasting change in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We provide programs to assist individuals, families, communities, and health care providers to:

  • Understand how HIV is spread, and share knowledge about HIV with others
  • Get tested for HIV
  • Put policies and procedures in place to offer a HIV testing as a routine part of all health care
  • Improve access to care, treatment, and prevention services needed by people living with HIV and AIDS

IHS providers throughout the country are offering screening more often, collaborating with communities to increase education, and offering care or referrals where direct care is not available. We can all help to reduce the stigma within our culture and among health care providers regarding HIV/AIDS.

I was shocked to learn that March 20, 2016 was the tenth anniversary of this annual awareness day.  I wonder how many people out there who even know that it exists.  Awareness, education and access are key.  And I applaud the many dedicated organizations that are currently working hard within the Indigenous communities to break down barriers and to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.   

The theme for 2016 was:  “Hear Indigenous Voices: Uniting the Bold Voices of American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders.” Last year’s was:  theme is “Unity in CommUnity, Stand Strong to Prevent HIV.” On this day, we recognize the impact of HIV/AIDS on American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.  The theme this year is “Unity in CommUNITY: Stand Strong for HIV Prevention.

It is my hope and prayer that long after this year’s National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day passes, that more people will find ways to stand strong for the Native communities.  We have heard the Indigenous voices, stood with them as we recognized that they are impacted by HIV/AIDS and now we must stand strong for prevention.  We have heard the voices, now it is time to be united in the fight to change the tide in this epidemic which discriminates against no one.  The HIV/AIDs is not one group’s or community’s fight but everyone’s fight.

Sources:  Humanitas Global Development; Indian Country Today; Indian Health Service

Women’ s History Month

I learned today that March is Women’s History Month and it is a celebration of women’s contributions to society.  Before Women’s History Month, there was Women’s History Week, the birth child of the school district of Sonoma, California which participated in Women’s History Week, an event designed around the week of March 8 (International Women’s Day).  From 1978 to 1979, the idea to secure a National Women’s History Week lay incubated until February 1980 when it was born, thanks to President Jimmy Carter who issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the law which was passed making March Women’s History Month in the United States.  This year’s theme is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”  What a great theme.  Like warriors facing bitter battles with ferocious armies, women face societies, communities, institutions and governments that would deny them their rights.  Nevertheless, like phoenix rising from the ashes, women all around world are rising up, joining together and fighting for what they believe in.  Their voices are raised in unison, refusing to be silenced, in spite of the draw backs they face.  Silence is not golden.  Using one’s voice to be heard is golden.

Throughout history, women have had dreams, hopes, plans and visions which they had to fight hard to realize.  No amount of discouragement, obstacles, nay-saying, discrimination or opposition could quell those dreams, hopes, plans, visions which had taken shape.  Women clung to their faith that one day they would be able to vote, own businesses, own homes, land, get an education, work in jobs and play in sports that were predominantly male oriented.  They had to have the courage and the faith to step out, speak up and conquer a world that had long denied them and still does in some cultures, equality, recognition for their accomplishments and basic human rights.

However, despite the strides women have made in their fight for human rights, they still face mountains like human trafficking, modern slavery which target young girls, child marriage, FGM, access to safe water, realizing their self worth and potential in societies which favor boys over girls, pay equity, access to safe water and quality education.  Just this month, the organization, Freedom United is calling for action for the following campaigns:

Show solidarity and tell Uzbekistan to drop all charges against Malokhat.

Malokhat is being targeted because of her determination to expose human rights violations and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.

JOIN THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM FOR GIRLS

The fight to end modern slavery today in order to help girls like Phoebe, forced into the commercial sex trade at just 15 years old.  Women and girls make up 71% of all modern slavery victims. 

These girls should be in school getting quality education so that they would have a bright future.  Sex should not something that they engage in until they are adults and married.  Sex came from God was never meant to be exploited or forced on anyone.  It was meant to be a physical and emotional expression of a husband’s and wife’s love for each other.

