Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Shop of My Hope Video

Video of La Tienda Mi Esperanza

Three years ago I sat with a handful of HIV positive Nicaraguans who had one goal - to establish the first official HIV self help group in the Occident Region of Nicaragua. For over a year individuals had been meeting at CISAS (a public health non-governmental organization) to talk through their problems, counsel one another, and collectively protest any abuses at the hospital. Together we planned radio commercials and designed banners to bring awareness that HIV positive individuals were meeting near weekly at CISAS to start a self help group.

The vision and drive originated from three HIV positive individuals who had varying life experiences. The following year I would return for World AIDS Day and see Maria, one of the founders, give a public declaration on her rights as a woman living with HIV. She, along with the president of a German NGO, the German Ambassador and CISAS would sign their vision into reality. The group was official and had its first funding grant to start an office and begin an income generation project.

The group struggled at first to get traction. The members were unaccustomed to having, accounting and allotting funds or working with specific titles of President and Vice President, which are elected two year positions. However, after reorganizing and creating the position of Treasure, this last year the group started "Tienda Mi Esperanza" (Shop of my Hope). When a product is purchased, 50% of the sale goes to the member that made the item and the rest goes back into the group for materials and supplies. This short video below will introduce the shop, the products, and give you a better feel of the sights and sounds.

(Editorial Note - María, founder and ex-president, plays an active role teaching members how to hand make bracelets and necklaces. Her help was vital in the bracelets order I made, which will be a topic of an upcoming blog.)

Next Blog - A Learning Experience: Using the Order as a teaching tool

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Rwandan in the City for Christmas

Three days in NY/NJ for the first time - What to do and what to see?!

I returned from my trip to Nicaragua at 1am yesterday full of stories, videos and pictures of water projects in the rural countryside and income generation projects by the HIV/AIDS group I’ve worked with through the years. They are inspiring, insightful and informative but won’t be featured until the coming weeks. There are several reasons why, including Christmas travel, but a main reason is a special guest. A guest that I hope you’ll help me welcome with ideas.

When I was researching in Rwanda, a Jesuit named Pierre Cornielle Namahoro welcomed me to the country with open arms. He became a teacher and a friend willing to discuss the history, politics, and culture of his homeland. I would meet his younger brother Jean Luc during one of our road trips into the countryside. Given my propensity to interact with locals and start games for kids, Jean Luc became part translator and part photographer. The children quickly multiplied as the “Muzungu” (Whitey) started juggling and tossing balls to be caught.

Now it is a year and a half later and Jean Luc has been studying engineering and telecommunications at the University of Arkansas as a Presidential Scholar – a joint program by the US and Rwandan governments. He is visiting my family in NJ for a week – mostly to spend Christmas but also as his only chance to see New York City.

Yesterday coming out of the airport he was introduced to snow and was so taken by the “cold ash” that we went sleigh riding at night with my younger siblings before an authentic Italian dinner. Let’s face it Arkansas’ ethnic food can’t hold a candle to NJ and NY. For dessert we had a snow ball fight and my sister taught him how to make a snow angel.

So here is the question! If you had a few days in New York City and New Jersey what would you suggest are can’t miss things to do or see?! Pizza? Chinese food? Street Vendor hot dogs or chestnuts? Hot cider? An I Love NY winter hat? Let me know what's memorable for you. Below I have our itinerary… please leave your remarks, ideas, suggestions as comments – Thank You!

Museum of Natural History
Central Park
Times Square
KNICKS Game (my Christmas gift to Jean Luc)

Ground Zero
United Nations Tour
Rockefeller Center & St Patrick’s Cathedral
Metropolitan Museum of Art??? (good idea or something else?)

Statue of Liberty
Ellis Island

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rise of Pentecostalism (Field Notes from Nicaragua)

I will be working on this theme for a larger piece, as much of my previous and first research in Nicaragua focused on the cross sections of theology, reproductive education, and poverty. However, it can be stated that within the last few years there has been a noted increase in Pentecostal churches within the historic center of Leon - a location where nearly each corner has a cathedral dating as far back as the 1800s.

Through the years I've noted that on trips into the countryside and rural communities, evangelical churches apppear to be the sturdiest and newest buildings. Many of these chruches are built by religious or service delegations from the United States.

The chruches are nothing new to me. The location is. Leon is a colonial city built around the central plaza of the Cathedral. Built by the Spanish in 1747 this Cathedral is second largest in Central America. At one corner of the plaza what used to be a public theater has recently been transformed into a Pentecostal church (see above photo). If that is not evidence of change, one of Leon's largest night clubs (located a mere 4 blocks away from the Plaza) has been reborn into an Evangelical church.

The rise of pentecostalism is a topic of conversation with everyday Nicaraguans. I think the deeper reason as to why the change has been occurring is the more interesting story but there is one thing for sure. I hope they scrubbed the night club's floor real well before starting the renovations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

La Tienda de Esperanza

The First "Order" for León's HIV/AIDS Self Help Group

Five of the last six years I have found my way to Nicaragua, the largest and poorest country in Central America. What started as a research project as a sophomore at Fairfield University turned into a self conceived summer internship that changed the path of my life. This larger story of transformation and discernment will be featured in a piece I am putting together for What I want to get across (less than 10 hours from my flight) is why I am returning this time.

My summer internship in Nicaragua introduced me to a world I had not personally known. One of the projects I was assigned to work with was logistical and planning support for the city of León’s first ever HIV/AIDS self help group. I had never known anyone with HIV/AIDS let alone work with someone. Yet, on my first day at work I was brought to the hospital to meet María, the catalyst behind forming a group. María’s struggle to triumph is one I featured at my World AIDS Day presentation last week at Fairfield University. It merits its own entry and will be saved for another day.

A year after first meeting María her dream of the first ever HIV/AIDS self help group became a reality. They received a grant from a German non-governmental organization that officially cemented a joint HIV/AIDS self help group that bridged to cities in Nicaragua’s Occident region. From three individuals the tally at the inauguration, which I attended, was near 35 members. Within the last year the group has grown to 70 and started “Tienda de Esperanza” (The Hope Shop). It is an income generation project that addresses a major human and development need – a job.

I have been keeping tabs on the HIV group. Last March when I acted as a field aide for the research team from Fairfield University I brought students to meet the group members and, of course, become customers. I myself bought a few colorful bracelets that my sister wears all the time. Handmade with multiple colors and metal designs I know the bracelets are catchy enough to the eye. Yet the relatively new shop has had some difficulty building a market given their non-touristy location. Therefore, I have started the wheels turning on the first commissioned order for a product made by the group.

It is a process and learning experience for both myself and the HIV/AIDS group, but the final product will be sold at my speaking engagements. It will be a great connection since María and the group are often featured in my examples of individuals and groups creating hope in their community against seemingly endless odds. I look forward to sharing photos and videos of the process these coming weeks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

BVA - Alisa Miller's take on Media

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more information.

Growing up in a first generation household from Argentina, I already new that Latin America was never on the radar for mass media or the evening news programs. Hurricanes, the drug trade and an occasional piece on a Latin American president – these were the stories. Likewise, being four years younger than Britney Spears taught me that pop culture always has an ace up its sleeve. Despite these understandings I was still taken aback by the sheer disproportion in news coverage as demonstrated by Alisa Miller, CEO of Public Radio International.

Given the global recession and nearly two years of social media and technological advances, it would be very interesting to see a new installment of this same presentation. For instance, print media has continued slashing costs with foreign bureaus and correspondents treated as fat rather than red meat. In addition, would the rise of twitter and internet news sites such as Globalpost and Huffington post alter the landscape, or would the fixed attention trends continue with the balloon boy or Michael Jackson simply replacing Anna Nicole Smith?

