Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Corawill for Christmas

To purchase cards, visit our Etsy site at Corawill, Inc.
Volunteers with Corawill, Inc. travel from the US to Bulgaria in the summer to 'paint and play' with the 70 children ages 7 to 17 living in a social home in Vratsa. Institutionalization is very harmful for children and stunts their social and emotional growth. These visits are a very small but very important part of the children's lives. In addition, the building is decrepit and needs many updates.

Collaborating with Tabitha Foundation, who work year round with the children, Corawill has contributed money and 'elbow grease' to mend and brighten the facility.

You can read more about Corawill's visits to Vratsa by clicking on "Everybody Helps"
and "Visiting Vratsa."  To learn about volunteering with Corawill, Inc., see the link on this page or visit our web site at Corawill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Decade of Roma Inclusion

Roma people continue to face illegal evictions in Europe [Reuters]
Reprinted in full from Global Post, 14 racist things politicians and others have said about the Roma.  It is obscene that politicians in Europe share their racist ideology so easily while at the same time European countries are spending millions of euros on the decade of Roma inclusion, 2005-2015. 

The World Bank site explains,  "The idea of the Decade emerged from the first high level regional conference on Roma which was held in Budapest, Hungary in 2003. At that event, prime ministers and senior government officials from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, FYR Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia announced their intention to launch the Decade. Their backing signals a sea change in Roma policy and the political will necessary for reform. Other countries are encouraged to join the Decade." This initiative is supported by This includes the Open Society Institute, the World Bank, the European Commission, the United Nations Development Program, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, the Council of Europe Development Bank, among others, and most importantly, Roma leadership, including international Roma organizations."

As we approach 2015, one has to wonder what will happen when the Decade of inclusion ends? For an overview of how the Roma have "benefited" since 2015, read Al Jazeera's "Unfinished Business: Roma Inclusion in Europe."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Jahalin: No(w) where?

The 2000 film by Danny Verete,  "Yellow Asphalt" ("Asphalt Zahov"), is a core component of my introductory cultural anthropology class. The film was completed over seven years and stars the Jahalin clan (at the end of the film, the credits include each Jahalin family member in the film). It comprises three vignettes, each concerning the collision of Israeli and Bedouin values in the Judean Desert. Every semester I think about changing out the film and showing something more current, but the fact remains that stories dramatize issued that are still relevant and fresh. Yes, the trucks are dated, mobile phones and cell towers are absent, but the basic issues are unchanged. Whether it be the 1950s, the 1990s or 2014, the traditionally nomadic Jahalin tribe and the Israelis continue to clash.

In a 2002 review in the New York Times, A. O. Scott  wrote:

''Yellow Asphalt,'' . . . was completed before the outbreak of the second intifada a year and a half ago and does not directly address the volatile politics of the Middle East. The expulsion of the Jahalin from Israel in the 1950's, for example, and their further displacement by expanding settlements in the late 90's, are never mentioned. But the uneasy coexistence of Bedouins and Israelis is as unmistakable a presence in the film as the dust and wind of the desert.

In Malaysia, Cross Dressing is a Crime

Human Rights Watch released, "I’m Scared to Be a Woman" - Human Rights Abuses Against Transgender People in Malaysia, an investigation into the jailing of transgender individuals in Malaysia for cross dressing. This practice is illegal as it violates Sharia law. Furthermore, Religious Department officials have been accused of beating, humiliating and sexually violating those under arrest. In Malaysia, cross gender expression is a crime that allows government and religious officials to ignore human rights. In Malaysia, the term 'transgender" invites legal discrimination.

For the full article and links to the full report, read below or click here.

See also: In Malaysia: Religious, Social and Legal Claims on Gender Expression

Monday, September 15, 2014

Competitive Travel, to Kick or Keep the Bucket List

I enjoyed this cultural comment very much from The New Yorker, "Kicking the Bucket List."
While I love to go to new places, I equally love to return to places I've been before. Each time the experience get's richer, the friendships expand, I see new things, learn new bits of a place, or simply relax and soak in the familiar. Thank you Rebecca Mead for this eloquent piece.