Help End Forced Marriage in Lebanon

Momentum is growing to repeal laws that enable convicted rapists to marry their victims to avoid punishment. As well as the horrors endured by victims, this law means many women and girls where these laws exist are then forced into marriage against their will

Marriage was meant to be between a man and a woman not a man and a child.  And any law which allows a rapist to marry his victim to escape justice, should be done away with.  It is a disgrace to human decency and dignity and it violates the victim’s rights.  Marriage is a holy institution and is meant to be entered into with the consent of both the man and the woman.

Call on Niger’s President to outlaw child marriage.

Three-quarters of girls in Niger are married before they are adults. Child marriage often amounts to slavery, for example, when girls have not given their free and full consent, are subjected to control, exploited and unable to leave, so outlawing it is an important step towards protecting Niger children.

Imagine you have a young daughter and that a Nigerian girl her age is being married off to an older man.  At the age of twenty, Fati Yahaya has been married twice, divorced once, suffered a postpartum hemorrhage after giving birth to her first child.  I didn’t have a child until I was 41 years old!  It’s so hard to fathom a young girl going through two marriages, one divorce and suffering excessive blessing following the birth of her first child.  I don’t know how many children she had afterwards or if she suffered any more hemorrhages.  And I can’t imagine giving my consent to have my daughter marry at the age of consent which is 15 or even younger when she should be in school.  I can’t imagine subjecting her to a life of “abuse and unrealized potential”.

End sexual exploitation of children in Kenya

The last place you should expect to find a child is in a brothel; yet for 17-year-old Phoebe from Kenya, this is her life.

Phoebe comes from a poor family. When she dropped out of school, she went in search of a better life – instead she has been forced to have group sex with tourists for no money.

Reports indicate that more than 50,000 children are involved in different forms of commercial sexual exploitation.  It is most common along the Kenyan Coast where the majority of tourism activities take place – in fact sex offenders travel to Kenya for this very reason: to prey on these vulnerable victims.

It’s sad that Phoebe had to dropped out of school and instead of finding a better life, she found herself plunged into a world of sexual exploitation.  A brothel is no place for anyone, especially children.  Sex offenders who travel to prey on young girls should be prosecuted and the brothels should be put out of business.  Basically, the Kenyan government needs to do something.  They need to protect the vulnerable.

Help end domestic slavery

Women and girls leave their homes every day to find jobs as domestic workers in the cities of your country.

But when they show up for their first day of work, some find out they’ve been deceived. Locked inside the homes of strangers — no contact with their families, and often beaten and sexually abused — they are caught in the nightmare of modern slavery.

What a nightmare it must be for women and children to go to what they believe is a job which will help their families only to be faced with brutality and sexual abuse.  They are cut off from their families and forced into a modern slavery.  People are not property and slavery should not have any place in our society.  There need to be tougher rules for domestic workers and anyone caught exploiting their rights should be imprisoned.  It’s time to get tough on those who exploit others.

Women’s History month is not only a celebration of the difference women have made in their communities but it is also a reminder that we still have a long way to go and that raising awareness is key.  When I shared these stories with my husband, he commented that there is a whole different world out there that we are not aware of.  And he’s right.  If it weren’t for organizations like Freedom United, Equality Now and many others we would have no idea of the realities that many women and girls are facing.

Sources:  Wikipedia; AJC.com; Freedom United

Press for Progress

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Press for Progress.  The event is celebrated every year on March 8 to commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

This morning I learned a very interesting fact which was that the earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909 in New York.  It was organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel.  An American labor activist, suffragist, and educator, Theresa was a woman of progress, as she made history as the first woman to rise from factory work to leadership in the Socialist party.  She was a Jewish woman and refugee who fled anti-Semitic violence in Russia.  Eighteen years later, she founded Women’s Day, the forerunner of International Women’s Day.  Read more about her story here.

Theresa_Malkiel

The woman behind International Women’s Day

Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8?  After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.  The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975.  Two years later, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

What is the purpose for IWD?  According to an article in the Mirror, the aim was for women to have equal pay.  It’s still an issue so the day is still being held every year.

Women earn 14% less than men in the UK. Last year the #MeToo campaign also grew in momentum, after women started to speak out about sexual harassment.

