[Guat] A Life: An Overview of My Experience in Guatemala

Hola! In case you’ve missed it, I’ve just spent the past two-ish months in Guatemala. More specifically, my group and I spent ten days in Lake Atitlán, two days in Antigua, two weeks in Guatemala City, one month in Tecpán, four days in Monterrico and a week exploring Cobán, Semuc Champey, Flores, Tikal and Livingston (a period TBB calls “Enrichment Week”).

Since there is so much to talk about yet so little space, I’ve gone ahead and created a small summary & list of highlights from each of the above destinations. If you have any questions or comments about our time here in Guatemala, please leave them in the comments section below!

Lake Atitlán

September 10th marked departure day for TBB, yet I was at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital suffering from an asthmatic attack, unable to join my group on time and so incredibly disappointed! Luckily the program was able to arrange a different flight for me departing on September 12th from Washington, D.C. to El Salvador, then El Salvador to Guatemala.

Once I arrived in Guatemala, I was welcomed by the group’s driver, Victor, who drove me to the Cross-Cultural Solutions home base in Guatemala City for the night. The following morning, we drove approximately three hours to Panajachel, where we took a tuk-tuk with ALL of my bags to the dock where the TBB family was there hugging me and welcoming me into the group.

That day we went swimming in the lake and arrived back at our eco-hotel named Uxlabil. During our time at Uxlabil, we did more swimming, kayaking, seminars with our group and general overviews about the program. Some of our most enjoyable activities included: attending the Independence Day parade; hiking up Indian’s Nose; doing our laundry—by hand—for the very first time; engaging with local weavers & attending a weaving workshop; observing a traditional Mayan fire ceremony; experiencing my very first earthquake & freaking out about it with my roomies; and, of course, consuming artisan chocolate and coffee, as well as WAY too many tortillas.

Antigua

Boy, do I love Antigua. While a bit more touristy than our other destinations, Antigua is a beautiful city with astonishing architecture and nightlife. While we only spent two short days there, I have many memories to remember it by, like: visiting a local organic Macadamia nut farm; participating in a mock Mayan wedding ceremony; hiking up Volcano Pacaya with the help of a horse named Wapo; and last, but certainly not least, trying hookah & dancing at a nightclub for the very first time.

Guatemala City

Back to the capital I went, this time accompanied by the rest of the TBB crew. We stayed at the CCS home base, a modest complex with bunk rooms, a small kitchen and outdoor seating. Much of our time here was spent working with a natural reserves organization, exploring the city and playing WAY too many card games.

Here is a closer look at some of my favorite moments: eating our way through San Martín, the cutest and most delicious bakery; visiting the Cathedral and participating in the local market scene; driving through different zones of the city, including a nearby cemetery and the infamous dump; taking a few Spanish classes in preparation for our home stays; picking up trash on a public hiking trail; shopping at Oakland Mall & seeing the movie Mother!; getting my doubles pierced; exploring an organic coffee farm (yes, the coffee was amazing); teaching fifth graders English vocabulary in a small rural school; visiting Museo Popol Vuh; and spending a day in Sabana Grande, complete with a waterfall and pool.

Tecpán

A large part of our time in Guatemala was spent in a municipality of Chimaltenango called Tecpán. We were paired off and stayed in groups of two with local families in the town; this was TBB’s, and my, very first home-stay experience.

My family and home-stay experience was incredible. We had a mom & dad—Sonia and Mario, respectively—and two brothers, Mario and Heber. They welcomed my roommate and I into their home, taught us Spanish (with an unbelievable amount of patience), frequently took us out to explore the surrounding areas of their hometown and exposed us to authentic Guatemalan culture. The time not spent with our families was spent either attending seminars as a group in a nearby hotel or working with farmers on their strawberry fields in the nearby village of Panimacoc.