Read the full article below or online here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

GLOWing Again in Bulgaria

Leadership Academy GLOW sustainability team.

 Leadership Academy GLOW (LA GLOW) is a week-long summer camp in Veliko, Tarnovo, Bulgaria for girls 14 to 18 years old.  This camp was founded in 2000 by Peace Corps volunteers. It is now a Peace Corps Legacy program run entirely by female volunteers, mainly GLOW alumni who live and work all over the world.  Their dedication to the spirit of GLOW is amazing. They work hard work organizing the camp, an online magazine and maintaining other forms of social media, and most importantly fundraising. I believe that the camp should be viewed as a gift each year to a the fifty girls who are selected to attend!

Through role playing, seminars, peer-to-peer training, and by incorporating energizers, games and themed parties, the campers learn about leadership and empowerment.  Many campers return as counselors or participate in social campaigns and leadership workshops throughout the year.

This past August, Corawill, Inc. volunteers participated in Leadership Academy GLOW for the third consecutive year. Our volunteers included two high school English teachers, a university professor and a high school student, all from Connecticut. It was an educational and fun experience and all are on board to return next next year. In the future we hope to bring Bulgarian students to Connecticut to experience our educational system. We thank all of the GLOW staff for their help, but most importantly, for their friendship - see you next year!

You can visit the LA GLOW web site here and also find them on Facebook. Below is a small selection of activities from this year's academy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Everywhere Braids

A beautifully fashioned braid for Kira.

In a review of hairstyles seen at Fashion Week in New York, I saw that braids were all the rage, familiar looking braids! In 2013, our Humanitarian Travel Abroad volunteers were elegantly coiffed by children at a social home in Bulgaria. You can see one of their beautiful results here and compare with models from the New York Times article that follows.

New York Fashion Week, so last year!

The hair specialists at work, Assen Zlatarov social home in Vratsa, Bulgaria.

And from the New York Times . . .

From the New York Times,  " Whether messy, tame or somewhere in between, braids (along with towering hats) are showing up in many of the spring collections being displayed on the runways this week in New York."
Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Visiting Vratsa

Volunteers with Corawill, Inc. (see tab above) in the US had another wonderful week with the children of Vratsa Social Home in Bulgaria. The home has 61 children aged 7 to 17, many with physical or mental disabilities. The children are so much fun and eager to teach us a few things as well as participate in our planned activities.

This year, two Bulgarian volunteers, Melani and Ive, traveled from their homes south of Sofia to join us too. Our volunteers conducted socialization and educational games with the children, art projects and planned a few surprises like a pizza party and a fresh-fruit-and-whipped-cream snack. The entire dining hall was painted by two of very hard-working and focused volunteers, Mat and David. Erica painted times-table "monsters," while everyone did the easy part of painting in the numbers! We think the overall result was very beautiful!

Many thanks to Tabitha Foundation for organizing our trip logistics - see you next year!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Circus Empowers in Kathmandu

Circus Kathmandu in Dubai 2014

In Nepal, Circus Kathmandu  helps empower victims of human trafficking. Their web site calls their circus "human rights in action."

Circus Kathmandu powerfully demonstrates ethical, creative and entrepreneurial alternatives. Our model creates real life, inspiring success stories, helping young people to take control of their own lives and to also become human rights advocates.

In a BBC report, "Youth circus turns tables on human trafficking," we learn how in 2010 two British charities, Freedom Matters and The Esther Benjamin's Trust, established the circus to help trafficked children find employment and integrate into society. Often stigmatized and rejected by their communities, former victims are able to develop skills and serve as advocates for others facing a similar plight.

According to Sky Neal, a circus performer in Britain and the co-founder and co-director of Circus Kathmandu, "performers are also now powerful advocates against human trafficking . . . They also do workshops for children and speak to hundreds of villagers about their own personal life and what they had gone through. The idea is to create awareness among villagers on human trafficking and why they should not sell their children."
For the full article from BBC on Circus Kathmandu, click here.  