For shining a light on a topic often overlooked, Alisa Miller’s 2008 TED talk is stamped as “Guaranteed to Inform”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Three Presentations, Three States, All Welcomed

I will be presenting “Faith in Action” the following days at Jesuit Universities. I invite students and individuals in the area to attend. I will be focusing on the theme of hope in global HIV/AIDS using stories and examples from my research in the field. The goal is to challenge, inform and inspire the audience to believe in the power of the individual to impact their communities.

I hope you can make one of the presentations.

Thursday, Nov 19 at 10am
St Peters College
Roy Irving Theater
Jersey City, NJ

Monday, Nov 30 at 7pm
St Joesph’s University
Philadelphia, PA
Location TBD

Thursday, Dec 3 at 7pm
Fairfield University
Fairfield, CT
Lower Lobby BBC

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BVA - Power Shift: Australia

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more information.

What do you get when you mix a Saturday Night Live hit skit, a "flash" mob, and young adults looking to spread a message? The answer is Powershift - the newest BVA installment.

Powershift is a global grassroots organization that lobbies politicians to take energy policy and alternative energy seriously. Their website and organizational model breed camaraderie through group portals and videos while allowing easy access to locate and contact local government representatives. You may be thinking, "Can students make a difference?" The department of energy (DOE) seems to think so.

In October, Newsweek featured a piece on the DOE biannual Solar Decathlon contest. Teams of college students build "a fully functional house powered by nothing but the sun". The grading rubric includes architecture, market viability, home entertainment and seven other categories. The underlying objective is best explained by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. In the piece he stresses the competition as a method of challenging the coming generation to innovate, collaborate and grow a green industrial revolution. They are stakeholders not bystanders.

Policy, grassroots advocacy and education are three pillars to achieve the much anticipated "new" economy. The DOE's contest is an example of expanding the application of lessons learned for college students. It is a valuable academic tool. Powershift is another example. It connects students across the globe to gear up for energy change. It has revved up the campaign in light of the fast approaching Copenhagen Climate Conference. December 9th the world will know if leaders are serious about climate change. If they want to feel the pulse of the younger generation or if they want a quick laugh at the lengths young adults will do to spread a message, I would recommend this video. It starts off slow, but gets

For showing how comedy and art can bring attention to a global issue, for organizing and motivating over 100 young adults to dance in public, and for getting young adults involved in the democratic process - this BVA goes to Powershift.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday Commemoration of Jesuit Martyrs

20th Anniversary of a Call to Action

They were two Spanish Jesuits on a mission in El Salvador. They were two dear friends who intensely felt a calling to act in defense of the oppressed and challenge the establishment. Together they would alter the meaning of a Christian university by publicly turning its research departments into active social change agents. One is Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ, a renowned Catholic author and a leading figure on what Jesuit higher education should look like. The other is Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría SJ, Sobrino's inseparable colleague, spiritual guide and visionary partner. Twenty years ago, one would be martyred and one would narrowly escape.

In 1982 upon the acceptance of an honorary degree from Santa Clara University, Ellacuría eloquently challenged the audience to believe in the power of a university. A university was to build academic excellence and intellectual capacity. These were the vital tools needed to address root problems of oppression. For Ellacuría the overarching goals were based on two fundamentals of Liberation Theology - championing a preferential option for the poor and embracing social justice.

Prophets speak truth to power regardless of the consequence and Ellacuría and his fellow Jesuits knew the dangers of speaking against the military. From 1977-1980 alone, seven Catholic priests were murdered. Over a decade later in 1993, the UN would confirm the assassination of beloved Arch-Bishop Oscar Romero was ordered by Army Major Roberto D’Aubuisson. Yet, Ellacuría’s views were fully absorbed and practiced at his university, Universidad Centroamerica José Simeon Cañas. During the El Salvador civil war the university and the Jesuits became the prophetic voice for the oppressed, the murdered and the poor. It denounced the military and produced studies on the effects of the civil war and poverty on the masses.

In his speech, Ellacuría bore witness to the consequences of challenging the establishment and advocating for the poor. “From 1976 to 1980, our campus was bombed ten times: we have been blocked and raided by military groups and threatened with the termination of all aid. Dozens of students and teachers have had to flee the country in exile; one of our students was shot to death by police who entered the campus. Our history has been that of our nation.”

Last year I had the privilege of hearing Sobrino lecture on the fundamentals of Ellacuría’s vision and pedagogy. It is an exercise in reflection that demands action. The poor and the oppressed are the crucified people. We must ask ourselves. What have I done to put them up there? What am I doing to help them down? For the UCA it meant releasing studies and pointing at structural violence and cycles whose chains never unlinked for the majority of the population. The more it denounced the military the closer it became a target.

On November 16, 1989, when Sobrino was luckily out of the country, armed men entered the Jesuit residence at the University and murdered six Jesuits, the cook, and the cook’s 15 year old daughter. Each Jesuit was shot in the head. It was meant to symbolize the erasing of these Jesuits ideas. Yet the murders would draw international attention and help propagate the message of Ellacuría. That message of speaking truth to power, analyzing root causes of poverty and acting in solidarity with the poor is championed to this day by Sobrino and alive in the hearts, minds and actions of individuals and organizations around the world.

If you are in NJ, I invite you to come celebrate the lives and messages of Ellacuría, Sobrino, and the UCA Jesuits this Sunday on the 20th anniversary commemoration of the El Salvador Martyrs.

8th Floor 89 Market St
Downtown Newark

$ 10 Donation
Speeches, Music and Food

Sunday, November 1, 2009

BVA – Dove “Evolution”

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more.

In President Eisenhower’s farewell address he warned the country of a “military-industrial complex” that could grow so large it would challenge our democratic principles and liberties. Eisenhower feared the influence and lobbying power this complex would have on government policies, decision and budgets. 50 years later the Congressional Budgeting Office divvies up 20% of the taxpayer pie to Defense. A closer look by places the percentage at 54 by including veteran benefits and the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps the President known for his highways and WWII heroism should also be recognized as a psychic.

In the last BVA, Annie Leonard tackled another industrialized system. This one was defined by corporate capitalism and relentless consumerism which are depleting resources, producing endless waste and valuing short term profits over long term sustainability. She picks up where Eisenhower left adding the largest multinational corporations to the list of undemocratic and potentially destructive influences.

This BVA installment attempts to shine light on materialism and manipulative marketing – two lifebloods of consumerism. Whereas Eisenhower alerted citizens to changes that could alter our democratic practices, consumerism, materialism and manipulative marketing affect the psyche of individuals. Marketing machines have nearly ingrained in our culture an insatiable desire for newer, better and bigger. Quick, go out and buy the latest UGG boots or wrist watch as if materials indicate someone’s worth or value. Buy that hair coloring product, anti-aging cream or spend a few thousand on botox shots. Don’t you know that age is the enemy? It brings me back to my research in Rwanda where a middle aged female US doctor said she would never color her grey hair again. Why? Because her patients taught her without a word that grey hair meant you were privileged to live a long life - a privilege to celebrate not hide.

The old adage maintains that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately the message is mangled by industries hawking items and portraying their own selective and near unattainable definition of beauty. I find it interesting how it can radically differ across cultural borders. For example, in Thailand women use skin bleaching creams and whitening techniques while in the USA it’s self bronzing lotions and tanning beds. How can a woman keep up?

This Dove video offers a glimpse into what every person, particularly girls, should know - beauty is not derived from external forces, marketing campaigns or doctored photos. I promise that you’ll never look at advertisement the same again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Social Media to the Rescue

Speaking to English Classes about Writing

I give a decent amount of presentations regarding “Hope & Global HIV” and “Faith in Action”, but talking about writing to 8th graders wasn’t in my crystal ball. Writing was a hassle in 8th grade. But years later during my research and travels it became my outlet. Now in the midst of a book manuscript it has become a large chunk of my life.