There are SO many highlights during this part of my experience, including: meeting and working with Timber & Frame, a filming company documenting our gap year in Guatemala, Thailand and Ghana; attending a carnival, complete with churros and a terrifying yet oh-so-amusing ferris wheel; testing out nearly every café here in Tecpán & subsequently establishing an unhealthy, but worth it, daily chai tea routine; trying sunny side up eggs & pineapple pizza for the very first time (my new favorites, I’ll add); visiting Iximche, a nearby Mayan ruin site, where we also sat in on a chicken sacrifice & later enjoyed a picnic at my family’s plot of land nearby; getting my tarot card reading done by one of the Program Leaders, Peter; playing cards in the middle of a corn field; visiting an organic dairy farm & veterinarian; playing in a TBB soccer game, in which I scored three goals (they didn’t call me Jen Jen the Soccer Engine for nothin’!); dressing up for Halloween and having a Halloween party, including a game of musical chairs, a costume contest and lots of candy; and consuming a traditional Dias de Todos Los Santos meal, as well as visiting the cemetery with my host brother and seeing the local celebrations. We also had an absolutely lovely “despedida”, meaning farewell or send-off in Spanish. During this time we presented our media research projects, mine being about media imperialism, as well as danced and ate with our host families for the very last time.

Monterrico

I along with six other students ventured to the southern coast of Guatemala for a long weekend, where we stayed in the well-known beach community of Monterrico. We spent three nights at the most charming B&B called La Palma and spent the majority of our time there relaxing and enjoying the ocean. More specifically, we: took part in a private mangrove boat tour; went dancing at a local night club; watched a mama sea turtle nest its eggs & return back to the Pacific; and, naturally, tanned, swam a bit (the waves in Monterrico were massive and mesmerizing), ate delicious food and bonded with one another. It was a great first IST, aka Independent Student Travel, experience!

Enrichment Week {Cobán, Semuc Champey, Flores, Tikal and Livingston}

This week-long experience was one filled with LOADS of driving as we travelled across the country of Guatemala. While intended as a time to relax and recover from the hard work during seminars and work site and home-stay experiences the month prior, we had a fairly packed schedule. Some of the things we did include: a quetzal hike, in which we spotted not one but two quetzals (the official bird of Guatemala) at a reservation site; a day at Semuc Champey, where we completed a hike to an overlook of the waters, swam in the natural pools and even slide down a natural waterslide; the exploration of two Mayan ruin sites—the first being Yaxha & the second being well-known Tikal—where at the former we watched the sunset, while at the later we watched the sunrise with the sound of howling monkeys awakening in the background; touring the Island of Flores; and partaking in a boat ride on Rio Dulce and through Livingston, where we experienced a vibrant yet different culture in the Caribbean part of the country, while learning more about Guatemala’s diverse history and population.

And there you have it! While I am so sad to be leaving Guatemala so soon, I am also incredibly appreciative of the opportunities I had & the moments I experienced during my time in this beautiful country. For those who have never been to Guatemala, I strongly urge you to go; I can promise you that I certainly will be back.

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My Journey to Vegetarianism

During our time here in Guatemala, the TBB curriculum has focused extensively on sustainable agriculture, both on the individual and societal level. One topic that naturally came up, then, was: should we, as human beings, be vegetarians?

For those unfamiliar with the topic of vegetarianism, a vegetarian is defined as a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious or health reasons. There are many variations of this: pescatarians, for instance, are people who do not eat meat, but do eat fish. For the purpose of this post, I’ll be referring to the former definition.

I, prior to entering this program, had not once considered adopting a vegetarian diet. While not a obsessive meat-eater, different products, like chicken, pork and fish, were consumed in my household on a regular basis. And, in many cases, the food I ate and enjoyed often contained some variation of meat, even if not the sole entity of the dish.

The articles I was assigned to read, and the discussions I’ve had with other students during this trip, however, have greatly changed both my awareness & perspective on the issue. I have found the following arguments promoting vegetarianism to be especially convincing.

