You Are

When a General Conference tries to tell you otherwise, remember:

 

 

You Are

you

you are

it’s who you are…

you are love…you are loved…

you are seen…

your funny smile when you are

up to a little mischief…

your hand movements

when you are anxious…

your downward glance

when you know you have been judged…

your amazing artwork that hangs in your home…

your quick steps when you are excited…

your huge grin when you surprise someone

with a gift always perfectly chosen…

you are invaluable…we all need…

your ability to light up a room with your smile…

your talent when you play

the saxophone with the band…

your ability to handle a

complex accounting problem

without feeling stressed…

your compassion when you

sit with a dying hospice patient…

your hope when you wait for answers with a friend…

your patience when you teach in the schools…

your style when you dance across the stage…

your creativity and vision

when you design and invent and build and plan…

you are heard…

your laughter when it fills a room…

your voice when you speak out against injustice…

your song when it heals a broken heart…

your call to others when they lose hope…

your statement when you testify to truth…

you are queer…trans…gay…bi…lesbian

you are pan…asexual…questioning…straight…

you are young…old…

you are male…female…you are nonbinary…

you are black…white…

one of a thousand shades between…

you are Hispanic…European…

you are Asian…African…American

you are an islander…a native…

you are an immigrant…a refugee

you are a blend of people who came before…

you are love…you are loved

it’s who you are

you are

you

–Chris Pepple ©2019

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The Teens I Know

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

**

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a group of people that I know quite well because I’m a Mom. I’m going to talk about teenagers. Go ahead and laugh…what a crazy subject, right?

But teens truly play an important role in our society. We see them speaking out on many social and political issues. We see them taking a stand in their communities, stepping up and volunteering in local, national and international organizations, and developing new products that have the potential to truly save lives.

So, teens are definitely worth looking to see. I’m not going to talk about teens in general, though. I’m going to talk about some teens that have become very special to me because they are friends with my son.

They are amazing teens in my eyes, but they are also very average as teenagers go. They are very “normal” in so many ways—they need a lot of snacks, like caffeine in a variety of forms (coffee, sodas, etc.,)—are constantly either moving, talking, or napping—they know a lot about fashion, but their choices in clothes for the day often reflect comfy rather than trendy. Some of them aced the ACT, and some of them struggled with it. Some of them can work any math problem you hand them, and some of them avoid math as much as possible. There are both readers and writers, artists and comedians in the group. The shy ones surprise me at times when they are laughing and talking as much as the others. The more social ones surprise me at times with their reflectiveness. You know what I’m talking about if you are around teens much.

I’m not around these teens a lot, but I have gotten to know them through some time spent around a local community group and through my son. They’ve been over to the house for a crazy camp out. They’ve bowed for applause together in local plays. They’ve let me know who is vegan and who can’t have dairy and who eats gluten free. I know who needs a ride from time to time and who is always late. I know a few of the Moms and a couple of Dads.

So, ok, teenagers…is this group of people really worth a podcast episode. To me they are. Why? Because so many in this group are misunderstood in today’s society. I’m speaking for the ones that aren’t currently being heard. I’m an ally for this group of kids… this group of transgender teens.

Yes, you heard me correctly…transgender teens. Being a life-long learner, I have been reading everything I can about the transgender community and individuals who walk among us who have declared that they are no longer living as the gender assigned to them at birth.

When I first started to learn about what it truly means to be transgender, I found a lot of misinformation. So, how do I know it’s misinformation? Well, I’m currently teaching a critical writing class to teens. In the class, I teach the students how to identify accurate sources when doing research on a topic. I tell them to look and see the credentials of the person sharing the information. Do they work in the field you are researching? Do they represent an organization that works in the field you are researching? Do they offer actual data instead of opinions? Do they give you the sources of their data—sources you can then verify yourself? Are the sources professional sources in the field?

Why does all of this matter? Well, let me give you an example before I go back and talk more about the teens. Any emotional person connected to an event is certainly qualified to give you their opinion … an eyewitness to a tragedy, a grieving parent, a victim. We need to hear their stories. I don’t ever want to silence anyone. I read many blogs and follow many sites that offer personal accounts on a variety of topics. However, most of the posts that I read are just that…personal, emotional accounts. They teach me a lot about human experiences and perspectives, and I certainly grow a lot because I read them.