Faced with two 50 minute classes I turned to social media for advice. Through my facebook fan page and twitter account I was able to generate over 40 responses and comments on what people would stress to 8th graders about writing. Interestingly four of the five responses (Journaling, Creative Writing, Personal Style and Structural Elements) were within 6% points of each other. The most noted suggestion (by over 20 percentage points) was on how reading affects writing.

Keeping the poll in mind, my presentation flowed out of my personal experience in Thailand volunteering at a Buddhist AIDS Temple. Using “Importance of Touch”, I tried to get across three main points.

1. Writing is Important - If you can write well you are a valuable asset because you can express or articulate a clear thought. If you write poorly with spelling errors or grammar mistakes you can get passed up on a high school, college or job application. Writing can draw attention to an issue, move people to act or bring people to a higher level of understanding.

2. Writing is a Process – grammar and spelling is like a hoop and a ball – you need them to play basketball. Editing and drafting are the lay up and shooting drills that turn you into a skilled player. I’m no Michael Jordan or Steven King, but “Importance of Touch” generated attention and was read at mass and reflection gatherings at Fairfield University. More importantly, it came out of hours of journaling after struggling with the death of a patient at the clinic. It took three drafts and nearly all night because I wanted it convey and express the intensity of my feelings.

3. Don’t get Discouraged – Growing up in a predominantly Spanish speaking household has its pluses and minuses. English grammar and spelling are both negatives and don’t combine to make a positive. I noticed a good amount nodding their heads in agreement. The trick is to read. Find an interest and go for it. I challenged them. I said has at least one topic or section that they must find interesting; then I let them in on a secret. You can double click on a word and the definition pops up in a new window. In the age of the internet reading shouldn't be a problem.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's your opinion?

Thank you to everyone who filled out this poll or left a comment. Over 40 responses gave me a good idea of what to focus on. I wrote a post "Social Media to the Rescue" about the results and how it affected the presentations. Thanks again.

Thank you for the help. The merits of writing is not a topic I usual present on, but I certainly blog about it afterwards.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

BVA - "The Story of Stuff"

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more.

At first I was hesitant to choose “The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard” as a BVA because of its length. 21 minutes has become an eternity to grab attention on an internet video. However Annie Leonard makes each minute count with her creative style, informative statistics and thought provoking sketches. Granted the video seems targeted for young adults and adolescents but perhaps it’s on point for teens are impressionable and children can have a great affect on their parents’ spending habits.

In the “Story of Stuff” Annie tackles what could be considered the heart of American culture – consumerism. Economics has garnered a great deal of attention in the past year given the global recessions and large wall street bonuses. Less heard of are questions or investigations of how our system works, who benefits and at what cost to both humans and our planet. This video highlights a system of corporate capitalism that values maximizing profits and short term rewards over the general wellbeing of multiple stakeholders – workers, ecosystems and consumers alike.

The video paints a rather stark reality and uses a big brush. As a disclaimer, it makes some assumptions for the viewer and should not be written off as “liberal propaganda” - sustainability is everyone's concern. Many of the issues are more complex than depicted in the video. A former post of mine discusses one such instance – “Walmart – a Preferential Option for the Poor?”. However, with over 7 million views and tens years of investigative research the video seeks to draw attention to a major global issue and reshape the conversation. It has all the ingredients of a BVA.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Christ the King Prep

Changing Inner City Secondary Education - One Job at a Time

The Newark Club is a beautiful venue to hold an evening event. Located on the 22nd floor in the heart of Newark’s business district the wraparound windows offer crystal clear views of New York City and Newark. With two lush bars and delicious (near endless) food Christ the King Prep President, Fr. Robert Sandoz OFM (Franciscan) made his message clear at the school’s gala – “Our greatest treasure is our students”.

In the political world no one dares discredit the importance of education. Everyone heralds education as a bedrock of our country, but the consensus agreement is that we must do better particularly in urban cities. It’s an issue that has been around for quite some time as the evening’s top honoree, Fr Edward Glynn SJ has dedicated his life to education in underserved populations. The real rub arises in how to bring about change. In today’s NYTimes, Nick Kristof highlights the growing problem, the counterproductive teacher unions and some researched based initiatives that are producing results.

The Christo Rey network stands as an example of how innovation and a shared mission can provide opportunity to students with very limited funds. What’s innovative? The students have longer school days and school years than others. They have a rigorous academic program that focuses on core subjects and lifelong learning principles like complex reasoning and collaboration. Other schools do this as well, but where the program differs is in its motto “The School that Works!”.

The schools recruit students whose families are living below the federal poverty line and only allow students whose families make up to 75% the per capita income of the local community. The network exists because of a novel idea to intertwine corporate America and high school education. Students are grouped together (in four or five) and work for a local business or organization (one student works Monday, another Tuesday etc). Their collective salary greatly defrays the cost of tuition. In turn, the students are exposed to an environment where they grow to recognize the value of their education. The bottom line is 99% of the students are accepted into college and many are the firsts in their family.

The Christ the King Prep in Newark is one of the newer schools in the network. Opening in 2007, their elder statesmen are the Junior class. Every Junior I spoke with at the gala highly valued the experience and often responded with an enthusiastic “great” when prompted about the working. What the school needs is more employment opportunities for the students. They say “Growth is Life” but here it’s “Jobs mean Growth”. Therefore, I encourage you to find the nearest network and look into the potential of employing a group. From medical clinics to law firms, each job brings a world of opportunity to a handful of resource limited teens.

The evenings other honoree was former Georgetown Coach John Thompson and in his address he focused on a core concept – “Faith without works is meaningless”. The Cristo Rey Network and Christ the King Prep in Newark have become the newest work of several religious orders combined. What was started by the Jesuits of Chicago has grown with the support of the Sisters of Charity, several Archdioceses and many Jesuit provinces. Together with the laity and the local communities change is coming to inner city secondary education – one job and five students at a time.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

BVA - Playing for Change

The Bi-weekly Video Award (BVA) is announced Sunday nights every other week. These videos are stamped with my "Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform" tag. Check out for more.

I have always been one to put money in the cases of musicians. After bailing out on the guitar and the sax in my middle schools years I learned to appreciate the difficulty, dedication and creativity needed to play an instrument and produce quality music. Most of the songs I tried to play were chosen because of the lyrics, a catchy tune or ease; "Stand by Me" is one such song. Ben E. King wrote and recorded "Stand by Me" in 1961. Since that time versions spanning multiple genres from Mo-town to Punk Rock have promoted the powerful lyrics in their own unique style. Greats like Otis Redding, John Lennon and Maurice White (Earth, Wind and Fire) brought added fame to the song, but no version is as moving or powerful as Mark Johnson's "Playing for Change".

The concept is simple - using music to bring people from all walks of life and different corners of the world together. The lyrics stress a fundamental human desire best described as genuine comfort; the knowledge that in good times and bad you are not alone. The beauty of the video is the universal theme pieced together with musicians and instruments from various traditions, ethnicities, and countries to reenforce the message. We are one community. We are one world. Here the message does not propagate from stars, rather it springs eternal from the faces and sounds found across the globe. It is a message that has found the right note in the online community as the video has over 14 million views on youtube.

Don't forget to leave a comment. I'd love to know which musician struck a chord with you. Enjoy!

The Playing for Change initiative is currently building musical programs in developing countries and touring in the USA and Canada. The website has other amazing videos and songs. I personally recommend reading the journey tab which includes how advances in technology greatly changed through the production years (smaller cameras, faster computers, uploading to the net etc).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Videos with a Purpose has added a new feature – Bi-weekly Video Awards (BVA). These videos will come out on Sunday nights every other week and have the “Guaranteed to Inspire or Inform” stamp of approval!