  1. THE ETHICAL STANDPOINT: It is cruel and unethical to consume meat, especially when vegetarian options are available. Adopting the mindset of Ishmael, we as human beings are not the only sentient beings on this planet. Who says our lives are more important than the animals we are killing for nourishment?
  2. THE HEALTH STANDPOINT: Vegetarianism comes with a host of health benefits, including but not limited to: reduced risk of diabetes, kidney stones and gallstones, colon and rectal cancer and heart disease; increased longevity; and a statistically more stable weight & BMI. It is also fairly easy to find healthy, yet delicious protein substitutes to incorporate into a vegetarian diet.
  3. THE ENVIRONMENTAL STANDPOINT: Meat consumption is a major factor in soil compaction, erosion and harm to native plants and animals; depletion of clean water sources; higher greenhouse gas emissions; and deforestation. While an individual terminating, or reducing, consumption of meat is unlikely to make a significant impact on our current environmental situation, imagine the effect the world’s billions of people would have if they too decided to go vegetarian.

In full disclosure, I have yet to adopt an entirely vegetarian diet. This is due, in part, to practicing cultural respect in terms of consuming the foods native to Guatemala, as well as the food that my family so kindly provides for me. I have instead worked to consume meat only when “necessary”—that is, when it is offered to me or when no alternative is available. For the remainder of the trip, I plan to continue on this path; upon my return to the United States is when I will completely eliminate meat and all meat products from my diet.

If you enjoyed this post and are interested in learning more about becoming a vegetarian, I strongly encourage you to read the following: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell and TIME Magazine’s “How a Vegetarian Diet Could Help Save the Planet”. 

Sick as a Dog: How to Handle Illness Abroad

I know, I know. The LAST thing anyone wants to talk about during any trip out of the country, let alone a vacation, is getting sick. But, sickness can happen to any of us, anywhere and at anytime; the best thing to do is to be prepared for anything that may come your way.

What inspired this post, you might ask? Well, as you might have already guessed, I did happen to get sick here in Guatemala, and it didn’t happen just once!

About one week into the trip, I woke up in the middle of the night with serious stomach upset and discomfort in my chest and throat. One hour later I was in the bathroom, experiencing (fair warning, y’all) the most intense vomiting and diarrhea I have yet to experience. Taking Pepto-Bismol seemed to help a bit, and since the next day we were traveling from Lake Atitlán all the way to Antigua, I simply had to deal with it. Luckily my symptoms seemed to subside and by the end of the night, I was back to feeling *almost* one hundred percent.

About a week later, in Guatemala City, I again had a similar episode consisting of similar pain, vomiting and diarrhea. I was so surprised—in a not so good way—to be sick all over again, and wondered what in the world I did wrong or did to deserve this!

After two days of terrible symptoms and a no foreseeable end to my pain, I was taken to Centro Médico, a nearby hospital where the Cross Cultural Solutions site manager, Virginia’s, daughter worked. There they did a stool sample and determined that I had Rotavirus, a virus that is most prevalent in small children and that simply had to pass through my body in order for me to recover. I was given a prescription for probiotics and anti-diarrheal medicine, and within a few short days I was back to normal.

Since then I have yet to fall ill again (knock on wood), but there are some important lessons and tips that I’ve accumulated through these experiences.

  1. Hygiene is key. While my virus wasn’t necessarily due to poor hygiene, washing your hands is the most effective way to prevent any type of sickness abroad. Hand sanitizer is a fare alternative, though whenever possible—and especially after using the bathroom & before eating—good ol’ soap and water is your best bet.
  2. Be cautious of what you are consuming. When it comes to drinking water, make sure it is bottled or that you purify it yourself (LifeStraw, SteriPen or the UV Camelbak All Clear are all excellent options). This includes using purified water when brushing your teeth, as well as avoiding foods that have been washed in contaminated water (e.g. salads or non-peelable fruits). Finally, do your best to avoid eating street food in certain high-risk areas—at times this can lead to food poisoning.
  3. Travel with appropriate medications and first aid supplies. Pepto-Bismol is an effective over-the-counter antacid medication used to treat minor stomach upset and digestive issues. However, if diarrhea or similar symptoms persist over a few days, a prescription antibiotic can be helpful in treating what would then be considered a bacterial infection. Also productive is taking a probiotic, which can provide health benefits including improved digestion during the duration of your trip.
  4. Stay active. While being fit won’t necessarily prevent illness abroad, staying in shape will provide numerous health benefits, including strengthening your immune system and thus helping in your ability to fight off sickness. As an added bonus, staying active will release endorphins and make for an even more enjoyable voyage. 