The women who spoke out are known as The Silence Breakers and they were named Time’s Person of the Year.

International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

Originally the colors used for International Women’s Day were purple for symbolizing women, green for hope and white for purity.  White is no longer used because of purity being a controversial concept.  Yellow was introduced symbolizing a “new dawn”.  So, now green is for traditional feminism and purple with yellow represent contemporary feminism.

Today, women were on center stage and the world watched as they protested and celebrated.  And in Canada, a family, Canadians and people of color celebrated as the ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond, the first black woman was unveiled today.

Viola Desmond was a Canadian black woman from the province of Nova Scotia who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 when she refused to leave a whites only area and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one cent tax difference between the seat she paid for and the seat she used.  Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.  She has been compared to Rosa Parks as both women, uncompromising in their stance against racism gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement.

Progress has been made in the fight for women’s rights but we still have a long way to go.  In the mean time, let’s women around the world continue to raise their voices in order to be heard and to “bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large” (Rep. Jeannie McDaniel).

Sources:  Wikipedia; Broadly; International Women’s Day; Wikipedia

Clean and Living Water

Therefore with joy you will draw water From the wells of salvation – Isaiah 12:3

World Water Day

It’s that time of the year again when we raise awareness about clean water, something that is not accessible in some parts of the world.   It is hard to imagine living in a community where there is no clean water for drinking, cooking or washing yet this is the reality for many living in South Asia.  People are getting sick from drinking dirty water.

Women and children are forced to walk hours a day to distant water sources, such as filthy ponds or lakes, and even then the water may be contaminated. Sometimes they know this will bring death and sickness to their families, but they have no other choice – Gospel for Asia

I read two very touching stories.  The first was about Salil who watched his family get sick from the contaminated water from the pond which was their only resource.  He was forced to sell sand at the risk of getting caught and punished because he needed the money to take care of his family.  His meagre income was spent on medicine for them.  However, no matter how hard he worked, it didn’t change the fact that the water was still contaminated and his family was still sick.  The other story is about a husband and wife who were banned from drinking water from the community well because she was accused of performing witchcraft which took the life of another villager.

When I read these stories, I am reminded of how much I have to be thankful for.  I have clean water at my fingertips.  I can drink boiled, filtered or bottled water.  I can tap water for cooking and a washing machine for my clothes.  I don’t have to travel for miles to filthy ponds and lakes to draw water that may be contaminated.  I don’t have to worry about getting sick from the water I drink.  For many of us, clean water is a convenience, an amenity while for so many, it is a treasure.

Both of these stories had a happy ending.  While Salil was struggling to care for his family, God was working to change things for the village through a nearby pastor named Dayakara who was making regular visits to his village.  As he befriend the villagers, Dayakara learned of their water crisis.  Not wasting any time, he and other Gospel for Asia supported workers decided that they were going to help the villagers.  They drilled a well in the centre of the village where everyone would have access.

a-jesus-well-transforms-salils-family-3

Imagine Salil’s surprise when he went home for one of his visits and found his wife and children well.  What happened?   He learned about the well and was overjoyed, but didn’t know who was responsible for it.  One day Salil met Pastor Dayakara and as they talked, Salil realized that this was the man and fellow laborers who were responsible for the bringing the well to his village.  Marvelling at their kindness and compassion , Salil was curious about this God who could pour such love in people’s hearts.

For Madhura and Jaival it was a nightmare not being able to access water from the village hand pumps.  They were banned from doing so by their neighbors and friends because they believed that Madhura’s witchcraft had killed one of the villagers.  For five years the couple had two terrible choices–drink the water and die or don’t drink the water and die.  Then, one day, Pastor Jaanai met them and they were able to pour their hearts out to him.  Burdened to get clean water for the suffering of the villagers , Pastor Jaanai and his congregation fasted and prayed.  Pastor Jaanai told Madhur and Jaival his hopes to get a Jesus Well in their village.  In the village there were 750 people and there were only three hand pumps which were old and damaged.  Only one pump supplied water but it was not enough for so many people.