To read about another circus helping children cope with trauma, visit the Palestinian Circus School.

Also, to learn about Cirque Shems'y, "the circus of my sun," a troupe helping disadvantaged children in Morocco, in a feature from Al Jazeera click here.

View "Dreaming of Nepal" from Circus Kathmandu below.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Home, Coming from Korea

Right off the plane, meeting mom and dad.
While working as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the 70s and 80s,  I made dozens of trips to India and Korea with Americans for International Aid to bring 'home' children adopted by Americans from abroad. Here are photos of Chung, the very first boy I took to his new parents on November 10, 1977. Chung's family sent these pictures to me in a thank you letter several months after his arrival.  I had shared with them that Chung was very outgoing and had talked non-stop during the flight (of course, I understood not a word). His parents wrote:

  "We thought perhaps you would like to see how 'motor mouth' has changed. Grown six inches and   gained five pounds. Still active and still conning everyone he can."

In his parents arms as I catch a flight home.
They were in the process of adopting again, this time from the US.

While in Korea I often went for overnight visits to Father Keane's St. Vincent's Home for Amerasian Children in Byu Pyung. I slept on the floor alongside the children. (See Amerasians: "Dust of Life"). I watched Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding back in 1981on a tiny black-and-white television with several of the younger kids sitting on my lap. I thought, rightly so, "I'll certainly remember this moment in years to come."

The term 'Amerasian' refers to children born of Asian mothers and (mostly) US soldiers stationed Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian nations. They face discrimination by other nationals, often finding it difficult to find legitimate work. Why? They are considered American, not Korean or Vietnamese, and are sometimes denied citizenship rights. Outcast, abadoned, most never know their fathers and find life difficult.

A photo I took of Natasha in 1978 at Father Keane's
While viewing a TEDtalk recently I saw a link to a story told by photographer  Rick Smolan of a little Amerasian girl in South Korea.  Rick had met the girl, Natasha, while on assignment to photographh Amerasians in 1978 for TIME Magazine. Though only 28 and unmarried, he helped find her a home in Atlanta when her grandmother, Natasha's sole caretaker, died. I immediately recognized Natasha as a little girl as I had met at Father Keane's during one of my many visits.  Natasha's story as told by Rick is, to use a cliche, 'heartwarming.'

Lunch time at Father Keane's

 Over the years I probably escorted over 100 children from Asia and South America to their new homes in the US. I would spend anywhere between 20 hours and two days with the children depending on flights and connections. I rarely know what happened after  I handed the children over to their new families in Buffalo, Minneapolis, or Portland and hopped the next flight back to my home base. I did receive an occasional letter from a grateful parent within months of our arrival, but I wondered how they adjusted, what was school like, and what did they become?

While I was not in any way part of Natasha's story, it is wonderful to see what a beautiful and self-assured woman she has become and to hope that all of the children I escorted found happiness, security, comfort, and worth, in their new lives in America.

Here is "The Story of a Girl" by Rick Smolan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making Home Social for Orphans

The 'social home.'
According to Lumos, an organization helping children without caring families, around the world 8 million children live in institutions and of those, 90% are not orphans. For myriad reasons, including poor parenting, economic incentives, disabilities, children end up separated from their kin by choice or chance.

The institution pictured here is in Bulgaria and houses about 70 children ages 7 to 17. The playground is is comprised of blacktop and dirt, the windows have fencing, and the furniture is in bad condition. Those in charge do their best with what they have, but large facilities like this one cannot give the one-on-one attention that young children need to feel secure and loved.

The view of the 'garden' from a bedroom window.
This summer we are again traveling to Vratsa, Bulgaria to 'paint and play' at this social home - read 'orphanage.' We are brightening up their sleeping quarters with new paint and playing social and educational games with the children.  We will also do art and writing projects. The children love physical touch, holding hands, plaiting our hair and holding hands. Many are talented acrobats and dancers.

