Kenya-based GATHER Fellow Empowers Women

Kenya-based GATHER alumnus Mariam Ali Famau has a special activity planned for International Women’s Day on March 8. Mariam lives and works in Majengo, an impoverished but resilient community on the outskirts of Nairobi, where she has launched many innovative projects designed to empower women who are at risk for recruitment into violent foreign extremist organizations.

In recent months, Mariam worked closely with Arigatou International, a longtime partner of the Goldin Institute, to recruit more than 110 women and girls for “Women of Faith in Action: Building Family Resilience.” Hosted by Arigatou International and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, “Women of Faith in Action” provided participants in Nairobi and Mombasa with practical training in entrepreneurship and the other aspects of business development. Women in Majengo and similar communities face dire poverty and a lack of opportunity that leave them vulnerable to enticements from foreign terrorists based in nearby Somalia. Christians as well as Muslims are at risk for radicalization because of their economic desperation.

Mariam is a single mother with limited resources, but she is deeply committed to changing the lives of the young women she works with. Her efforts are always inter-generational, reaching both children and adults, and she regularly draws large groups to her gatherings.

“We want to have an impact on our community,” she said in a recent phone interview.

To support the women who have already completed the training programs and are starting their businesses, Mariam is launching an open consultancy that will provide advanced guidance and other services. One group of former graduates are opening a car wash, and Mariam has already helped them open bank accounts, and write a business plan.

“Women washing cars – it’s unique,” she said. “It hasn’t been seen in the whole country.”

As the first enterprise of this kind to be created by women, Mariam is certain the car wash will make a big impact. But three other groups have opened accounts, and two others have written business plans. The consultancy will grow along with these businesses and as more women are inspired to try to realize their financial dreams.

“Our first priority will be transparency,” she explained.

Mariam has big plans for International Women’s Day on March 8, when she and other volunteers will visit an area orphanage. The orphanage houses both Christian and Muslim children who have lost their parents through a variety of circumstances, and Mariam plans on donating clothing and hosting a sizeable feast. As always, the need is greater than the funds she has available, but Mariam trusts that she will find what she needs.

“Instead of celebrating, we will do a visit to the nearby orphans,” she said.

GATHER Alum Supports Community Amidst Conflict in Cameroon

By Jimmie Briggs, Director of Learnign

In the last two weeks alone, more than 8,000 Cameroonian refugees have streamed across the border into neighboring Nigeria, fleeing an increasingly high intensity conflict between the national government and English-speaking militias seeking to form a breakaway state called “Ambazonia.” For Global GATHER alumnus Alexander Gwanvalla, the deteriorating situation has placed ever greater burdens on the work of his organization, Community Green Engagement. Speaking by phone last weekend from northwest Cameroon where he lives and works, Alexander described a crisis situation with food and resources rapidly dwindling.

“Farming activities are mostly carried out in rural areas and due to the deadly clashes happening now between soldiers and militias, farmers have fled and abandoned their farms,” he explained.

“This has resulted in dire food shortages because the food sources are no longer available. There is a state of insecurity, some of our members are also fleeing the country, and we are also facing ‘lockdown’ days where we cannot leave our homes and go to work because of the danger.” -- Alexander Gwanvalla

In total, 60,000 Cameroonian refugees have left the country for Nigeria, and even to the United States.

In practical terms, constant gunfire and risk of other physical violence by one of the warring groups makes it next to impossible for Alexander and his colleagues to meet with community decision-makers and thought-leaders. During last week’s elections on February 9, separatists from the English-speaking part of the country imposed a six-day lockdown on all civilian movement and reiterated their demand that English-speaking senators and parliamentarians quit the national senate and parliament. They’ve consistently threatened the lives of individuals who engage the legislative bodies in any way.

Last December, Cameroon’s parliament granted special status to the northwest and southwest regions of the country, which are predominantly English-speaking. Despite those concessions toward autonomy, the militias have pushed back for years against perceived disenfranchisement by the country’s French-speaking majority. The struggle for independence by the insurgents has been the biggest challenge for President Paul Biya, in power for four decades, even as the country faces off against Boko Haram terrorists who’ve long ravaged the Lake Chad Basin.

Though his work with Citizens Climate Lobby has been dramatically hampered since 2017, Alexander and his community allies continue to create impact in their region, in spite of the existential challenges.

“We have continued to focus on building our community assets via consultation and this approach has been welcomed,” Alexander said.