Though this list is not very extensive, these few simple tips may help in preventing, or reducing your risk, of falling sick while abroad. If you have any other tips to add to this list, feel free to write them in the comments section below!

And, of course, stay healthy, my friends… 

Guatemala: A Brief Overview of History & Culture

Buenos días, amigos! As you might already know, I am currently in Guatemala where I have been for the past five weeks and will remain until the beginning of November, 2017.

Guatemala is a small country located in Central America, officially known as the Republic of Guatemala. It borders Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras, with the Pacific Ocean in the southwest and the Caribbean Sea in the east. The official language spoken here is Spanish, with a strong Mayan and indigenous presence and thus many Mayan dialects as well.

The Mayan empire, which consisted of many city-states, extended across Mesoamerica, with Guatemala at its center. These city-states began to appear around 250 BC and then experienced significant decline around AD 800. The reason(s) for this is still unclear, although land overuse, drought and war/internal conflict seem likely causes.

The Mayan were a very advanced civilization, with a complex intellectual and spiritual culture including extensive knowledge of mathematics and astronomy; a detailed and accurate calendar; and a sophisticated writing system.

In the sixteenth century, Guatemala was conquered and colonized by the Spanish. While the Maya civilization had risen and fallen before the Spanish arrival, remnants of the culture still persisted, intent on preserving their way of life and ancestral history from the Spaniards. Christianity was soon utilized as a way to pacify Guatemalan peoples, and the nation remained under the control of the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) until its independence in 1821.

Hardships faced by the country of Guatemala were not yet over. When, in 1954, Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, supported land reform benefitting the largely indigenous peasantry—at the expense of the US-based United Fruit Company—the CIA overthrew him and instituted a military regime in his place. The United States government claimed that Arbenz was a communist and his removal was necessary in creating a more democratic world.

After this military coup, a civil war broke out between the military and leftist guerrillas. Those who appeared to be sympathetic to the guerilla cause—including many indigenous peoples—were targeted and persecuted as well. Only in the 1980s did the conflict begin to subside; in 1996, a peace agreement formally ended the internal conflict, which left more than 200,000 people dead and had created approximately one million refugees.

Guatemala remains a predominantly poor country in need of development in many sectors, including health and education. The indigenous population continues to be deeply impacted by the history of their past, suffering more so than other Guatemalan peoples and facing intense discrimination and prejudice. Immigration, both legally and illegally, has been a historically popular option for Guatemalans due to lack of economic opportunity, political instability and natural disasters in their home country.

During my time here, I have had the opportunity to engage with the local people, learning more about their culture, customs, traditions and languages. While Guatemala remains a place experiencing great internal distress, being here gives me hope for its ability to overcome the tragedies it has faced in both its distant and recent past.

Book Review Part 3 – The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

You might be asking yourself the following question: what exactly is an economic hit man (EHM)? EHM are defined as “highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars.” In other words, they are responsible for encouraging, bribing or even deceiving world leaders to take actions that benefit U.S. commercial interests. They are employed by private companies, rather than the government, to do the United States’s “dirty work” without damaging our global reputation.

The tools EHM rely on are simple, yet effective: fear and debt. Take, for example, terrorism. An EHM may tell a country’s leader that it is necessary to spend massive amounts of money on goods and services produced by vast networks of corporations, banks, colluding governments and the rich and powerful people tied to them in order to prevent or end terrorism. The country’s leader, often feeling threatened, will agree to spend exorbitant amounts of money, which puts them into a cycle of terrible debt, enslaving them and giving more power to the creditor for many years to come.

The author of the novel, John Perkins, was for a long time an EHM himself. The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man traces exactly how this came to be, how his position changed his perception of himself and the world around him and how he has tried to overcome his past through many forms, including writing and creating his own non-profit organizations, Dream Change and The Pachamama Alliance.

