JASS Blog Archives for December 2008

by Valerie Miller on December 19, 2008 on 2:50 pm

INDVOLU: A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

Experiences that connect us across continents can take unexpected turns. A community group from South Africa and a theatre troupe from Central America came together this November creating a connection that touched each of them profoundly and took on new meaning as tragedy struck.

Wings of the Butterfly staff and actresses from Costa Rica brought their moving performance of Labyrinth of the Butterfly to Cape Town and to women activists attending the world forum of AWID, an international women’s rights organization. The show tells the stories of courageous and creative women, ignored or abused by history. Through their lives, they have generated processes of change and metamorphosis that multiply in a type of butterfly effect, overcoming the barriers of power to promote new ways of thinking and relating with one other and the world.

From AWID, the group took the show to a community centre located in the heart of Monwabisi Park, a sprawling township on the outskirts of Cape Town. Those of us who went to the performance there were deeply impressed not only by how the production spoke to the lives of the audience but by the Indlovu Centre, its members and its many programs.

Indlovu is a dynamic and ground-breaking community effort developed and managed by residents and founded on principles of justice, solidarity and environmental sustainability. Begun in 2005 with a small pre-school program called a creche, it grew to “ a thriving and bustling cluster of public buildings that include(d) a clinic, a soup kitchen, a youth centre, a training centre for Montessori educators, organic food gardens, a public laundry facility, a guest house…” With support from the Shaster Foundation, programs for women, elders, youth and the general community have strengthened people’s skills, leadership capacities and ecological understanding and provided them with direct experience in environmentally sound building practices. Community volunteers built the Indlovu structures themselves in collaboration with local architects using an innovative and inexpensive sandbag construction process. International solidarity has also provided support to the Indlovu Project, ranging from students and professors of the US based Worcester Polytechnic Institute to volunteers from Australia and Europe and now to Latin American artists and educators.

On November 17th, the Indlovu centre was the locale for the Labyrinth of the Butterfly performance. As a strong cool wind blew against the centre’s windows, inside the buzz of community women filled the room with warmth and energy. Smiling children scrambled onto laps and empty chairs looking for a good place to perch so they wouldn’t miss anything. Amidst the excitement, the Costa Rican theatre troupe began the story of Rosa Parks, an African-American leader who challenged the US version of apartheid in the 1950s. Maria Suarez, author of the book upon which the play is based, interpreted their words from Spanish into English. The troupe portrayed how Rosa refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man as was demanded at that time. Her action and those of countless others helped spark a national social movement against racism. A single chair served as the symbolic prop for the scene.

Afterwards, the audience of women shared how the story resonated in their own lives. Buyiswa, a community leader even impersonated the bus driver, shouting ‘get up’ to the audience in Spanish, surprising everyone with her perfect pronunciation. ‘Levantese,” she yelled in a strong voice, reinterpreting the word’s meaning from one of submission to a call for collective action. The crowd joined in and the room echoed with a heartfelt roar. People were then invited to sit in Rosa’s chair to tell their own stories directly to her as she sat opposite them. Vuyo, a community activist and talented doll maker, quickly took the chair to tell her own story of struggle and loss against the background of South African apartheid. These testimonies of unsung courage created a bond of inspiration and solidarity among everyone present. The audience response reminded me once again of how art can tap places of profound meaning in people and generate a unique sense of community and common purpose.

In saying good-bye, the Central Americans presented Rosa’s chair to Indlovu for their continuing efforts to encourage women’s voice, leadership and action, giving them a place of honor from which to tell their own stories. Vuyo, on behalf of the community, gave the woman who portrayed Rosa a festively dressed Xhosa doll she had made out of recyclable materials. Unbeknownst to the community, the African-Costa Rican actress had suffered from painful racism like Rosa and had long wanted to visit the lands of her ancestors. This had been her first trip to Africa and this community the first place where she could truly interact with people. As she thanked the members of the Indlovu Project and saluted their work, she held the doll close, tears quietly slid down her cheeks, sparkling in the afternoon light.

Tragically, 13 days later, “at midnight on Sunday 30th November 2008 a fire swept through the Indlovu buildings and reduced them to ashes.” As the fire spread, Buyiswa ran from house to house, warning people and shouting ‘levantese’ to lift women’s spirits and call them to action. Twenty-six neighbors lost their dwellings and all their possessions, yet miraculously no one was seriously injured. While devastated by the overwhelming loss, the community is already rising again. Pre-fab buildings have been provided temporarily for the clinic and creche, the soup kitchen is back in operation, and planning for new construction has started. With donations, solidarity and volunteer support, Indlovu will rise anew like the proverbial phoenix, as one community organizer explained, tempered and made stronger by this tragedy. Wings of the Butterfly is now working to raise funds for the effort as are others who were at the performance. Just Associates and the Petateras are joining in, as both have sponsored the premieres of the show in Costa Rica and Cape Town.

Connections continue and expand. To raise funds for reconstruction and community programs, more dolls will be made but with an added dimension inspired by Rosa and Wings of the Butterfly. Each doll, says Vuyo, will carry with it the name of a community woman and her story, stories that will eventually be gathered together in a book to honor their lives and struggles. Resonances deepen. The butterfly effect takes on new meaning.