However, if that’s all I read about a topic, then I am possibly missing a lot of information. For example, I listened to a college student talk about the trauma of being raped on her college campus. I was able to glimpse the emotional pain she still carried with her. I read posts by a Mom whose teen has faced cancer and had her life forever altered by the damage caused by the very chemo that saved her life. I had no idea how long the effects from chemo could last.

But if I stop by reading these two posts, I certainly am not qualified to make a statement about rape on campuses or about surviving childhood cancer. If I want to really understand these issues, I need to dig further and go to professionals in the field and find verifiable statistics about rape on campuses and about lifelong effects of some life-saving cancer treatments. I have to read data from professionals in the law enforcement field, in the victims’ advocacy field. I have to find medical professionals writing about childhood cancers.

I go to the sources to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. It’s not that I don’t believe the personal accounts…actually, it’s just the opposite. I believe the people I listened to and want to educate myself on the issue so I can better understand how to support these individuals and how to respond to them with compassion and how to help bring about changes that may benefit others. What would bring about change? What groups should I support to bring about change? what research can I donate to? What family support groups can I volunteer with or donate to?

So why am I telling you all of this before I talk about transgender teens? Because we base a lot of our beliefs about transgender people on emotional testimony alone and on misinformation that stems from those statements. Many people aren’t looking at the information from medical professionals, psychologists, or professional organizations that work with transgender people. We are taking information from a religious source alone or from an individual who says they personally thought they were transgender but really weren’t, trying to lead us all to believe, therefore, that no one is really transgender.

So, first, I met some wonderful transgender teens through a community group in my hometown. I’m guessing I knew transgender people in my past, but none that were open about their lives. I heard rumors about people, but I never asked questions or tried to engage anyone. I stayed in my own little safe world and minded my own business, which is what I was taught was the best way to live as a Southern woman.

Even when I had a family die of AIDS in 1993, no one close to me talked very openly about the LGBTQ community. Then I made a few friends while getting my master’s degree who were part of the LGBTQ community…people who were fun to be around, good students to study with, loyal friends. I babysat for some single mothers who also happened to be lesbians who had adopted children. These women were such amazingly good moms and were mentors to me in some ways as I struggled with an abusive marriage and so much confusion around what my career path would be.

But, really, after I graduated, I retreated back into my own world of church life and family struggles and eventually children of my own.

But then I opened my eyes and opened my heart and realized that I was going to miss out on knowing some wonderful people if I turned my back on someone just because they are different than me.

What I loved most about these kids I met was how much grace they showed me as I was learning about what it means to them to be transgender. If you are caring and respectful to this group I met, they will return that respect.

So here’s a few things I learned. I’m not going to quote all of the sources here. I’ll try to link to some when I post this on my WordPress blog. I’ll mention my sources here, of course, because I don’t believe conversations can occur without people quoting from reliable sources that can be cross checked by others in the conversation.

  • I’ve learned that science tells us that people are born transgender. This isn’t some new trend to come out and change your identity. There’s a lot of researchthat states that hormone levels of the mother can affect the gender identity of the child. Science also tells us that our “outside” sex organs develop early—by the end of the first trimester. Brain sexuality isn’t developed until the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. There are differences in our brain structure that direct our gender identity—our internal sense of whether we are a boy or a girl. Gender isn’t defined just by our visible sex organs. Gender involves our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. This is just a quick bit of information offered here, but you can find Harvard research studies and many othersthat back this up.
  • I’ve learned that Judaism—even in ancient times—recognizes at least five genders. There are even six genders in the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud. God created day and night (and many times between–dawn, dusk, high noon, darkest midnight, and lands that see days and nights stretch on for months at a time); God created land and water (and many forms between–marshy areas, quicksand, swamps, deserts, ocean floors); God created male and female (and many gender expressions between).
  • I’ve learned that many transgender children are now being vocalabout who they are at a very early age.
  • I’m not going into Scripture here or sexuality in depth because sexual identity is different from gender identity, but you can read a book titled Unclobberedthat goes into depth about our misuse of the Bible on the topic of homosexuality. Oh, I also learned that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until a translation in 1946. In Corinthians, the word we translate as homosexual technically translates as “soft man” and in other places in the Bible this is translated as “a soft man who has not earned his place, but has inherited his wealth without working hard and still doesn’t work hard.” There are only six verses that we today translate as anything to do with being gay, and two are in Leviticus. None of us live by Leviticus. It’s a sin to eat any shellfish, it’s a sin to be in the room with a woman menstruating, Leviticus calls for all debts to be forgiven every Jubilee year. We can’t wear woven cloth made from two types of fabric—so all of our clothes purchased in stores that aren’t pure cotton are sinful according to Leviticus.

