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Opera Singer Joyce Tannian Leaves Life in U.S. to Create Water Is Life – Kenya March 27, 2011

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by Kristi York Wooten

In honor of World Water Day on March 22, many groups — including the laudable Charity: water,WaterAid, Blood:water mission and Water.org (co-founded by actor Matt Damon) — are sure to receive much-needed attention and praise.

But I’d like to tell you about a one-woman wonder who’s the heart and soul of a organization that’s making a difference, one well at a time.

There’s no question that Joyce Tannian is a powerhouse.

You hear it in her voice as she sings “All Good Gifts” from the 1970 musical “Godspell” in the promotional video for her nonprofit, Water Is Life – Kenya.

A one time freelance choir and opera singer who worked as an executive assistant at HBO in the last decade, Tannian left the U.S. — and the corporate world — to dedicate her life to bringing clean water to one of the most barren and remote parts of Africa.

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Joyce Tannian with Meshenani children and villagers. Photo courtesy of Joyce Tannian.

While on a charity trip to visit schoolchildren in Kenya in 2005, Tannian was struck by how every aspect of life in the Meshenani Village region (inhabited by the hearty and colorful Maasai tribe) is dominated by the need for and ability to find water. Children are pulled from school so they can spend their days walking to and from water sources — which often dry up and must be shared with the villagers’ only life bread — their livestock.

The trip so affected Tannian that she decided to move to Kenya and build a well for the Meshenani.

By herself.

Within a year and a half — thanks in part to support from several Delaware civic organizations from her hometown of Newark — Tannian had overseen the building of a water tank and pump in 2007. But that success now seems tiny when compared to her other enormous undertakings.

Sometimes, shallow wells and small water sources just aren’t enough. That’s where “boreholes” like the ones Tannian and her field team in Kenya dug for the Meshenani (see photos below) and Imisigyio villages come in. While shallow wells — which sometimes can be built for around $5000 — work for short-term solutions, deep digs are necessary for sustaining water accessibility. A complete well project can cost upward of $75,000, but the effects are life-altering for the community it serves.

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Drilling on the well begins. (Photo by Joyce Tannian, courtesy of Water is Life – Kenya.)

The women of the Kajiado District of Kenya walk, on average, eight hours carrying 45 pounds of water every day. This is for their families to drink and for cooking, to water crops and nourish livestock. They are the backbone of their communities, doing whatever it takes to sustain their families. When families have access to water for themselves and their animals, they’re more productive and healthier.

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Celebrating the successful well. (Photo by Joyce Tannian, courtesy of Water is Life – Kenya.)

Working to help these Kenyan women is what drives Tannian to take her message of “Water is Life” to places as varied as cultural events in Nairobi to classrooms in Atlanta, benefit concerts in New York City, Rotary Club meetings across the U.S., and most recently to Washington, D.C., where she met with the Ground Water & Drinking Water Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2008, The Newark Post revered Tannian as “A Benevolent Army of One” — a deserved and fitting title — and in 2010, Joyce Tannian was nominated for the prestigious national Jefferson Award.

To learn more about Water is Life – Kenya, click here.

Note: I was introduced to Joyce Tannian by her sister, Monica, CEO of Milk Money Consulting and a co-founder of Sustenance Group. I have had the pleasure of hearing Joyce speak on several occasions and hope to one day witness her work in Kenya firsthand.

Follow Kristi York Wooten on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kristiwooten

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The Tire Iron and the Tamale March 27, 2011

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What is the phrase… pay it forward? Doing the light work brings more light work.

By JUSTIN HORNER

During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

Justin Horner is a graphic designer living in Portland, Ore. This essay was adapted from a message-board posting on reddit.com.

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Anne Thomas – A Letter from Sendai March 27, 2011

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This is from almost two weeks ago, but the spirit of the people of Sendai in the wake of the terrible disaster has not left my mind. To read more posts from Anne Thomas click here

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

It’s utterly amazingly that where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, “Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another.”

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled. The mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently.

And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend’s husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me,

With Love in return, to you all,

Anne

Wondering how you can help? Aid relief efforts by clicking here to donate to the Japanese Red Cross, or text redcross to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Maya Angelou – Still I Rise March 27, 2011

Posted by chezanni in Inspiration.
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Community Pulls Together to Help Homless Families March 27, 2011

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I know Kate Lore and have seen her passion. There is no obstacle she won’t overcome to meet her goals. A true lightworker in action.

by Erin Codazzi

Reverend Kate Lore remembers what it was like to be a young child, confused about not having a permanent place to call home. Thanks to the kindness of a schoolteacher and some neighbors, Lore, her mother and her siblings were given a place to live until they could get back on their feet. Today, Lore, social justice minister at the First Unitarian Church, is paying the favor forward. She is one of the many forces behind Thirteen Salmon Family Center—the first day shelter for families on the west side of town.