Andy Ridley, the Executive Director of Earth Hour, has been one of the creative geniuses behind an advocacy campaign that has turned the lights off in over 4,000 cities and 88 countries; all in preparation for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. By keeping the Earth Hour logo and creative open source, Ridley was able to take advantage of a undervalued resource – people’s own creativity and drive to push a message. The inaugural BVA was introduced to me during Ridley’s presentation at the Social Good Conference. As the lights go off around some of the world’s most recognized monuments and buildings one can not help the goosebumps that come with a unifying global call for action.

I choose this video to coincide with an “unprecedented” day in United Nations and perhaps global history. One hundred heads of state gathering at the United Nations for a day long conference solely focused on the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The backroom discussions and conversations coupled with speeches by key players makes this conference the barometer for who will sign what come December. So far I have been unimpressed with the TV media coverage given the importance of today’s gathering, but the NY Times has several articles and clips worth checking out.

Watch the video at GlobalSocialJustice.Net

Friday, September 4, 2009

Social Media for Social Good

Mashable’s Summer of Social Good

Last Friday something happened that only a few years ago would not have been possible. What has changed? It’s a little bit of technology, lots of innovation and a new method of creating positive change. People from across the country converged at the 92stY in Manhattans Upper East Side for a day long conference on how social media is propagating social good. This capped a summer social media initiative that raised approximately $30,000 for three non-profit organizations.

Hosted by Mashable (think CNN for Social Media news), leaders from nonprofits and social media sites like Facebook highlighted the whos, hows and why of what has made social media a medium every sector is seeking to capitalize on. I am a NPR junkie in the car and thought no better way to depict the conference lessons learned by highlighting the “take away”… so with kudos to Adaora Udoji and John Hockenberry here goes…

o Mashable - My take away from my first conversation with Pete Cashmore, Mashable’s co-founder and CEO, was that he was reading “The Social Media Bible”. My second conversation – which started in the bathroom regarding his Scottish roots and rugby – taught me everyone likes to hear funny stories about my older brother the former professional fighter. The take away from second conversation was finding an online outlet for your writing takes time, contacts and a lot of “sticktoitness”.

o Facebook Everyone knows Facebook is the big elephant in the room when it comes to social media. I was pleasantly surprised by Randi Zuckerberg’s presentation highlighting Facebook mobilizing social good across the globe: Virginia Tech (Memorial/Support groups), Colombia (No More Farc and kidnappings), Iran (Election fraud) and Saudi Arabia (Fighting a ban on women driving). The take away is that social media has again shrunken the world and that it is indeed a very powerful tool for advocacy, organizing and, yes, even action. Moreover, facebook pages are the present and near future for marketing (large, medium and small). She also gave a lot of advice on making your pages a success (driving traffic, increasing members and going viral – but you’ll have to email me for that info or wait for another post!)

o NonProfits – Some large non-profits have already figured out how to capitalize and utilize social media to generate support, promote advocacy, fundraise and manage their brand reputation (and this is only a short list). The most impressive was WWF. Not only do they sport a large in house social media team but they have a CEO who blogs everyday so employees and supporters know exactly what is going on. Other non-profits are still attempting to “figure” out the approach or catch up to the Jones. I came away with lots of best practices and ideas that are generating results for several of these non-profits and foundations.

o Beth Kantor – A do it all consultant, teacher and social entrepreneur. The take away is that technology has advanced so much that the world has shrunken and individuals can make an incredible and tangiable difference by themselves. Beth is a fireball of passion, action and creativity who got the wheels turning in my head. Her website is a must for anyone looking to utilize social media professionally. Period.

o Geoff Livingston – The take away from this straight from the hip speech was breaking through the “shiny object syndrome” (aka the massive amounts of white noise and clutter that grasps our attention) by targeting campaigns and brands as it relates to the specific audience. I could not help but think of the Jesuit concept of meeting people where they are throughout his presentation - perhaps further validation for Chris Lowney's book chronicling how Jesuit ideals and mottos reflect great business practices.

o Jonathan Greenblatt (co-founder of Ethos water, member of Obama transition team and president of – I saved this one for last. I asked Jonathan what book he is reading and who his mentors were during his Q/A. The first question I ask everyone to see what I should be reading (the answer is “Here Comes Everybody”) but the more important question is the mentoring. Throughout college and even my global HIV/AIDS work mentoring has not been part of the equation. It has usually been an idea, some conversations and me working every angle or contact I can to achieve the goal. Along my travels, interviews and conversations I have been lucky enough to meet very passionate, driven and successful people, but with few have I thought “click” this guy would be a great mentor because he gets it. Jonathan’s pragmatism and perspective capture the new wave of leaders. People who recognize the value of innovation, creation, leadership and, most importantly, striving for the greater good. The economy of corporate creed makes way to the economy of integrity in Jonathon’s stance and his examples run the gambit - from Zipcar making people rethink if they need to purchase a car to Tom's shoes who donate one pair of shoes to people in need for every one they sell.

Next Post - Additions to the GSJ Website in Light of the Conference

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wal-Mart – A Preferential Option for the Poor?

The Commitment to Justice Conference in Jesuit Higher Education was held at Fairfield University with Faculty, Jesuits and Administrators from over 32 national and international Jesuit Universities. I will be posting reflections from the different panels and seminars attended.

Fr. Stephen Rowntree SJ knew the session’s topic would generate a crowd. The standing room only classroom was there to hear his “What Wal-Mart Reveals about the Global Economy” presentation. Judging by the engaging dialogue post presentation one could say it did not disappoint.

The lens of choice for this academic exercise was simply justice. Is Wal-Mart a corporation that is doing justice work? It appeared the hole had already been dug as an early show of hands overwhelmingly found the basic view of Wal-Mart to be “somewhat unfavorable” with “quite unfavorable” as the closest second. What jumps to mind when you hear Wal-mart and justice? I immediately thought of low waged workers with limited (or no) benefits, no unions and small suppliers being run out of town.

Now imagine the intrigue when Fr Rowntree SJ in front of a cohort of faulty, administrators and alums of Jesuit universities called Wal-Mart a store that has a preferential option for the poor. It is no small reference as the preferential option for the poor is one of the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching and heralded as a rallying call by former Jesuit Superior Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, referred to by one presenter as “the second founder of the Jesuits”.

Rowntree SJ acknowledges the lack of unions is a major problem in the equation but also staunchly supports the constructive benefits of the company. “Wal-mart employs 2 million people world wide, including 1.4 million in the US. The US work force is larger than the US Army" and it is the largest private employer in Mexico and Canada. He is quick to point out that it produces low skilled jobs for the young, the uneducated and the retired who otherwise would have difficulty finding work. In this light it is a company whose hiring practices are rooted in providing options to the many who have been left out of the capitalist system.

Wal-Mart grew from a single discount store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 to the world’s largest corporation (by sales) because of innovation – a favorite son of capitalism. According to Rowntree it revolutionized supply chain management by cutting out or squeezing the middleman. This may hurt the manufacturers and small suppliers but in a globalized capitalist system such is the way of life. Furthermore, Wal-Mart implemented a tracking/stocking inventory system that allowed it to lower its margins. Couple these innovations and what you get is the ability to greatly reduced the cost of the items sold. Here is where the second point is cemented. Wal-Mart has a preferential option for the poor due to its low low prices. Not only does it allow people to save money for goods they need and otherwise not be able to afford, but the money saved can be utilized for other spending or saving. Thereby, either further stimulating the economy or helping the costumer stay above water.