 

Why tell you this? Because we are doing serious harm in our nation when we misunderstand gender identity. I have walked past signs telling transgender teens they are going to hell. I have read too many news stories about bullying and high suicide rates among the transgender community. People are murdered just because they are transgender. And people fear them just because they don’t have information to understand.

These teens I’ve gotten to know are amazing. They are smart and strong and funny and talented and loyal to each other and compassionate and leaders and also just teens. They are beautifully and wonderfully made. Let’s look to see the transgender people in our communities. Have a meal with a teen. Go see a play by a queer theater group. Read books such as Becoming Nicole; Being Jazz; Transgender History; or Redefining Realness.

Let’s don’t cause harm to others just because we don’t understand someone with a different identity than our own. Let’s don’t fear what we don’t understand. Instead, reach out and look to see the reality of others. I’m glad I have.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Black History Month

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

**

Black History Month

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about Black History Month.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking…another white person talking about Black History Month. And those of you who are thinking that…you’re right. It’s easy to pick a subject to talk about and use the trendy hashtag to get readers. I could tell you my thoughts on Black History Month or times when I have seen someone bullied or targeted for harassment because of the color of their skin. But I’m not going to do that.

Actually, I’m not really going to talk about Black History Month. This is going to be a very brief episode. Why? Because Black History Month is not about me or my voice or my opinions or my experiences or things I have witnessed. If you are honest with yourself, you know the effects of racism and the hold it still has in this country. Me talking about it as a white person in this podcast isn’t going to change that.

So why even record this? Because I want to remind us all that this month is about black voices and black stories and black heroes and everyday black parents raising kids in our communities.

I really wanted to acknowledge this month and honor it in some way, but instead of me retelling anything, I want to challenge us all to look to see the stories of black people in our communities and in our national history. Really look. Try to set aside any prejudices you may come with and really listen.

The first black voice I really listened to was Martin Luther King, Jr. Remember I am a product of the South and my early education did not involve offering any opportunities to study black history or read black authors. But when I first read King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” I kept a copy that I still have to this day. It really touched me and forced me to think about so many things that I had never thought of before.

I want to read part of this letter here:

“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

Later in the letter, King writes:

“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

“Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

King goes on to say:

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”

His letter is very lengthy, but very powerful. My first challenge to you for this episode is to actually find a copy of the letter online and read it all the way through. Then reread it a few days later. Let the power of the words and thoughts soak in. This letter is still very relevant today.

My second challenge: find black voices to listen to on this subject. That’s why I’m not sharing anything personal in this episode. I want you to find black podcasters and listen to them. Go to a lecture featuring a black historian…read a book written by a black author…find a black preacher and listen to her sermons…follow online several black politicians and read their posts about what they are working for in their communities…read books about black history month to your children. Share social media posts supporting a black-owned business in your area. Give that business an online review.

This month is not about our white interpretation of Black History Month. It’s about us looking to see the black neighbors in our community…hearing the black voices in our nation…and going back and seeing history with a brutal honesty…finding truth in the black voices that we have too often tried to erase.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Learning from Old Friends

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

**

Learning from Old Friends

 

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that may sound really familiar to you. How many of you grew up watching Sesame Street or watched it with your grandchildren?

I can still remember parts of the theme song:

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet…

That song is going to be stuck in your head now…I would sing it, but trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing voice. But as a kid, I sang along with all of their characters…Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and well, I’m not sure Oscar the Grouch did much singing.

Recently, I discovered something that many of you may have already known…Sesame Street is about much more than the television show. I’ve been following the work of Sesame Street in Communities. Their website—sesamestreetincommunities.org—builds upon their already strong commitment to addressing kids’ developmental, physical, and emotional needs.

In 1969, Sesame Street was created from the idea that early education played an important role in a successful future. The creators wanted all children—especially those living below the poverty line—to have access to early educational opportunities. Joan Ganz Cooney first created TV programming as a documentary producer for public television. As her career progressed, she began to think about television as a teaching medium. With this in mind, she founded the Children’s Television Workshop in 1968. Their first show was Sesame Street, followed in 1971 by The Electric Company. Just a little extra information: In 1989, Cooney received an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement and has been the recipient of countless other honors for her work.

Sesame Street was conceived in 1966 during dialogues between Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Corporation vice president Lloyd Morrisett. They wanted to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them,” such as helping young children prepare for school. After two years of research, the Children’s Television Workshop received a combined grant of $8 million from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the U.S. federal government to create and produce a new children’s television show.