Most of the children in this home are Roma, many have disabilities. In general, most Eastern and Southern European countries have made tremendous improvements in these institutions since 1989, but they are still 'institutions,' not homes, and the children living in them are not fully integrated into the community. They are instead stigmatized and sometimes they internalize a sense of rejection. One teenager on the cusp of leaving said, "I am Roma, Roma is bad."

(For more on our volunteer trip read Everybody Helps.)

Those of us from America often lack knowledge of and experience with the racially contentious milieu in which Roma live. However, 'Roma integration' is a priority for members of the European Union.  In addition to the EU monies, integration programs receive assistance from private donors and NGOs in the US, Holland and the UK among others.  Efforts have mixed success, just as does with integration of minorities in any country, be it the US or Iraq.
The playground.

Georgette Mulheir and her organization, Lumos, work "to transform an outdated and harmful system into one which supports and protects children and enables them to have a positive future." Here is a ten minute  TEDtalk by Ms. Mulheir on the perils of the social and emotional development of institutionalized children.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Love Letters 'Home'

A mural by New York artist Steve Powers, painted across E. Eager Street rowhouses that will soon be torn down, towers over people walking by and taking photographs. Powers Tweeted June 3 "love letter"

Like salt in your food, graffiti adds flavor to urban landscapes. Graffiti art can be subversive, poetic, cultural, decorative, destructive, temporary or permanent. Other blogs on this site have addressed various aspects of graffiti.

Here's more from the Baltimore Sun: "love letters" to the locals on buildings targeted for removal. Estimates vary, but Business Insider reports nearly 47,000 vacant houses with 16,000 of those officially registered. These numbers include entire city blocks of abandoned row homes. Some advocate housing the homeless in vacant houses but repairs to make the spaces habitable are too costly.

For the full story go to "Artist previews mural projects in East Baltimore."

A large "V" painted across abandoned rowhouses as part of the "Forever Together" mural on E. Eagers Street in Baltimore. 

Purple paint covers marble steps in front of abandoned rowhouses on E. Eager Street. 

A second mural by New York artists Steve Powers covers the side of an abandoned building and faces N.Milton Street.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The US Military and Amerasians in the Philippines: No Benevolent Assimilation


Amerasian family in Philippines

It's a story that accompanies any military action abroad, children born of local women and soldiers far from home whose paternity is formally unacknowledged. These offspring are subject to cultural, political and legal norms that often make positive personal, social and educational prospects out-of-reach. In particular, the first entered the Philippines in 1898, taking the islands from Spain. In the US in December, 1898, and in the Philippines in January, 1899, President McKinley announced his Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation assuring the natives personal, professional, political and religious freedom and protection, thus beginning a long, but not always benevolent, relationship between the people of the Philippines and the United States.

Here from BBC news  is a look at "Philippines' Forgotten Generation" about the return of the US military after a 20 year absence.

For more information, read, Dust-of-life. and watch Left by Ship.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Transgender Voters in El Salvador: rights and reality

ElSalvador RIGHTS 32514
LGBT activists display their inked fingers after voting in the second round of the Salvadoran presidential elections, on March 9, 2014. in order to prove that a citizen has voted, fingers are dipped in semi-permanent ink after turning in the ballot. Third from left is Pati Hernandez, executive director of ASPIDH Arco Iris, and second from right is Karla Avelar, executive director of COMCAVIS trans. (Gloria Marisela Moran /GlobalPost)

Until this year, transgender individuals had been barred from voting in presidential elections in El Salvador because their physical appearance did not match their masculine names. Danielle Marie Mackey and Gloria Marisela Moran's blog in the Global Post  explores how on  "Feb. 1, three days before the first round of the 2014 Salvadoran presidential elections, the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal proclaimed that all people must be allowed to vote, without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity." They quote Sandra Rivera, the adjunct Ombudswoman for Civil Rights in the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office as saying:

“History tells us that when people possess rights, we don't let them be taken from us easily. Even if the new government doesn't maintain Funes's initiatives, the sensitivity to LGBT rights that now exists in many public entities is irreversible,” she said. “Now, some people understand that being gay isn't a disease, it's not satanic, it doesn't mean you'll get AIDS by shaking a gay person's hand. Discrimination still exists—I’m not saying today that the battle has been won—but the seed has been planted and that is important.”