While not quite the novel I would ordinarily pick out for myself, it taught me a great deal about corruptness in the global economy and changes we can make to help put a stop to what Perkins has coined the “corporatocracy.” His goal is to create a sustainable economy, or a life economy, based on taking care of ourselves, others and the Earth, instead of a death economy, based on fear, debt and imperialistic attitudes. This is attainable by shopping and investing consciously, limiting debt, becoming a part of the living local community, supporting climate change regulations and educating as many others as possible.

If you are at all interested in learning more about international economics and the role the U.S. has played and continues to play in determining the ill fate of many countries around the world, then I strongly urge you to read this book. Then use what you have learned to choose how to live your life, for as Perkins says, “each person that I meet around the world has the power to create change, to create a better planet.”

The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is available for purchase on Amazon at the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017MZ8EBM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

More information on the novel can be found here:

http://johnperkins.org/books

*Journal questions provided to me by TBB to consider while reading:

  • How did Perkins’ personal needs influence his decisions about how he would affect the world?
  • Where did the system of “development” that Perkins participated in succeed and where did it fail?
  • What did Perkins assume to be true about the role he played and the US played in development during the first two decades of his career? What caused those assumptions to change?
  • What does Perkins think he should/could have done differently? What do you think?
  • Should individuals be responsible for the impacts of all of their actions, even those they didn’t intend?

P.S. Feel free to leave your own thoughts on The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man below!

To Pack or Not to Pack: Tips from a Packing Pro

I’m going to be honest: packing is not easy, especially when you only get to bring one large backpack, one small backpack and a purse with you for seven months. But while I may not actually consider myself a pro at packing, I’ve decided to share with you what I’m bringing alongas well as what I’m not. My hopes are that what I share will help future TBB students, or Gap Year students in general, when it comes time for them to embark on the difficult endeavor of packing. I will also be posting again when I return, reflecting on what I had packed and what changes I would make to this list in the future.

  1. Large Backpack
  2. Backpack Travel Case
  3. Luggage Tag
  4. Smaller School/Day Pack
  5. Purse
  6. Fanny Pack
  7. Waterproof Bags for Organizing
  8. Smaller Pouches for Organizing (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
  9. Mosquito Net
  10. Light, Packable Down Jacket (1)
  11. Warm Sweatshirt/Fleece/Heavy Sweater (1)
  12. Lightweight Rainproof Jacket, Poncho (1)
  13. Jeans (1)
  14. Work/Hiking Pants (1, 2)
  15. Comfy Pants, Yoga Pants or Athletic Pants (1, 2, 3)
  16. Long Pants (1) 
  17. Long Sleeve Shirts/Lightweight Thin Sweaters (1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  18. Short Sleeve and/or Lightweight Shirts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
  19. Shorts (1, 2)
  20. Long Underwear (1 Top, 1 Pant)
  21. Underwear (13)
  22. Socks (10) 
  23. Sports Bras (1, 2, 3)
  24. Regular Bras (2)
  25. Swim Suit (1 Top, 2 Top, 1 Bottom, 1 Piece)
  26. Nice Outfits (1, 2)
  27. Water Resistant Trail Runners or Lightweight Hiking Boots (1)
  28. Casual Shoes (1, 2, 3)
  29. Water/Shower Shoes (1)
  30. Jewelry (Earrings, Bracelets, Necklaces, Rings)
  31. Water Bottle Plus SteriPen and CamelBak All Clear Water Bottle
  32. Glasses/Contact Lenses/Dry Eye Drops/Eye Glasses Cleaner
  33. Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap (biodegradable)
  34. Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Dental Floss, Tongue Cleaner
  35. Deodorant
  36. Razor & Replacement Blades
  37. Nail File, Tweezers, Q-Tips
  38. Hair Brush (1, 2) Plus Sea Mist Hair Spray
  39. Face Wash & Moisturizer
  40. Cosmetics: ConcealerRegular Lip BalmColored Lip BalmEyeliner w/ SharpenerEyeshadow w/ BrushMascaraMakeup Remover
  41. Feminine Products
  42. Sunscreen (SPF 30 Face, SPF 30 Body) and Lip Balm (SPF 30)
  43. Insect Repellent Plus Clothing Insect Repellant 
  44. Hat and Sunglasses
  45. Warm Hat and Gloves/Mittens
  46. Scarf
  47. Headlamp
  48. Watch and/or Travel Alarm Clock
  49. Camera Plus Accessories (1, 2)
  50. Sarong
  51. Pictures of Family, Friends, Pets and Hometown
  52. Kindle + 1 Paperback Book
  53. Journals, Notebook and Pens
  54. Gifts for First Host Family: 4 x Chicago Sports Teams Baseball Caps 
  55. Travel Sized Tissues
  56. Two Packs of Gum
  57. iPod & Headphones
  58.  USB Flash Drive and External Hard Drive
  59. Deck of Cards, Travel Game
  60. Personal First Aid Kit: Anti-Itch Cream, Hydrogen Peroxide, Antibiotic Ointment/Cream, Band-Aids, Psi Bands, Benadryl, Aspirin/Tylenol/Ibuprofen, Airborne Tablets
  61. Hand Sanitizer
  62. Small Roll of Duct Tape 
  63. Combination Lock
  64. Carabiner Clip (4)
  65. Anti-bacterial Retainer/Denture Cleaner Tablets (for cleaning water bottles)
  66. Universal Adaptor 
  67. Stuffed Animal
  68. Medications and Similar: Multivitamins, 4 EpiPens, Allergy Translation Cards, Medical ID Bracelets, Anti-Malarial & Birth Control Pills
  69. Miscellaneous Items: Passport, WHO Yellow Card, Travel Visas, Debit Card, Credit Card (approx. $1,500 + in spending money)