Here’s a little bit more extra information that I learned about the show. Seems it started with a little controversy over a few things.

  1. Some critics didn’t like the name. They thought it was too hard for young children to say.
  2. Mississippi at first refused to air the show, citing its integrated cast, but then reversed the decision.
  3. Latinos and women complained about stereotyping.

And speaking of something else I didn’t know about the show…Jim Henson’s Muppets (and how can we talk about this show without mentioning them) were added to the “street scenes” of the show against the advice of educational advisers. The advisers thought that seeing the Muppets in the scenes throughout the neighborhood would be upsetting to kids. The characters originally could only be seen in their own segments of the show. I can’t imagine Sesame Street without Big Bird walking around with the kids. Of, and speaking of Big Bird…I didn’t know that the character won more than 100 Emmy awards.

We may think that Sesame Street has basically stayed the same since its debut on TV, but the show has evolved through the years, being more sensitive to the needs of its audience. For example, when childhood obesity became an increasingly difficult challenge to tackle in our nation, Cookie Monster declared on national television that cookies were only a “sometimes food.”

And the show producers were not afraid to talk about difficult issues that others may steer away from with kids. Childbirth, and child abuse, were among sensitive topics discussed, and that openness continued into episodes that related to the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina. When Will Lee, who played the beloved store owner “Mr. Hooper,” died in 1982, his passing was talked about in an Emmy-winning episode. The show has also recently introduced the topic of homelessness to its viewers. Viewers also got to meet Julia, the first Sesame Street Muppet with autism

I think I have really taken Sesame Street for granted. But even if we all agree about how wonderful the show is, why am I talking about today as if something new is happening? Well, a few months ago, I saw a social media post about the Yellow Feather Fund. You can go to their website…yellowfeatherfund.org…and read more about this. The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund brings education to children in need—helping them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

Here are a few examples from their website detailing the work of this fund:

*Twelve million children under the age of eight have had to leave their homes due to the Syrian conflict, and many have no access to the quality education that can set them on the path to a brighter future. Sesame Street is working with the International Rescue Committee to bring critical early education directly to young refugee children in the Syrian response region—and providing success strategies for their parents as well. Their loveable Muppets add so much joy to the lives of the children. Your donation to the Yellow Feather Fund helps them bring the laughter, learning, and hope to these children who desperately need it.

*Military families experience unique challenges like deployments, homecomings, relocations, and sometimes grief. For more than 12 years, Sesame Street has helped children and their families build resilience in times of separation and change. Working with military and child development advisors, they create books, videos, digital toolkits, and other free resources featuring the lovable little Elmo and friends. When you give to the Yellow Feather Fund, you help them build a virtual support network for the 700,000 young children with a parent in the service and help them develop success strategies for facing military milestones.

*One in 68 American children is diagnosed with autism, and nearly every family is affected in some way. Sesame Street helps children and families with the everyday challenges autism can present—through engaging, fun, (and free!) videos, books, and digital content in both English and Spanish. And they reach out to the public at large, promoting acceptance and understanding around autism spectrum disorder. Your gift to the Yellow Feather Fund enables them to research, create, and distribute materials used by educators, families, and service providers nationwide—and helps them spread the message that every child is unique, and every child is amazing.

You want to know something amazing…you can access a lot of their resources free of charge. And if you donate to the fund, you allow other families to have access to the resources.

I went to the Sesame Street in Communities website and found so many resources that I was not previously aware of. Through ongoing collaboration, training experiences, and local partnerships, this website continually adds content that meets the changing needs of our communities. As you scroll through the site, you can find hundreds of bilingual multi-media tools to help kids and families deepen their knowledge during the early years of birth through six (and this is a critical window for brain development). Their resources engage kids and adults in everyday moments and daily routines—from teaching early math and literacy concepts, to encouraging families to eat nutritious foods, to serious topics such as divorce and food insecurity.

They have resources for a wide range of issues that affect our communities: community violence, coping with incarceration of a family member, dealing with divorce, homelessness, preparing for emergencies, grieving, facing traumatic experiences, needing and giving comfort, and the need to learn to be resilient.

The website offers a section filled with information on staying mentally and physically healthy. Families have resource pages for learning to care and share, eating well, caring for children, explaining autism, playing together, building routines, bonding, managing asthma, handling tantrums, and many more topics.