Although this was not mentioned in the session if we look at Wal-Mart’s new prescriptions for under $4 program and 90 day fillings for $10 we see the instant impact of Wal-Mart directly on access to cheap medications and medical savings in the community. “For instance, alendronate, the generic version of osteoporosis medication Fosamax, will be added to the list. Company pharmacies will fill 30-day prescriptions of alendronate for $9 and a 90-day supply for $24 at a comparison of $54 and $102, respectively, that women previously paid for the same amounts, the company said.” (Link to quote)

Of course like much of big business the devil is in the details and I have not research or studied them in this case. It is certain that beyond lacking health benefits, manipulating part time versus full time and the lack of unions are troubling, but the constructive creation that comes from the process has made the issues much more complex. The session did alter my view of Wal-Mart. It went from clearly “somewhat unfavorable” to a cloudy and murky “somewhat unfavorable”.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Open for Greed or the Greater Good?

Reflection from First Panel on Commitment to Social Justice

The Commitment to Justice Conference in Jesuit Higher Education was held at Fairfield University with Faculty, Jesuits and Administrators from over 32 national and international Jesuit Universities. Over the next week or two I will be posting reflections from the different panels and seminars attended.

Panel Discussion on Bringing Social Justice into Jesuit Graduate Education

This discussion touched upon the challenges that face administrators in shaping a vision for a program, hiring faculty and getting buy in from all stakeholders particularly students (and prospective students). Led by a team from Loyola Maryland, the heart of the issue that put everything into perspective was - "Do we want a Jesuit Business School or do we want a Business School at a Jesuit University?".

Unfortunately, at first glance it would seem that these two concepts are polar. These days when we think of business it is corporate greed that wears the bulls-eye. Whether it is Eron's accounting tricks, credit default swaps that dropped AIG and others to their knees or predatory lending by credit card companies the examples of turning profits at the expense of the greater good has plagued the business community's image and seemingly produced a corporate culture that alienates the majority.

In March 2008, Jon Sobrino SJ challenged christian universities to play their role in maintaining a preferential option for the poor and building solutions that strived for the greater good. He argued that corporate capitalism and a consumer crazed mentality that stressed the accumulation of wealth were the antithesis of the Christian calling. Where were the economic models that kept in mind the rights of producers and consumers or made the system more inclusive and less exploitative? Who would produce the students that sought to tweak the model or shift the focus?

What I have learned is business is part of the answer and the statement holds true regardless of country, development index or regional location. Job and wealth creation are integral pieces of any functioning economy and put funds directly in the hands of people on the ground. Perhaps the most fitting example is Grameen Bank and other micro-finance institutions (MFI) lifting millions of individuals out of poverty. Individuals who had been left behind or exploited by the corporate capitalist system. It is a great example of for-profit business working toward a common goal for the greater good. The bank, which does has a non-profit subsidiary, has branches throughout the developing world and now even in Queens. Another popular microfinance organization is, which recently announced new initiatives for providing loans in the United States. Many of the recipients of these loans use the funds as entrepreneurs - seeking to build or grow their own businesses.

The most successful microfinance centers incorporate financial training and healthcare in their programs. It is one of the major reasons why all centers are not born the same, particularly given the rise in the industry. There are cases of manipulative policies and even debt collectors intimidating clients - but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. The industry is still young and ratings systems are now trying to expose the bad apples. Similarly the panel described a relatively new approach of Jesuit graduate programs in the past two decades of "mirroring professional secular graduate schools". The feared consequences are the stress on prestige and success replacing core values of cura personalis (the education of the whole person - sound mind, sound body and sound spirit) and ad majorem dei gloriam (for the greater good of God). The expectation is that business schools at Jesuit University's put into practice their mission statements, strive to innovate and create solutions for the greater good and reproach the ideas of corporate greed and excess profits. In this way they would embrace Sobrino's message and become Jesuit Business Schools. But again, which is it that we want and how will it affect applicants, potential faculty and the Jesuit concepts of inclusion, diversity and meeting people where they are in life? All in all, it was a great start to the conference.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can you go to Jail for having Sex?

Whether it is listening to the sexually explicit lyrics of today's popular music or watching the frequent commercials where "sex sells" is the underlying message, the United States is more than waist deep in the culture of sex. But in what some have branded the age of sexually transmitted infections, what happens if you can go to jail for having unprotected sex?

More specifically, what are the legal repercussions of a person passing the HIV virus to another? The last eight weeks have seen three major stories come out of North America. In Toronto, a man was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and ten counts of aggravated sexual assault. He infected twelve women two of which died of cancer that spread from their compromised immune systems. In May, another Toronto man was charged with attempted murder for not disclosing his status to his partner and allegedly transmitting the virus. Lastly, a man in Texas was charged with six counts of aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon.

People who knowingly break laws and inflict harm on others deserve to be prosecuted under the law. However first-degree murder is one of the highest forms of convictions in common law systems and generally requires establishment of a certain state of mind, such as pre-meditated or malicious intent. Therefore the crux of the issue lies in intention and knowingly putting the partner at risk without disclosing ones HIV status; both are not cut and dry. The probability of passing the virus during unprotected sexual contact is not 100%. Much of it has to do with viral loads (the smaller the viral load, less chance of transmission). What if a HIV positive male indiscriminately slept with multiple partners without using protection but never knew his status (remember statistics estimate 20% of the US population with HIV does not know their own positive status – roughly 200,000 individuals). What category would he fall into if a partner (who agreed to consensual sex in the first place) pressed charges? Do both parties assume the risk if no condom is used? What if his last HIV test was negative so he thought it was safe not to use a condom? Well, it takes two to eight weeks for the body to build the antibodies to HIV for a test to signal positive. I think you get my drift. The issues are complex and need to be determined on a case by case basis, which is why public health and HIV/AIDS aficionados are hoping a precedent has not been set with the recent Toronto cases.

The public health voices understand that combating HIV/AIDS within a community is a combined effort of treatment and prevention. To ensure success many criteria need to be met, one is strong emphasis on getting tested. In other words, we should be encouraging testing. In resource rich countries increased testing can be argued to reduce the spread of the virus because more people will be on HIV medications. For instance, getting as many people on medication will lower the viral load within a given community - an argument made by Partners in Health with their "Public Health for the Public Good" approach. If a precedent for attempted murder or first degree murder charges has been established it will only frighten people from getting tested. Why know your status, better to plead negligence.

Another concern is fear of discrimination. It cannot be missed that these high profile cases increase the stigma associated with HIV. We should recall the hoopla following one inmate's conviction of attempted murder for spitting at an officer (no case has ever shown transmission through saliva). It can also not be lost in the media attention that cases in which HIV positive individuals intentionally and knowingly transmit the virus are the fringe minority. In the Bottom Billion, Paul Collier argues if you take a large enough sample of any population you are going to end up with the normal percentage of psychopaths and mentally disturbed people. Do we want these few creating an even deeper hole for the HIV positive community to climb out of?

How do we establish intent or malice? Can we prove without a shadow of a doubt that one person infected another? Do we mandate disclosure? What about civil damages? What if someone passes on multidrug resistant tuberculosis? The majority of these questions will come to light at some point in the future as more and more cases come forth in the criminalization of HIV/AIDS. I caution that each case be treated as independent where the facts and sentencing coincide accordingly. What all people, HIV positive and negative, should take out of these stories is the absolute necessity of being responsible if you chose to be sexually active. What is responsible you ask? It's the topic of next week's blog.

*** Footnote From the CDC ***
The proper and consistent use of latex or polyurethane (a type of plastic) condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse--vaginal, anal, or oral--can greatly reduce a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Emily C. Specchio Foundation Announces Ambassador Program

The following is the transcript of my speech at the 3rd Annual Emily C. Specchio “Night with an Angel”.