Based on personal observation and communication with Indlovu staff and Maria Suarez;
For more information: www.shaster.org.za; www.alasdemariposa.org; www.justassociates.org, www.petateras.org

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by Martha Tholanah on December 13, 2008 on 9:31 am

Why I Will Not Join the Celebration

World AIDS Day (WAD) came upon us again on the 1st of December – 2008 marking the 20th such commemoration. Surprisingly we are still doing the same things we have done over the years. So many resources, and so much time was put into preparing for the national event in Zimbabwe, and all in the spirit of the multisectoral approach following the three ones. We still had the same messages on leadership that we have had over the last few years, and still had the big national event in the Mashonaland Central provincial capital of Bindura.

I believe this commemoration has lost its significance in the way the official national commemorations are done. People living with HIV (PLHIV) are remembered on these “celebrations” so that they can give testimonies – an afterthought that is soon forgotten as soon as this media and political opportunity is gone – and called upon again twelve months later. These PLHIV are the beneficiaries who are mentioned in the proposals that get us ASOs the big donor funding that sees us through programmatic years, but their only benefit is to get a T-shirt and a meal on WAD. It is high time that PLHIV set the agenda for how the commemoration is done. Why have such big budget celebrations of WAD when PLHIV are failing to access services due to the cash crunch, lack of functional health services and lack of essential food? Why partake in this event that pays only lip-service to our concerns, and leaves us without any assurance of access to essential services that will ensure our positive living is indeed just that – positive living?

As a person living with HIV, this was the second WAD (after the 2007 in Chiredzi, Masvingo Province) that I have had no desire to participate in. This is because I feel PLHIV are still not setting the agenda. There are still the forces that determine what is to be done, and how, and then declare that that is what PLHIV should buy into. I feel these national celebrations have lost their relevance for PLHIV. Certainly I see no relevance for me as a woman who is HIV-positive.

WAD also happens to occur during the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. The Zimbabwean official machinery, from its public messaging, seems to confine gender-based violence (GBV) to translate to domestic violence. I applaud them for campaigning against violence in private homes. I am much more concerned about the very visible violence against women that has been occurring in our nation over the election period. The ministry has been silent over the decline in the public health care sector that has impacted mostly on women as consumers of the service, and on women as they constitute the bulk of the health care workers. I have not heard any official statement on the stance of the Ministry responsible for women and gender as regards the arrests of women as they demand an end to the multitude of crises that have now become part of Zimbabwean women’s daily lives. We have not heard anything regarding the official stance on the lack of access to essential services and basic foodstuff. Women of Zimbabwe have undergone so many hardships, and there has been nothing from the Ministry, yet they are well placed to amplify women’s concerns in such obvious. Women have been abducted, arrested, beaten up and raped, yet the public sector women’s leadership have remained silent, only to invite women to an elite hotel to “celebrate” 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

“Celebrate” was the exact word used in the invitation. This celebration was being done in the same week that one of the prominent women activists had disappeared and her whereabouts unknown. I believe civil society and women’s rights activists who partook of this so-called celebration did a big disservice to the voiceless women they claim to speak for. What is it that makes us collude with institutions that are abusive of our basic rights? While celebrating in the elite hotel, many were succumbing to cholera, diarrhoea, and other diseases due to lack of safe water, functional health services, essential medicines, health care staff, etc.

In early December 2007, I lost any faith I ever had in such commemorations and celebrations. Due to a death of a close family relative, I happened to spend the night in one settlement set up by the government after the Operation Murambatsvina (clean out the trash) that happened in May 2005. These settlements are called Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (live happily ever after or paradise). I left this place a highly traumatised person as I found it difficult to cope with the reality of the way of life of the residents of this area that I witnessed. I have now decided to post on my blog the reflections about this experience that I sent to the national leadership in health HIV & AIDS – both civil society ad government – from whom I still await a response and some action, before they can expect my participation in their “celebrations”.

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by JASS on December 1, 2008 on 12:21 am

Pantsunburma shares her reflections at the JASS Crossregional Dialogue.

I could learn experience sharing form difference region. JASS each regional group is come from different continent, background and political situation which make different contacts, approaches and strategies. At first I thought, the situation of women in Southeast Asia is worse than other part of the world. However different among us there are lots of common similarities. I can learn that we women from all over the world are suffering  many same problems such as domestic violence, invisible, stay behind the family responsibility, taboo, poverty, victim of  culture, gap between senior and young feminist,.. under the patriarchy system because of being women. Mesoamerica has longest Feminist movement herstory than the rest of two groups. I can learn many things from JASS friends’ and seniors’ personality. Especially JASS senior are extremely social activist, good sense in humor, no sense of patriarchy, no discrimination, brave, smart,... Personal connections make me empower to crossing the line and it’s becoming my tuning point. I admire them and they become my model. I’m eager to study English to communicate smoothly with friends who are living in different continent. Smooth communication makes us easy to share experiences and understand each other speedily. It’s the foundation of networking.  

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