So there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. And to those packing for their next adventure … GOOD LUCK!

Book Review Part 2 – Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Disturbing. Intense. Captivating. Insightful. Powerful.

Perhaps one of my all-time favorite novels, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a must-read for each and every human being. Authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn devote their lives to sharing the stories of hundreds of oppressed women in countries around the world. In particular, they explore the following issues: women’s health, sexual slavery, violence (sexual and otherwise) and misogynistic practices.

I’d like to share with you important messages and morals I learned from each of these chapters. While I cannot begin to cover the depth and knowledge contained inside the book, here is a glimpse into a world of cruelty and abuse that needs our help to be overcome:

Women’s Health

  1. Causes of maternal mortality include: eclampsia, hemorrhage, malaria, abortion complications, obstructed labor and sepsis. Lack of education, lack of rural health systems and disregard/outlook on the importance of women greatly contribute to maternal mortality.
  2. Maternal health and childbirth injuries are rarely a priority, despite the fact that globally there is one maternal death per minute. 99% of these deaths occur in poor communities where women are often marginalized.
  3. Maternal morbidity (i.e. injuries occurring during childbirth, such as fistulas) occur even more frequently than maternal mortality.
    • The end results of these include shame from leakage of body fluids, depression, loss of marital partners and even suicide.
    • Although clinics exist to treat birth trauma, they are scarce and expensive. Providing better education, access to prenatal care and trained support personnel for deliveries can significantly decrease the number of birth injuries.
  4. We also need to provide easier access to both sanitary protection and contraception.