“We usually carry out our activities during days that are calm and mostly in areas not really hit by the crisis. Normally, we take all precautions before going out. So far, we have planted trees, installed beehives, and hosted radio programs on the rights of the child at a local radio station.” -- Alexander Gwanvalla

The conscription of child soldiers by militia poses a threat to a community’s youth.

“Food, food is a biggest challenge now,” he continued, “being able to access it as the fighting goes.”

Global Fellows Meet in Kenya

By Geoffrey Waringa, Goldin Global Fellow, Kenya

On Feb 3rd, 4th and 5th, GATHER global alumni from Uganda Miss Diana Alaroker and Geoffrey Omony of Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED), the first organization designed and run by former child soldiers, attended an Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network workshop in Nairobi, Kenya.

During the workshop, they made time to link up with me, GATHER Global alumni from Kenya Mr. Jeff Waringa, and it was a very joyful meet-up for people who have virtually know each other for more than a year but never met physically.

The three of us had very fruitful discussions centered on the possibility of working together on a regional scale. We noted the challenges of real time communication with all GATHER fellows from the East African region due to engagements and access to online communications amongst them. However, we made a commitment to start the conversation and get something going that the rest of the East African fellows could join later.

They made arrangements for a further meeting the next day which was the Ugandans’ day of departing. They made time to meet in between other meetings and on the ride to the airport. On the last day, they visited Goldin institute’s partners Arigatou Kenya offices in Nairobi, where they also had very pleasant discussions with Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat about the YOLRED projects in Uganda. Dorcas and I also had a pleasant meeting, and I updated her on my work in Kenya and the challenges I’m facing in combating the wave of violent extremist radicalization on the Kenyan coast.

The meetings ended well and commitments were made to remain in constant communication towards further collaborations.

A Night to Remember!

By Frank Latin, Senior Advisor, Communications

For me, the Goldin Institute’s 2019 Chicago Peace Fellows graduation ceremony was an inspiring event. The ceremony marked the completion of a six-month fellowship in which myself and 18 other committed community leaders collaborated to complete an engaging, community-focused curriculum and attend other scheduled workshops. The Chicago Peace Fellow program, with the use of its GATHER platform, is designed to share new social change tools and concepts that can assist in creating safer and more peaceful communities with individuals who already working in high-need areas on the South and West sides of Chicago.

The event attracted close to 100 people, including family, friends, colleagues and civic leaders who showed up to acknowledge the collective work of the CPF graduates. The group is comprised of individuals who lead small organizations and do not allow our even smaller budgets to deter us from doing the work that our communities so desperately need.

Our budgets and our organizations are small, but our work has a huge impact in the communities we serve.

To be honest, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many people come out to honor the work of a small group of people whose work often goes unnoticed by the mainstream. The evening came full circle for me when I ran into an old colleague at the event, Susana Vasquez, who I hadn’t seen in a while. Susana volunteered to conduct our first strategic planning session over 12 years ago. The mission and vision we crafted back then has helped guide me to this point...And here we are, the Westside Media Project is now in its 14th year of engaging and empowering community residents to utilize digital media to tell their own stories.

In the end, the ceremony not only celebrated the work of the 2019 Chicago Peace Fellows, it also highlighted one of the core beliefs at the Goldin Institute that is not universally shared throughout the philanthropic community: Leaders of color who live in the communities in which they serve are more than capable of providing solutions to problems that exist in their communities.

The Goldin Institute thanks the Conant Family Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation, Chase Bank, the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities and our generous network of champions for community driven social change for supporting the Chicago Peace Fellows

Download the Graduation Booklet to Learn More

Thank you to those who stand with Haiti

By Daniel Tillias, Goldin Global Fellow, Haiti

A letter to the Goldin Institute's global network of champions for community driven social change on the 10th Anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti

Thank you for keeping your promise.

After the earthquake, ten years ago, a lot of promises were made. I remember people saying that out of this terrible tragedy a new way of doing things, a true solidarity with Haitians, would emerge. They said we would “build back better.”

But too often and so unfortunate this did not happen. Only a tiny percentage of the resources pouring into Haiti after the earthquake went to grassroots Haitian-led groups like SAKALA, the people who were in the best position to know the conditions on the ground. Too often groups like SAKALA were forgotten and we continue to be forgotten by some of the largest donors.

But you did not forget us. Time and again we have treasured not only your support but THE true solidarity – the tougher the times, the more you are there for us.

I am SAKALA, the children in Cite Soleil are SAKALA , you are SAKALA , we are all SAKALA, all together we contribute to the only promise that has been kept, not the charity one but the solidarity one. The one that allows SAKALA to continue being home of the largest urban garden in the country, the hub supporting the largest waste revalorization initiative in the country, the place where butterfly, dragonfly and birds to share with the children there the hope they can fly and will.