The website also has educational resources for language development, financial education, science, reading and writing, and math skills.

These things I am mentioning aren’t just fun little games for kids to play. Each page is filled with professional and community resources for family members to explore. There are interactive pages, videos, and articles written by professionals to help us all be able to be life-long learners on issues that affect our families and our communities.

Now of course, there’s still the website for kids—sesamestreet.org—filled with fun and games for all ages. We can’t forget about that.

So, what’s our challenge for the week. Consider donating to the Yellow Feather Fund to keep this material available for all members of our communities. But here’s a big challenge that will take a little time—explore the Sesame Street in Communities website and familiarize yourself with all of the resources there. You may run across something that will help you. But, also, if you know what’s there, you can pass this along to community members who may need this information. Know a young parent who isn’t familiar with milestones for the growth and development of a child? Know a parent of a toddler struggling with tantrums? Anyone in your community looking for information on eating healthier? dealing with asthma? explaining autism to a sibling?

This information is publicly available free of charge and is frequently updated as we learn more about various topics. Find out what’s there and share it with others.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Memory Room: A Poem about Remembering

I was honored to recently have a glimpse into a room that held a lot of memories of a family I have known for a few years. I wrote this because I was so touched that I was allowed to glimpse into the room and share the memories for the moment.

Memory Room

It’s the small room

tucked upstairs

out of the view

of most visitors

but I linger there often

sometimes staying busy

with a task at hand

but sometimes

just remembering

the hands who had

touched all that

I filled this room with…

a grandmother who

dusted the top of the chest,

the young girl who

tugged at a dresser drawer,

the mother who lifted

the lid of the wooden chest

to fill it with keepsakes

and memories for me

to hold dear…

so, when I am here

in my memory room

I am surrounded by

the touches of

generations before me

who placed pictures on

dressers and folded clothes

for the drawers and laughed

and cried over items that

were shared and treasured

over time and I add my

touches to each piece and

leave behind my treasures

on the wooden surfaces or

hidden deep inside and

I place items for my

daughter within her reach

and put treasures just

out of reach of my

first grandchild and I

wonder who will dust

these next after me

and who will open

a drawer and smile

at what was left inside

and who will be the

keeper of the memories

I have inside my memory room.

                              –Chris Pepple ©2019

Podcast Episode: Drip Irrigation

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

**

Drip Irrigation

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about an organization that I have been following for the last ten years…Healing Hands International.

Healing Hands International, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, Tenn., began in 1991 when Randy Steger, a Lipscomb University marketing professor, hoped to teach his class how to use their talents to help those in need. Twenty university students hoped to make a difference. Hundreds of donors hoped to help the cause. When hope took over, a small class project grew to become Healing hands International (HHI), an international nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that touches thousands of people’s lives every year. Since its beginning, Healing Hands International has delivered more than $100 million in aid to more than 75 countries around the world (and I’m pretty sure that the number is much higher than this…I think this is an older statistic.)

Here’s more recent information from just one aspect of the work Healing Hands International does: Since it began, the agriculture program for HHI has conducted a total of 535 workshops in 35 countries, training 27,466 people firsthand. Many of their trainees are quick to share what they’ve learned with others, creating a multiplying effect. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization “Agriculture production needs to increase 70% by 2050 to feed the world.” HHI’s simple, practical, affordable, sustainable agriculture training is helping to solve this problem. It is life-saving and life-changing!

HHI does many things well. They are listed as a four-star charity on Charity Navigator. You can go their website and get a full overview on all of their many programs and see exactly how any donations are used. In this podcast, I’m just going to talk about one aspect of their program: the agricultural component. Ever since I first wrote an article about HHI, I’ve been fascinated by the way they work to discover the needs of a community and find practical, sustainable solutions to help meet those needs. The agriculture program empowers communities to fight hunger by providing instruction on basic gardening techniques that can be used even in drought prone areas.

I had the opportunity to interview David Goolsby multiple times when he worked with HHI as the director of international agricultural development and relief. Part of his responsibilities included designing workshops and vocational education to teach community leaders around the world how to help fight the devastating hunger overwhelming many areas. He taught communities to work together to build an efficient and lasting agricultural economy to provide for their own needs by practicing simple sustainable technologies.

“We teach participants to start a garden with minimum resources. For successful gardening we focus on simplicity, affordability, sustainability and practicality. We want to make sure a widow with five small children can tend her garden. People with more resources can adapt what we teach to their circumstances,” said David Goolsby in a 2009 interview.

