nomi.teutsch – UNITED SIKHS Blog Recognize The Human Race As One Tue, 28 Nov 2017 14:31:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lessons from Shining Hope Thu, 22 Mar 2012 16:32:41 +0000 As a sophomore at Wesleyan University, I had the great privilege to cross paths with Kennedy Odede, then a freshman. Kennedy grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya. In 2004, he started a grass roots movement called “Shining Hope for Communities” (SHOFCO) and became a visionary change maker and community organizer. By the time he left Kenya to get an education, he was popularly known as the “mayor” of Kibera since it was he who regularly responded to his community’s day-to-day needs and helped them to have a voice.

When Kennedy came to Wesleyan, he did not forget about his home or try to work on issues more “relevant” to Wesleyan students. He began telling the story of his community’s strife with fervor and passion to anyone who would listen. In spite of the fact that Kibera was foreign and far away from us in every possible way, Kennedy was able to make students in Connecticut (myself included) feel powerfully connected to his dream to build a tuition-free school for girls in the slum. Together with his partner Jessica, Kennedy built a core of students, professors and community members who slowly but surely helped to make that dream come true.

Not only is the school a great success, but Kennedy and Jessica have now received grants from Echoing Green, the Do Something Award and Newman’s Own to expand the project to address many other crucial needs in Kibera in addition to education.

As Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent column about SHOFCO, “Shining Hope is now building a much larger school that is expected to accommodate 500 pupils. It has also bolstered services, including free family planning, for women at a clinic it runs. It trains women entrepreneurs and has just installed a new water tower that is expected to become the slum’s largest source of clean water. It operates a public library and computer center where slum dwellers can earn money by performing Internet piece work. …Shining Hope also oversees a network of public toilets, one of which produces biogas used to cook meals for children at the school. All this may be just a beginning. Kennedy says his dream is to expand Shining Hope across East Africa.”

As a Faiths Act Fellow, it is my task to mobilize people of faith in New York City to care about the issue of malaria. I know how many of the New Yorkers I talk to feel when I first mention the word “malaria,” because it is basically the same feeling I had when Kennedy first talked to me about Kibera. But through his example, I know that if I can tell a true and powerful story about the dire need for malaria education in Sierra Leone, and believe in it, others will too. Kennedy and Jessica have shown me that when young people are truly dedicated to an issue, and committed to addressing it effectively, we can have great impact, and build a global movement that defies geography.

Pictures above are from Shining Hope for Communities. Visit their website to learn more.

Nomi Teutsch is a Faiths Act Fellow at UNITED SIKHS

Clergy SolidariTEA for Economic Justice Wed, 28 Dec 2011 20:59:43 +0000

As Faiths Act Fellows at UNITED SIKHS, Hannah and I have had the privilege of witnessing clergy of different faiths organizing themselves to have a strong, united voice against injustice this year. Since New York City has been at the center of the country’s expression of discontent at the current financial and social situation of the 99%, it has been a particularly exciting place to be as a Faiths Act Fellow.

Watching clergy find their place in the fight for economic justice has been breathtaking, and has modeled for us the resources and wisdom that faith communities have to offer any social movement. The primary role of OccupyFaith has been to serve as a moral voice, condemning corruption and inequality and supporting the protesters and their cause. They have also worked together to provide shelter for hundreds of protesters every night in their houses of worship since the raid of Zuccotti park and the onset of winter. From the start, they have held up Occupy Wall St. as the next link in the long chain of non-violent protest movements agitating for justice, often connecting it back specifically to the Civil Rights Movement.

Last Thursday UNITED SIKHS honored the visionary leadership of OccupyFaith by providing coffee, tea and bagels at the weekly meeting of 45 members. We recognized that the participating members’ activism to bring us closer to a time when all people have the rights and resources they need to live a dignified life is exactly what International Human Solidarity Day is all about.

We thank the clergy of OccupyFaith for showing us one more way that religion can be a force for good in the world, and cherish our involvement with this dynamic and inspired collective.

The Power of Face-to-Face Encounter Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:24:29 +0000 After graduating high school, I spent a year living in Jerusalem, the epicenter of many of the world’s religious conflicts. As a resident I was privy to the ways that misunderstanding and intolerance play out on a day-to-day level. From witnessing hateful graffiti and humor (on both sides) to hearing conflicting historical narratives, it was plain to see that the rift between the Jewish and Muslim communities there runs deep, and that much of the population accepts this state of affairs as the only way.

My intense sadness over the lack of visible dialogue or grassroots peace-building efforts brought me to an organization called Encounter. Their mission is to educate diaspora Jewish leaders about the realities of Palestinian plight under the occupation. Most of the participants in their educational trips have never met a Palestinian, and come to the experience with the straightforward Zionist narrative they were taught in synagogues and schools. As an intern with the organization, I was able to help organize and participate in one of their trips to Hebron. After a day of touring and learning about the history and political dynamics of that tragic city, the group arrived at a community center where we sat down with a room full of local people. Palestinian people. The tension was palpable. Most of us, Jewish and Palestinian alike, had never had the opportunity to be face-to-face with individuals of the other, “rival” group.

Each person went around the room and shared a bit about themselves and their story. Slowly, people began to laugh together and to listen to one other with focus and compassion. Some of the Palestinian residents shared objects that were meaningful to them, including one man who walked us through his different passports and the rights that each of them do and do not give him. While this may sound political, it felt completely personal and intimate, and those in the Encounter group were able to simply listen and empathize with the difficulties of life under occupation for this one, individual person. It was a relief for the Jewish participants to be heard and understood as well, and to be able to show that our people, too, are each different and unique and that most of us also constantly seek peace and understanding.

After breaking into small groups, eating, and continuing to get to know one another, the evening drew to a close. None of us wanted it to end, and by the time we said goodbye I felt a surge of emotion that I will never forget. On the one hand it was about having met these fantastic people and gained insight into their experience that I never could have otherwise, and on the other it was the realization of how rare these opportunities for face-to-face contact are between groups that are so thoroughly separated, by systems and by prejudice. That day taught me the transformative power of face-to-face understanding, and drew me to the work I am now doing as a Faiths Act Fellow at UNITED SIKHS combating intolerance by bringing the Sikh community together with other people of faith to share experiences, increase understanding of each other’s traditions, and listen to one another.

By Nomi Teutsch

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