Sexual Slavery

  1. According to British medical journal The Lancet, “One million children are forced into prostitution every year, and the total number of prostituted children could be as high as ten million.”
  2. Countries with the most conservative sexual beliefs, including India, Pakistan and Iran, are often the ones with the largest numbers of forced prostitutes, often perceiving the victims as discounted human beings.
  3. There are multiple ways for girls to enter the sex trade, including being raised by mothers who sell sex and encourage their daughters to do the same, enticement with promises of nonexistent jobs and subsequent sale to brothels, kidnapping and trafficking.
  4. Brothels may isolate girls by preventing them from leaving premises, force them to comply with prostitution through repetitive beatings and threats of death or use alcohol and drugs to decrease the girls’s resistance. Their ultimate goal is to break the girls’s spirits to ensure compliance and prevent escape.
  5. Brothel owners often discourage the use of condoms, resulting in unintended pregnancies and the proliferation of STDs including HIV.
  6. Legends claiming sex with a virgin plus customer preferences for younger girls less likely to be infected increases the demand for young girls, who are often kidnapped and introduced to prostitution through acts of rape.
  7. Rescuing girls from brothels is often difficult—police are often patrons of brothels and unwilling to help women who escape obtain justice. Drug addiction is also instrumental in freed girls returning to brothels, while shame prevents them from returning to their families.

Violence  

  1. Emphasis on sexual honor is a major reason why violence against women occurs, taking place in the form of honor killings, burning via acid and stoning.
  2. There are approximately 6,000 honor killings per year.
    • Interestingly enough, these honor killings are often very paradoxical because those with the strictest moral codes often perform the most supremely immoral deed: murder.
  3. Honor rapes are a tool of war in conservative societies because sexual intimacy is considered so valuable and so sacred.
  4. Police do nothing to protect rape victims—sometimes, the police will actually rape the victims as well.
  5. Although men committed of rape has been suffering more consequences in recent years, the ultimate consequence for women remains greater with many committing suicide due to embarrassment and shame.

Misogynistic Practices

  1. Unfortunately, women are not entirely blameless for the continued mistreatment of the female species.
    • Often they believe beating is justified; are instrumental in running and organizing brothels; participate in infanticide and female genital mutilation; and treat baby girls as inferior to males.
    • It is thought that “every year, at least another two million girls disappear worldwide because of gender discrimination.” To put it bluntly, these girls die, or “disappear”, as a result of inadequate access to vaccines and health care as compared to their male counterparts.
  2. We need to educate women to show them that they are worth it, that they are important and that they are worth fighting for. 

What can we do to help? Unfortunately, laws will not cure these issues—we instead need to change people’s perceptions and ways of thinking. The best way to do this is simple in theory but much harder in reality: it involves education, and education of women in particular. Educating women is the key to improving their lives and results in lower family size, less poverty and a reduction in violence. As the novel puts it, “to deny women (of education or of any opportunity) is to deprive a country of 50% of its labor and talent.”

While foreign aid is much appreciated, the most effective agents of change in these developing countries aren’t foreigners but local women themselves. We can build schools, but often this will not do much: girls will still not attend. We can create policies against female genital cutting, but this again will not do much: women will still choose to cut. We can, instead, support the women and leaders living in these countries—their organizations, their movements and their attempts to improve life for all. At the grassroots is where growth resides, and these local women have had more success in reaching, and inspiring, communities to evoke permanent change than foreigners have had.

If you are interested in helping, I first and foremost urge you to read this book if you have not already done so—I guarantee you will not regret it. Then, consider studying abroad or traveling to a developing country (perhaps Africa or South East Asia rather than Europe). It is so crucial to see these issues rather than simply read about them. If this is not a viable option, however, consider instead donating to an organization or cause you care greatly about. A starting place is Global Giving, a website which contains hundreds of organizations you can choose to help. I donated $25 towards immunizing one child in India against six deadly diseases and will continue to donate this amount quarterly.

I hope you all enjoyed this (very long) post. And I hope, for those of you who read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, that you take something out of it and remember, that as difficult as life may get, there are women out there who are oppressed but ready for empowerment. As the book states, “women hold up half the sky”—it is our time to give them the tools they need to achieve their full potential.

Half the Sky is available for purchase on Amazon at the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002MHOCTO/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

More information on the novel can be found here:

www.halftheskymovement.org/

*Journal questions provided to me by TBB to consider while reading:

  • What assumptions lead to the political, economic, and cultural oppression of women and girls?
  • Who should determine whether a cultural practice is oppressive?
  • What impacts might gender equality have on cultures and economies around the world?

P.S. Feel free to leave your own thoughts on Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide below!