Good Evening Everyone,

My name is Marco Ambrosio, I am one of Emily’s cousins. In fact we were one year apart and spent family affairs usually laughing together. I have been asked tonight to briefly explain the Ambassador program. For those that are unfamiliar with my family – brief and explain are at opposite ends of the Ambrosio spectrum – but I promise to break the mold. Now, the Ambassador program comes directly out of my work, my partnership with the foundation and Emily’s passion for life and helping others.

Last year I spoke at this event a few days after returning from Rwanda. I spoke of my Hope & Global HIV Project that also took me to Nicaragua, India, Thailand, and San Francisco. In the past year, I have furthered my work in global social justice having completed a manuscript based on the project. I am currently looking for a publisher and a literary agent – and any leads would certainly be welcomed! I should add that I designed and created a website that supports my various activities and speaking engagements. Everything I say tonight can be accessed on my website –

Since speaking last year, I helped the foundation create the Ambassador program. The reason for this program is simple – there is no better way to remember Emily than by helping young people to challenge themselves and see what kind of impact they can make. When I first approached John and Eileen, I was a soon-to-be college grad with an idea, a passion and contacts. I needed to cement my credibility and find a way to solicit donations. In short, the foundation enabled me to be the change I wanted to see in the world. Now, the foundation is looking to enable others.

New Jersey residents aged 18-25 are eligible to apply. The applicants must demonstrate a clear vision for a community outreach project to be started & completed within a year. Those chosen will receive 2 to 1 matching funds up to $5000 from the foundation for money they raise and – as importantly – mentoring from foundation members. The project can be designed for a domestic or international cause. We decided on matching funds instead of grants because we want to attract inspired and self-motivated applicants. The Ambassador will be chosen through an application process (which is available online at the foundation and my website and we encourage you in the audience to spread the word before the September 1st deadline.

The Ambassador must maintain an active blog or website to promote the work and allow the foundation and all of you to follow along as well. Kate and I will provide mentoring and training to accomplish this goal. This requirement is based on my own experience with my blog, which has had entries read at churches and schools and is followed by people in multiple countries. One entry was even posted online by the Rwandan Ministry of Health.

The foundation will arrange a minimum of five speaking engagements for the Ambassador to promote both the project and a powerful tool for social justice. At each of the speaking engagements, the foundation will make a micro-loan administered through Almost two years ago I started my project focused on healthcare and human rights, but my research and travels have taught me how complex issues like HIV/AIDS and development are tied to healthcare, education and jobs. Microfinance is the best way to foster self-employment and empower entrepreneurs in developing countries. These loans change lives – I have seen it in Nicaragua, in rural Rwanda, and Central Thailand. The grandfather of microfinance organizations was started by Mohammed Yunus – a Bangladeshi economist who won the Noble Peace Prize in 2006 for starting Grameen Bank. This past January, the bank - which uses micro-loans to help eradicate poverty - has started its first branch in a developed country. Where? Across the river in Queens, NY. I urge everyone here to investigate how making a loan to resource poor people can change the world – again the links are on my website.

I personally look forward to expanding the Ambassador program with each year that passes. After many presentations of my work at universities, high schools and churches I have been approached by students looking for the type of opportunity that I was able to establish. All too often students lack the mentoring, funding or belief that they can make an impact – this program is a first step.

Before I leave, I would like to announce two things. The first is that I have produced an educational DVD that highlights inspiring stories of individuals and organizations from each of the countries I have researched for my work. Secondly, I am currently running social media solutions events in Lyndhurst. The topics range from staying in touch with family and friends, small business solutions and one in particular on my global HIV/AIDS work (which is May 13). The events are hands on, experiential and a chance to get all your questions answered about twitter, facebook, and social media.

Both the DVD and registering for the social media events are available through my website. Colorful information sheets on the social media events and the actual Ambassador application are located on the table where you checked in this evening.

Thank you for being apart of this night and be prepared for the Ambassdor’s presentation next year – I for one hope it will not be brief. Thank you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hearts and Minds

"Working for Global Justice - Conference Exhibits Power of Collaboration"

Newly ordained Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York put the day’s events in perspective with one line. “We’ve seen here today the head and the heart of the Church”. At yesterday’s Working for Global Justice Conference, Fordham University and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) celebrated ten years of collaboration in a way befitting to their common interests and missions.

The Catholic Church and, in particular, the Society of Jesus have long had a role in higher education. Whether it is St. Xavier’s in Mumbai, the Universidad de Centroamerica in Managua or Fordham University in the Bronx, when one walks through the campus grounds you will see Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG) chiseled in the walls. What does it mean? Well literally it means “For the greater glory of God” but its significance is the life blood that fosters the success of both Jesuit schools and CRS.

The beauty of a Jesuit education goes far beyond commitment to academic excellence. It is cemented in the core concept of putting what you have learned into practice toward the betterment of the common good. In a previous post I commented on a lecture I heard by Jon Sobrino SJ at Boston College. Sobrino challenges Jesuit and Christian universities to produce people who have a moral obligation to the poor and a deep rooted sense of social responsibility. It is a goal that transcends religion and one that epitomizes the collaboration between Fordham’s graduate program in International Political Economy and Development (IPED) and CRS.

Students of the IPEDgraduate program put their course work into action as fellows or employees of CRS – an organization rooted in Catholic social teachings. CRS is a multinational humanitarian organization providing care and programs in countries all across the world and employs people of all traditions, religions, and creeds. Most importantly they operate with what I have come to learn is the most successful approach. They do not dictate terms. Instead there is an emphasis on conversation - taking into account cultural and religious sensitivities. Moreover, they seek partnerships with local field organizations and community leaders, which creates greater effectiveness and reach with programs. In my eyes, CRS has adopted the core teachings of Catholicism – that ours is a world tied by common humanity and shared wants, needs and dreams. Their goal is not conversion; it is development, solidarity and a shared sense of action.

The head and heart are major topics in western philosophy. The brain often symbolizes intellgence and thought while the heart passion and love. Decartes said "I think therefore I am". St. Thomas Aquinas said "Love takes up where knowledge leaves off". The majority of us hope our hearts and minds find a synergistic path that builds a vocation beyond our careers. Just as blood is the life line between our brains and hearts, what unites IPED and CRS is their shared commitment to the greater good - synergy at its finest.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Website Worth Visiting

A Website Dedicated to Challenge, Inform and Inspire Action

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Monday Launch Time

I will be officially launching my new website on Monday. The website will serve as a resource tool and a central hub for my work. Featuring resources, like websites and video presentations, and different ways to get involved with social and economic justice initiatives, the objective is to challenge, inform, and inspire action.

More to come Monday

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Life Project for Africa

Russell Simmons Challenges the Audience to Give More Despite the Times

“It is in giving that we receive. When we give - we get.” Sitting in the lap of luxury at the Prestigious Trump National Golf Club, an estate owned by Donald Trump, Russell Simmons found the words to convey a poignant message.

Russell’s words struck at the heart of my initial unease. The country club is an exquisite example of opulence – marble bathrooms, statues galore, myriad chandeliers, and everything Trump-like you can imagine. Yet, the evening was devoted to raising funds to create access to water, access to medication, access to education and the basic necessities – the things that really matter.

The organization running the fundraiser was Life Project for Africa (LPA), a young but successful group that understands the importance of a comprehensive mission. By building and equipping a hospital and tackling issues like education and water, LPA has begun the process of changing the lives of a population of 120,000 in Tanzania. What started out of the efforts of a Catholic Church’s parishioners, led by Tanzanian priest Fr Stephen Mosha, has grown into a separate non-profit organization with the vital mantra of “together we are hope”.