Nationally, families make up the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. In Multnomah County, more than 800 families—including 1,276 children—are homeless on any night.* As the economy continues to falter, it’s likely these numbers will climb.

While overnight shelters for families are sparse, daytime services are even bleaker. “Many families end up biding their time at libraries or in hospital waiting rooms, hanging around and trying to look invisible until the night shelters open,” explains Lore. “Even then, they may be hesitant to seek assistance because they may be split up by gender.” Single fathers with daughters, for example, have a tough time finding resources that allow them to stay together.

At Thirteen Salmon, this isn’t an issue. When I visited the center, I saw a father napping with a toddler in the quiet room. Down the colorful hall, in the active room, a sister offered her brother a freshly baked imaginary cookie. She offered me one too, along with a spot of tea.

“Our goal here is to usher these families through this transition in their lives with compassion and kindness,” says Lore. She cites studies showing that if homeless families can get off the streets and into more permanent housing within six months, they will be more likely to stay off the streets and have a real shot at recovery. Thirteen Salmon tries to help families settle into long-term housing in less time: three weeks, when possible. “We welcome them here as guests,” continues Lore.

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German Human Chain to Protest Nuclear Energy March 27, 2011

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Posted on euronews.net

Generally I want to focus on what we want, rather than what we don’t want. But standing up and raising your voice is a positive step, so I”ll include this here.

The explosion at the Japanese nuclear power plant has given new fuel to a long-running dispute in Germany, where tens of thousands demonstrated on Saturday against plans to extend the life of the country’s nuclear power stations.

According to the police, some 50 000 people took part in the protest which saw a human chain spread from a nuclear power plant in Neckarwestheim to the city of Stuttgart.

Those participating in the demonstration said it was time for the German government to move away from nuclear power.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has extended the lifespan of Germany’s nuclear power plants, was set to meet senior cabinet ministers later on Saturday in light of fears of a meltdown in Japan.

Sean Penn – The Accidental Activist March 26, 2011

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by Zoe Heller

Is Sean Penn a lightworker, but doesn’t know it?

On a hot morning in January, at the Pétionville Internally Displaced Person camp in suburban Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a four-wheel dirt bike pulled up outside the tent hospital, bearing an elderly woman with a deep gash in her cheek. While a group of medics assisted the patient inside, Sean Penn ambled over from under a tree where he had been having a meeting with one of his camp workers. He walked with a slightly bowlegged cowboy gait, a walkie-talkie crackling at his waistband, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Having glanced into the tent and ascertained that the situation was in hand, he turned his rather dour gaze on a newly arrived reporter.

Penn has never had conventional movie-star looks, but he does have the arguably superior gift of a magnificently interesting face. When he is in grooming mode, he tends to shellac his hair into a high, rather splendid, Little Richard-style pompadour, but today, as on most days in Haiti, the hair had been allowed to collapse into a dusty quiff. With his big, arrow-shaped nose and his heavy eyelids hanging at half-mast, he emanated the slightly sinister allure of a fairground carny. “You ready to see the camp?” he muttered.

The Pétionville camp, which Penn’s aid group, J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO), has been running since last March, sits on the golf course of a former country club. (Some of the old staff can still be found lurking in the clubhouse, gazing out at the devastation like Alpatych, the loyal retainer in “War and Peace,” after the army has laid waste to his master’s estate.)

Since the first homeless Haitians started arriving here in the days following the quake, the camp has grown into a vast tent city of 50,000. It now has a school, a market, two hospitals, a movie theater, countless salons de beaute and its own red-light district. As Penn led the way along the former golf-cart trails, past women lathering themselves up over basins of water and men playing dominos, he delivered a lecture on the issues facing post-earthquake Haiti. It was a rapid-fire, digressive monologue, studded with the acronyms of the aid world — P.A.H.O., W.H.O., C.R.S., O.C.H.A. — and ranging over a broad number of topics: the merits of the controversial cholera vaccine, the report from the Organization of American States on the November elections, the damaging effects of UV rays on tent tarps, the complex but fundamentally noble character of President Réne Préval, the relative merits of guns over fire extinguishers as defensive weapons. (Penn sometimes carries a Glock, but the fire extinguisher, he claims, is a far more efficient tool for crowd control.)

After about 45 minutes, we reached the western edge of the camp and began climbing a series of steep slopes. Penn broke off from what he was saying and turned to point out the view. Before us lay the patchwork sprawl of the camp, the battered cityscape of Port-au-Prince and, in the smoggy distance, mountains and ocean. “Look at that!” he said. “It’s beautiful, right? Right? That’s the thing! You get the air cleaned up in this city, and it’d be extraordinary. And the whole country’s like this — more so, even. That’s why I never have a doubt — nee-e-ver have a doubt — that this country can be successful. It’s too tangible, too containable to not do it. And the change is going to come of this earthquake.”

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