As I read this, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came to mind. No citizen of any nation should be denied a voice in their government's actions. However, our own history from the 1960s shows how people's attitudes often lag behind changes in law. In El Salvador, it is the actions of the criminal justice system, not just the general public, that continue to threaten the human rights and the safety of the LGBTI community despite this new legislation. Bloggers Mackey and Moran report:

Karla Avelar, executive director COMCAVIS Trans, a transgender organization. “There’s still a lot of fear; we have no guarantees of our safety.” In addition to death threats, LGBTI people in El Salvador face discrimination in the workplace, at school, and in the public health system, according to a 2012 report by the human rights legal clinic at the University of California-Berkeley.

Sandra Rivera, the adjunct Ombudswoman for Civil Rights in the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, said perpetrators of violent attacks on the LGBTI population are increasingly police officers and soldiers. These cases are not as frequently investigated as they should be, she added. The Ombudsman and I are truly very worried,” Rivera said. “Many cases haven’t been processed as they should, including some where the Attorney General needs to present evidence against the police and the army.

“Lately, there have been multiple allegations of human rights violations against LGBTI people by soldiers.”

Click here for the full article, Transgender People Voted for the First Time in El Salvador's History.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Models Shrink Wrapped on Runway


In her Paris show, Iris van Herpen shrink wrapped models. The most asked question on Instagram: how do they breathe (through tubes). If the point is to elicit an uncomfortable, claustrophobic, visceral feeling of revulsion - Iris, you have succeeded. While your runway show received lots of attention, I, for one, cannot describe any of your fashion designs. Moreover, the fashion magazine Elle  pictured two shrink wrapped women but no runway models wearing your new designs. In the accompanying article Elle applauded your inventiveness, but called the show "a chilling, super creepy display." In other articles I skimmed your clothes were also an afterthought to the girls in the plastic bags: eyes closed, fetal position, as if asleep, unborn, in their 'wombs.'

It is suggested the idea may have come from Lawrence Malstaf who shrink wrapped male and female 'volunteers' in an installation piece with "the intention . . .  to encourage people to consider the threat to their survival and how they protect themselves when under threat." Are models shrink wrapped on the runway thinking about threats to their survival? 

I am also disturbed by Damien Hirst's "Away from the Flock." There is enough sadness and pain in life without having the same evoked through art or fashion.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Baltimore House, Minus the Row

Photographer Ben Marcin captures the last rowhouse standing in locations around Baltimore,  Philadelphia and Camden. I grew up in a rowhouse. Makes me kind of sad to see these homes abandoned by their neighbors.

To see the full article go to Atlantic Cities.

Heartbreaking Photos of Lonely Rowhouses
Ben Marcin

For many, Baltimore design is synonymous with the rowhouse. Many of the city's neighborhoods are defined by blocks upon blocks of these narrow residential dwellings. Some represent the city's history and beauty, others symbolize decades of widespread poverty and disinvestment.
Baltimore photographer Ben Marcin, who lives in a well-kept rowhouse himself, has been documenting structures that haven't fared nearly as well. In "Last House Standing," started in 2010, Marcin shoots heartbreaking photographs that show neighbor-less rowhouses, its density-friendly architecture surrounded awkwardly by vacant lots.

Over the next two and a half years, Baltimore plans to spend nearly $22 million to tear down 1,500 abandoned houses, according to the Baltimore Sun. Previously, it spent about $2.5 million a year to demolish these symbols of urban neglect. What will replace these buildings is not always certain. One resident tells the Sun, 'We just don't want a lot of tracts of vacant land like Detroit."
Marcin also documents lonelier rowhouses in cities like Camden and Philadelphia, where the imagery is just as devastating. We caught up with the German- born Marcin via email to discuss "Last House Standing," and what he sees in the streetscapes and buildings he shoots:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A "Real" Shanty Town Experience?