The mantra is not lost of the evening’s event. It is important to note that LPA is entirely volunteer run and operated and that the event was held at the country club through the generosity of Donald Trump. In doing so LPA was able to attract a very broad and resourceful audience. Throughout the delicious hor dourves, fine foods, and dancing the gala goers were lured into the world of people struggling through everyday life in Tanzania. Most importantly they were shown how the funds generated from previous evenings had impacted the lives of people on the ground seven thousand miles away.

Russell’s parting words put the evening into perspective. He acknowledged that he and other people in the room had lost and have been losing quite a sum of money over the past 12 months. He continued saying the circumstances do not mean they should be giving less. To paraphrase - these are the times people with resources should be giving the same as they always have and even raising the bar. In many ways Simmons challenged the audience to think deeply about what they have and how they can use it to benefit others. It is a simple message with profound implications – one that LPA has grown to embody.

There is a great video on the LPA website that I recommend watching

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life Project for Africa Gala

I will be attending the annual fundraising gala tonight for Life Project for Africa. The volunteer based and run organization seeks to address health and education issues in Tanzania and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. I will be attending as a guest of Fairfield University's Department of Religious Studies.

I will follow up with a full entry on the organization this weekend. In the mean time I invite you to check out their website and watch the introductory video.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

G20 Summit in England

The G20 started in 1999 as a response to the financial crisis of the 1990s. It is an extension of the G8, which started in 1973 after the oil crisis. Many hail the G20 because it is a better representation of the world economy post globalization. With the additions, particularly India, China, and Brazil - "the G20 economies account for more than 80 percent of the global gross national product, about 80 percent of world trade and some two-thirds of the world population.” (Newark Star Ledger) What this summit represents is an opportunity for world leaders to shape the present and the future.

Here is a short list of questions that will flow through the G20:

1. What is the future of globalization? One finance commentator on CNN put it bluntly, “Western Capitalism is on its knees”. The free market is in free fall as countries are throwing stimulus packages and propping up teetering banks and multinational corporations.

2. “Cold feet” and protectionist policies can bring the global economy to even lower levels. Countries have already started the process of banning certain imports (China in particular) or creating tariffs. If markets start closing businesses will suffer greater losses.

3. Will the off shore banks that act as accounts to evade taxes and hide corruption be forced to open their books? This has been a hot topic issue, one that G8 members point to countries like Switzerland and Luxemburg – often throwing bricks before examining in-house. It is well documented that states, such as Delaware and Nevada, have reduced regulations and heavy incentives to attract corporate accounts.

4. What will come of the bilateral and scheduled side meetings? Not often are 20 heads of state together at a summit. Side meetings set the ground work for policy and the road ahead.

a. USA and Russia
i. Agreed today to reduce number of nuclear arms
ii. Can they find common ground with engaging Iran and what about Afghanistan?
iii. Russia is attempting to establish a “sphere of influence” over many of its former soviet satellite countries (US base closings in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan). What is the diplomatic response?

b. USA and China
i. China has been financing much of how the US does business over the past decade. The stimulus package and bail outs have generated such vast amount of new money that inflation is surely to hit at some point. China has remarked that the US dollar should not be the world’s standard reserve.
ii. Trade policy, regulation, and human rights are all major issues that will be on the table when President Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao

c. USA and the EU
i. Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany) and Nicolas Sarkozy (President of France) have both been publicly critical of the US stimulus package citing the high cost of spending. What measures come out of the summit will be interesting as all have suggested that collaborating and working together will greatly expedite the recession

Monday, March 23, 2009

Presenting at Montclair State University

"Hope & Global HIV" presentation at the 3rd annual Peace Conference at Montclair State University

I would like to invite you to the 3rd annual Peace Conference at Montclair State University. I will be presenting "Hope & Global HIV" in the 4 -5:15pm time slot. It is free and open to the public. There are several presentations throughout the day ranging from the global water crisis (11:30am), the power of acupuncture (1pm), and a 2006 grammy nominated musician/yoga professor(6pm). There will also be workshops as well for free sample acupuncture and magnet treatment. (View Schedule Here)

Through photos, videos, stats, and stories I will seek to challenge, inform, and inspire. I will be focusing on my research in Rwanda - a country that has come from the depths of despair to a fragile state of hope.

Please consider yourself personally invited.

Marco Ambrosio

(This post will remain until Tuesday to promote the event)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

PBS World Focus Report on Nicaragua

“Anti-Americanism fades and business booms in Nicaragua”

Please view the World Focus clip here

This is indeed an interesting piece by World Focus. Instead of writing a blog I’d rather let some of the people I know comment on the piece…

Some of the points that stood out to me were:

1. Grenada
Historically Grenada is the hub of the Conservative Party (the title comes from the rich that favored direct trade with Spain and opposed “liberal” trade policies) and the city has long rumored to have greatly benefited from the Conservative governments that ran the country from 1990-2006 (particularly post Violetta Chomorro). Any pair of eyes that has been to other cities besides Grenada can easily note the differences. There are a host of US franchises, brightly painted walls, cropped landscapes, and a sheer focus on “looking the part” for tourists. These are characteristics generally not found in other cities/towns. Grenada is old wealth and lots of US ties – a mixture that affords its pristine picturesque central plaza.

2. Violence
Nicaragua is said to be the safest of the Central American countries. A strong reason is the lack of gangs and drug cartels that plague countries like Mexico, El Salvador, & Guatemala. However time and time again I have been told how crime has increased dramatically, particularly in Managua. Life has become even harder since the rise in gasoline prices and the global recession. Burglary has come to the point where taxi drivers in Managua will not go off the main roads when entering certain districts of the city. In Leon, people in the market to rent or buy a house will look first at the houses with a bank on the block (banks have an overnight watchman). Others streets have programs with each house on the block putting 100 Cordobas a month ($5) for a security man to ride his bike slowly through the streets overnight. His calling card is the whistle he blows every time he passes the street that pays (at least once per hour).

3. Business Friendly at what Cost?
Many of these corporations in the Tax Free Zone simply adopt a new name or leave before their 10-15 year tax break is finished – so the country seldomly collects on the business tax end. A larger, more complex question (which will be the focus of another blog) that comes forth in all countries is whether it is better to produce one job at a “just” wage or two jobs at a lower wage.

4. Tourism
Tourism has steadily risen because Nicaragua has many things going for it. It is culturally rich with friendly people and great music. It is naturally blessed with beaches, volcanoes, fine rum, and famous cigars (although these seeds come from Cuba). Lastly, it is practical – very cheap and three hours from Miami and Houston. One can understand the spending on tourism, but it is important to note the malls, restaurants, and hotels that have been built in the country are used only by the forgienors and the wealthiest of Nicaraguans. When 75% of the country makes less than $2.50 a day, when there are 4 doctors per 10,000 people, one would hope more funding would be placed in health clinics, schools, and food production over elaborate malls and resorts (which by now are numerous).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Central American Presidents

Two Leftist Presidents Starting Off with Opposite Foot Forward

The revolutionary parties of the 1970s and 1980s have taken their fight to the polls in Central America and after over a decade of heavily conservative pro-USA governments the left is winning. It took 16 years but Nicaragua's FSLN party was voted back into power in 2006 and as of last night the FMLN party of El Salvador is getting its first chance at assuming the reins since the 1992 peace accords that ended its bitter civil war. Nicaragua and El Salvador share a difficult road toward development and a similar history of US intervention, but a brief examination of the two men elected as president depicts an importance lesson in international politics.