Madhura and Jaival

Madhura and Jaival began praying in their hearts to this God of love whom the Pastor had shared with them would help them.  Perhaps He would give them what their neighbors had refused to give them.  After many months of earnest prayer, the day that they had all dreamed of, came.  A Jesus Well of their own was drilled and was overflowing with the cleanest water they had ever seen.  God had answered their prayers.  The couple and their community could use the well.  They could wash their clothes, cook their dinners and refresh themselves with the clean water.

Through the Jesus Wells, God had brought joy and healing to two communities.  He had brought a community together.  Although their neighbors had been unkind to Madhura and Jaival, God didn’t exclude them from receiving His blessings.  God’s grace is for everyone.  When Madhura and Jaival saw that the Lord had answered their prayers and had accepted them while others had rejected them, they wanted to receive Him into their hearts and lives.  They wanted the Living Water to dwell with and within them.

Jesus Wells Open the Door for God’s Love – Gospel for Asia

Through the new well in Salil’s village, Salil and his fellow villagers came to understand the love of Jesus Christ.  One of the villagers, Baldev has a remarkable testimony.  Like Salil, he had family to support but had gotten sick from the contaminated water from the pond.  He couldn’t work and as a result, his family suffered.  However, when he began to use the water from the Jesus Well, his sickness went away.  He experienced the same miraculous healing as Salil’s family.  So, it was no surprise that when Salil shared the good news about Jesus with Baldev that he and his family accepted the Lord in their lives.  Now, they have regular prayer meetings in their home, led by Salil.

It’s amazing how God could use something so basic as water to transform the lives of so many.  That’s the God we serve!  If it’s your desire to see many more people come to the saving knowledge of the true Living Water, help Gospel for Asia’s Clean Water Ministry.

When I read these two stories, I thought about my favorite story in the Bible–Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  She went to the well to draw water as usual but on that particular day, she discovered the Living Water who promised her and us, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water that I shall give him will become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life” (John 4:14).  Salil, Madhura, Jaival and their communities drank that water and now their lives are just overflowing with joy.  Praise God!

Thank You, Heavenly Father for bringing hope, joy, healing and salvation to many through Gospel for Asia’s Clean Water Ministry and forever quenching their thirst with the Living Water Who is Christ, Your beloved Son.

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Healing and Hope

I first heard of the Bridge of Hope program when I became a blogger for the Gospel of Asia Ministry.  I have read stories of children whose lives seemed hopeless until they were enrolled in this program where they were given a chance for a better future.  They were provided with daily meals, regular medical check-ups and a quality education so that one day they would be able to get good jobs and provide for themselves and their families.  And most importantly, they learned about Jesus.

One day an illiterate man went to the Bridge of Hope centre with a strange request. Would the staff there send the “medical doctor named Jesus” to help his sick wife? how did this man know that Jesus could heal the sick?  He learned this from a little boy named Nibun, a first-grader.  Nibun listened as his teachers talked about Jesus healing the sick, delivering people from evil spirits and feeding the hungry.  It was Nibun’s father who came with the strange request.  It was Nibun’s mother who was sick.

The family was poor.  They lived in a mud hut and couldn’t afford to go to a hospital.  Most of the doctors were miles away.  It was too long of a trek on a dirt path through the woods, especially for a sick person.  Nibun’s mother was very ill.  His father tried to do everything he could.  He cried out to his gods to help her but she got worse until she became critical.  It was then that Nibun told his father about Jesus, but the man thought that there was a doctor with that name working at the Bridge of Hope centre.

The staff at the centre responded to the father’s desperate request and went with him to his home.  They talked to the family about Jesus and His love, sacrifice and power to heal.  Then, they laid hands on the woman and prayed to God to heal her. And He did.  The news soon spread throughout the small village and several people came to know the Lord that week and the following week more families placed their faith in Jesus.  Families are attending a local church where they are growing in God’s grace and increasing their knowledge of Jesus.

Many lives were changed because of a little boy who learned about Jesus at the Bridge of Hope centre and believed that He could heal his mother.  This program not only brings hope to children like Nibun but it transforms communities.  It brings the light of God’s love and the hope found only in Jesus Christ to many people.