5 Star Shanty Town with wild animals!

The shanty town holiday where the rich pretend they are living like poor Africans (with running water, electricity, WI-FI)

A resort that allows rich tourists to pretend  they live like millions of impoverished Africans in ramshackle shanty towns has  been described as ‘poverty porn’.
Emoya Estate claims the collection of  corrugated metal huts on its five-star luxury game reserve gives holidaymakers  the chance to experience life in a shanty town in ‘a safe environment’.
However, unlike the genuine towns, tourists  at the resort are given conveniences such running water, electricity and even  Wi-Fi.
Tourists can pay to stay in an iron shack the mimics those lived in by millions of impoverished Africans


The shanty town holiday where the rich pretend they are living like poor Africans (with running water, electricity, WI-FI)

A resort that allows rich tourists to pretend  they live like millions of impoverished Africans in ramshackle shanty towns has  been described as ‘poverty porn’.
Emoya Estate claims the collection of  corrugated metal huts on its five-star luxury game reserve gives holidaymakers  the chance to experience life in a shanty town in ‘a safe environment’.
However, unlike the genuine towns, tourists  at the resort are given conveniences such running water, electricity and even  Wi-Fi.
Tourists can pay to stay in an iron shack the mimics those lived in by millions of impoverished Africans

Only looks like the real thing, these shacks have floor board heating and WiFi.
If you ever find yourself looking for a place to stay in Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State province of South Africa, you may want to try an overnight in Shanty Town.

Oh, this isn't a real shanty town, but a "faux experience" offered by Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa for those curious about living in a corrugated shelter - with an outhouse and a drum for making a fire. By the way, it'll cost you about $80 a night for four people, without meals. The hotel states that the accommodation is completely child friendly. After all, this is how families living in slums and making a "normal living" are housed,

According to Emoyta's web site: Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa. These settlements consist of thousands of houses also referred to as Shacks, Shantys or Makhukhus. A Shanty usually consists of old corrugated iron sheets or any other waterproof material which is constructed in such a way to form a small "house" or shelter where they make a normal living. A paraffin lamp, candles, a battery operated radio, an outside toilet (also referred to as a long drop) and a drum where they make fire for cooking is normally part of this lifestyle.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Show of Strength in India

While in Kolkata, India, visiting programs supported by Empower the Children (ETC), I was invited to a wonderful evening of music, dance and theater. The actors included children from the Preyrona vocational schools supported by ETC, as well as 'specially-abled' children from Prabartak Home. The 'children' from Prabartak are mentally or physically challenged, orphaned adults who find security, love and safety, a true 'home.' Their play concerned a princess who was captured by demons just before her wedding. She is taught how to fight and defend herself by a helpful woman in the demons' realm. She is able to save herself and others - a true role model for today's modern women.

The children from the vocational school performed a play with themes ripped from the headlines of Indian newspapers. One story involved maids demanding better pay and work hours, their leader a feminist from the community. The second theme was that of dowry. A young woman's wedding approaches and she is urged to not give in to dowry demands - after all, asking for dowry is illegal in India. The bride's mother-in-law is at first shocked when her son's new wife arrives without the long list of gifts she had requested. The mother-in-law soon sees the error of her ways and the play ends with a happy daughter in-law free of dowry commitments! Jai ho!

Below are a few scenes from both performances. The sets were beautifully constructed and the actors magnificent in their roles. Bravo!

For more stories on Empower the Children, visit:

Volunteer India
Planting an Urban Garden in India

The demons are defeated!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Planting an Urban Garden in India

I am back in Kolkata lending a hand at Empower the Children. It was so good to meet up with Reena and Ashit, teachers at the Preyrona Schools. Another volunteer, Roisin, is organizing an urban garden. We bought seeds and plants a few days ago. Yesterday, the children potted the seeds - green beans -  and when they grow big enough the plants will be transferred to newly installed cement troughs on the patio of the school. After the potting project we spent some time working on a mural. It will take more time to complete the painting, all under Roisin's guidance, but I'm sure it will be beautiful when finished!

Choosing the soil composition.