One method for successful agricultural development Goolsby passed on in his training programs involves a drip irrigation system using simple materials easy to provide to communities around the world. After the first ten farmers went through the training in 1999 and the first fruits of this method became evident by early 2000, a nationwide interest in drip irrigation grew all across Ethiopia. As a result of drip irrigation and survival garden training, families were able to provide more than enough food to sustain them and to share amongst their communities. Thousands of people started to use this method of gardening in Ethiopia and in several other neighboring and regional African countries as well.

The HHI website (hhi.org) has a video to show how to create a drip irrigation system. It teaches families and farmers how to grow vegetables during their dry season. The video shows gardeners how to place drip lines on raised gardening beds to ensure that each plant receives sufficient water. The gardeners are encouraged to use materials they already have available in their communities along with items supplied by HHI. Buckets or barrels placed on a raised stand are connected to the drip lines on the raised beds. A hole is drilled into the bottom of the bucket and connectors are used to secure the drip lines. Various groups help to provide the connectors to gardeners in each area. A cloth over the top of the bucket filters material that may clog the lines from the water. One raised bed can produce enough food to feed a family of five to seven people during the dry season. Extra beds can produce food available to sell at the market or to help sustain other community members.

HHI has worked with people in Haiti since 2013 through sustainable agricultural workshops. During the first workshop, 75 farmers learned how to turn a rocky field into raised planting beds with a compost trench and drip irrigation.

The HHI team has shared many stories of success that can be found on the website.

  • In May of 2011, HHI staff and volunteers traveled to Kayenta, AZ to teach the lifesaving skills of survival gardening and food preservation to families of the Navajo Nation. The “hands-on” workshop taught the use of a drip irrigation kit, composting and seed transplanting.
  • In 2002, Malawi was suffering from years of famine and a growing AIDS epidemic. Orphaned children were dying of disease and starvation and the livestock and crops were decimated. HHI’s Agricultural Director, David Goolsby, traveled to the country to train local farmers in survival gardening techniques. As he taught them he encouraged them to go out and train other farmers in these same techniques. From that initial trip grew a first-of-its-kind operation in Africa. David eventually spent seven months helping more than 200 local workers build the Madalitso (Blessings) Food Plant. The plant turns corn and soybean crops grown by the local farmers into VitaMeal, a vitamin fortified flour that is purchased by Feed the Children and Nourish the Children.
  • In 2008, Dr. Willa Finley, knowledgeable in agriculture and nutrition, Brenda McVey, a missionary in Ghana for more than 20 years, Eleni Melirrytos, a seasoned cook and gifted public speaker, Janice Goolsby, with more than 20 years of experience in food preservation, and Alisa Merritt Van Dyke, the youngest of the group, boarded a plane to Maiduguri, Nigeria. Their mission was new and simple, teach women the skills of food preservation techniques and empower them to bless their families and communities. This project was inspired by a Muslim woman, one of the few women to attend a drip irrigation workshop held by HHI the previous year. She made the comment that it would be useful to the women of her country to learn ways to better preserve and prepare food for their families. From this initial workshop to date, hundreds of women have been trained in food preservation skills. Not only has HHI been able to touch these women’s lives, but many of them are going back to their community and training others, spreading the knowledge they have learned!

HHI workshops teach sustainable food production and preservation skills to those struggling to feed their families. Over the course of two days, trainees are taught survival gardening techniques using drip irrigation, raised garden beds, composting and mulching, seed transplanting and basic garden management. After completing the workshop attendees are given a drip irrigation kit to take with them back to their communities to start their own gardens. HHI also holds workshops that teach methods for drying and preserving food, often in conjunction with the food production workshop.

I think I’m fascinated by this project for many reasons. First, it’s so practical. People need food. What better way to support a community than starting with something so basic as making sure they are fed. Second, because it is sustainable and manageable after the HHI teams leave the area. This work doesn’t leave a community dependent upon outside resources. True, this agricultural work doesn’t solve all of their problems. They may still need fresh water to drink or medical assistance (by the way, HHI has other teams to step in and address these issues), but food is a great way to start.

Third, this work is done with the local people in the community. The HHI teams work with existing leaders or farmers or families to teach them the details about what needs to be done and empowers them to then become teachers themselves.

So what’s our challenge for this week? Let’s find some really practical ways that we can use our knowledge and our resources to help someone. Identify ways that you can mentor someone who can then go forward to be a mentor for someone else. We can change communities one person at a time.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.