President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua is a polarizer that brings a great deal of experience (or baggage) to the political table. He is often said to be a shoot first personality that praises the limelight over deft diplomacy. Ortega wears his politics on his sleeve. A speech seldom goes by that Ortega does not denounce the imperial United States and praise Hugo Chavez as the second coming – a comparison used by Ortega in several speeches. The staunchest of Sandinistas support Ortega, but many also understand that he will do anything to remain in power (see recent interview with David Frost). Historically Ortega has ostracized all contenders or challengers within the FSLN. Even the closest of political allies and highest officials are labeled traitors if they attempt to contest his leadership (see Herty 2006).

Take a short boat right across the Gulf of Fonseca and you will find the opposite of a military man – a CNN journalist. That is the personal story of Mauricio Funes the new President of El Salvador. Perhaps his past work in the media lends itself better to being politically savvy, but it can not be lost that the FMLN chose as its figure head a candidate that did not partake in the civil war. The decision displayed an air of progression. Instead of a guerilla commando like Ortega, Funes appears to understand the importance of nuanced and subtle statements. Yes Funes is “Left” but he understands that to be successful he will have to blur the line. Yes he will re-open trade with Cuba and engage with Chavez, Ortega, and Morales. Yes he will look to run socialist programs and with massive levels of poor housing, poor wages, and poor healthcare the programs are needed. Although fresh faced and new to the political game Funes has proven to start on the right footing - he welcomes relations with the US, he wishes to remain business friendly (but with more strict tax rules), and he has openly stated that his objective is to follow in the footsteps of Latin America’s most respected politician – President Lula of Brazil.

When Ortega won the election it automatically brought forth a sense of “here we go again” among many Nicaraguan locals and the international community. The Bush administration quickly released statements questioning the validity of the election win and strongly made suggestions as to what path Ortega should follow. Instead, the Obama administration has congratulated Funes on his victory and started the way for an open dialogue. The Left clearly won the election but it will remain to be seen if Funes will have the political capital to govern Center-Left a la Lula (a move President Obama is familiar with).

After reading through the NY Times, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, and a few Spanish news outlets, I believe this article from the AP on NPR does the best job highlighting several important issues of the Funes win.

Friday, March 13, 2009

CISAS HIV Awareness Clown Troupe

This past Monday the CISAS HIV Awareness Clown Troupe put on an awareness show in the central plaza of Leon. They put on the show as a personal favor and unfortunately given the short notice only a third of the Troupe was able to attend. Furthermore, I only had a limited amount of memory left on my video camera so the Troupe did their best to squeeze the normal 45 minute show into 20 minutes. I promised to put this video up ASAP because the clowns have very very few videos of them "at work".

The show is in spanish, but much of it is self explanatory given the props. The Troupe consists of young adults who have been recipients of CISAS' education and environmental programs for over eight years. It has proven to be a great method to create strong advocates within the youthful population. In my previous trip to Nicaragua I spent a good amount of time with the Troupe and helping with shows. No matter where the Troupe starts by the end they are ringed with people. More importantly, people leave with a basic understanding of how HIV transmits, how it doesn't, and how to properly use a condom.

Without further ado I present a fraction of the CISAS HIV Awareness Clown Troupe...

I added this clip from last year of a typical show by the clowns... note the microphone, drum set, speakers, and the number of clowns

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conversations and Headlines

This is a list of a few interesting tidbits I have come across in recent conversations and newspaper headlines in Nicaragua

1. Gov'ts Christmas Lights cause a Stir

This link tells of the political christmas trees that dot the capital. The interesting part is the government is paying (US$12 a day) and feeding people (three meals) to camp out, show support, and wave the flag. An article in one of the two national newspapers blasted the government's spending on the christmas lights and "the prayer-ers" calling it a waste of spending and a political ploy that only benefits Sandinistas. Articles highlighting wasted or political spending and the recent fraud in local elections is creating a rift in the country. From taxi drivers, to social workers, and Nicaraguan friends President Ortega is increasing seen as no longer exuding the principles of the Sandinistas and some have begun to call his supporters Danielistas instead.

2. President Ortega the next Putin or Chavez?

Al Jazeera's David Frost (from the famous Frost/Nixon interviews) recently interviewed President Daniel Ortega. Frost is the first person to get Ortega to speak on his personal political future. The answer is disheartening considering the democratic values the Sandinista founders professed and depicts Ortega's goal of holding on to power as long as he possibly can. There are two possible paths that have already been paved as examples - Russian's Putin who hand picked a successor and rules as the prime minister and Venezuela's Chavez who on his second attempt with in a year's time was able to remove term limits by amending the constitution through referendum vote. (According to wikipedia - the resolution passed with 54% voting in favor after 94% of the votes have been counted)

3. Walmart International

There are two supermarkets in Leon. The bigger and more popular one is called El Union. It was brought to my attention that it is owned and run by Walmart International. Some foreign items are produced in country and have a low cost compared to the average US 7-11 store - for instance Powerade is 50 cents and a large Gatorade is a dollar. Fruits are seasonal and many signs, particularly for fruit and the various coffees, promote the item as "export quality" or the name of the exporter (such as Avocados "exported by Hess").

Friday, March 6, 2009

Life after the Storm

Video Journal Focuses on the Rural Community of Goyena and Education

In the aftermath of Hurrican Mitch many Nicaraguans found themselves without posessions, villages, or a place to go called home. Landslides and torrential downpours pummeled the country for ten days. One displaced community was transplanted and created the South district of Goyena. The village is nearly surrounded by cash crops and has rock and powdered dirt roads that cause traveling into the city to be a slow, arduous commute. Here in this video journal I touch upon some of the realities of Nicaraguan life and try to relate it to the three focal points of development - education, healthcare, and jobs.

This time of year is known for dust storms (as you can hear the wind gusting in the audio). Talking to the mother of the baby in the video coughing spells, asthma, and respiratory infections are recurring problems in the community. There is a health clinic in Goyena that serves both north and south districts and it is generally considered accessible (I was unable to visit). Access to education has been an enduring struggle for north Goyena, one that has been slowly addressed by the combined efforts of several players including the addition of south goyena, the women of the community and the Leon-New Haven Sister City Project

When I asked why I saw so few men the answer struck at one of the hearts of development - jobs. The only jobs are the back breaking and grueling work of the sugar cane fields. Four buses come every morning at 3am and then drop the men back at 3pm. The second largest group of men are in Costa Rica working odd jobs or construction and come home once every 2-3 months to leave money and see their families. (previous blogs have touched on migrant labor being a transporter of HIV back into the home community)

Transportation has long been a barrier to secondary education and university. Before the high school was started in February 2009, the only option was to take a bus to the city - a $3 cost not including lunch money. (This is still the case for university) The difficulty of getting into the city is more realized when we look at the numbers. The community leader, Maria Eugenia, said each houshold brings in an average of US$75 a month. However, each household has 12 people on average so per capita income per houshould is roughly 20 cents a day per person - a mind boggling figure.

The key to Nicaraguan education is that public school education is free, but students have to pass a test to get to the next level and also pay small fees along the way (blog to come on education fees soon). Besides the schools themselves the women of the community are most proud of the success rates of their students. I was repeatedly told they are passing at a much higher rate than the country - especially for rural communities. Much of this success stems from the "education reinforcement" program run by the sister city project.

After the Fairfield University students finished doing their research, I was again reminded of the welcoming and giving nature Nicaraguans posess. This time it was embodied in a thank you production the south Goyena community put on for the group visiting with the sister city project. It consisted of three folklores dances and then a play on women's rights and domestic violence. I will end with the traditional folklore dancing by four young girls of the community.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Murals of León

The murals of León are famous throughout the country and much of Central America. The murals express the political, historical, social, and cultural voice of the nation. Here I explain the largest section in the country and focus particularly on one of the most famous murals in the country (pictured below) at the end of the video.