Thank you for this solidarity, thank you for inspiring such a difference in Cite Soleil my home town. Happy New Year of continuing effort making the New beginning of Haiti happening in Cite Soleil.

Be the change!


Celebrating the Achievements of 2019

By Ethan Michaeli, Senior Advisor

Happy New Year from the Goldin Institute! 2019 was a momentous year with the debut of the Chicago Peace Fellows, our fellowship for grassroots organizers in our home town, and numerous accomplishments for the international graduates of GATHER, our integrated curriculum and tablet-based software.

Below we’ve created a month-by-month timeline with links to articles celebrating the achievements of 2019.

We’re certain you’ll agree it was a momentous year for all of our partners, and we’re so grateful for your support and attention. Thank you for sharing the journey with us:

January - The year began with a conversation with key civic leaders and community stakeholders who helped shape the Chicago Peace Fellows program to be a truly unique approach that would provide training and resources as well as an expanded network to organizers working in city neighborhoods contending with disproportionate levels of crime and violence.

Malya Villard-Appolon, a Global Associate at the Goldin Institute based in Haiti who co-founded KOFAVIV, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, wrote a moving reflection on the decade since an earthquake devastated her homeland.

February - We published an array of commentaries to mark International Women’s Day. Cynthia Austin, a California-based graduate of GATHER, wrote about her work empowering survivors of sexual violence and trafficking. GATHER alumnus Michelle Kuiper related her experiences getting legislation passed in her state of Kentucky, while Uganda-based GATHER graduate Diana Alaroker described teaching women and girls in a region recovering from civil war.

The founder of the Goldin Institute, Diane Goldin, reflected on 16 years of collaboration with grassroots leaders and especially on the foundational role of women in our work.

The same month, Jimmie Briggs, the Goldin Institute’s coordinator for community learning and collaboration, led an online training for all the GATHER alumni on fundraising.

GATHER alumnus Geoffrey Omony, the founder of Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED), the first organization in Uganda designed and run by former child soldiers, and Global Research Fellow Jassi Sandhar released a graphic novel about the lives of young people in the Gulu region who were forced to become participants as well as victims of the long-running civil war.

March - The month began with “Confessions of a Rebel Architect,” a provocative essay from Goldin Institute Chief of Staff Oz Ozburn calling for a greater sense of social responsibility in her profession.

Just a few days later, we announced the names of the Peace Fellows, 18 community leaders from 14 different neighborhoods who had gone through an extensive application process and were committed to learning together and intervening in the violence that impacts too many of Chicago’s families.

The Peace Fellows hit the ground running, using the tablets with the pre-loaded GATHER software for their on-line lessons, but also coming together in person to absorb the principles of the course and share their own expertise.   

In the middle of the month, the Fellows attended the City Club of Chicago’s conclave on Crime and Criminal Justice and then later did a group tour of the University of Chicago Hospitals’ Trauma Center, where they met with staff and discussed new strategies to promote healing and recovery as well as the interruption of violence.

The Peace Fellows capped off their first month with their first online group meeting with the international graduates of GATHER, a workshop with Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning with the Chicago-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

April – At the beginning of this month, the Peace Fellows continued their work on evaluation by participating in a presentation with another longtime Goldin Institute ally, DePaul University Professor Lisa Dush, who is conducting a formal evaluation of the GATHER software.

To study how art and social justice can inform and strengthen each other, the Peace Fellows met with  artists Tonika Johnson, Jane Saks, Rahmaan Statik and Cecil McDonald.

Individual Peace Fellows took the initiative to host their peers. Alex Levesque at the Automotive Mentoring Group invited the other Chicago Peace Fellows to visit his organization to determine the principles and practices that empower shared learning.

The Peace Fellows are all veteran community organizers, and Dr. Sokoni Karanja shared his thoughts about the program and his connections with the other Fellows.

In the middle of the month, the Fellows came together to share asset maps of their communities that include all of the leaders, informal institutions and other resources.

Peace Fellow Jeannette Coleman, director of I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER UNITY DAY, a not for profit community outreach program in the South Shore neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, wrote about the history of her organization and about the positive alternatives they provide for young people.

The circle of advisors the Goldin Institute assembled at the end of the month to review the Peace Fellows’ progress.

May – The Peace Fellows began the month by touring Breakthrough Ministries, a facility on the West Side working with people returning from prison. Program Coordinator Burrell Poe wrote that the Fellows met on site to learn about Appreciative Inquiry, an essential technique the Goldin Institute has employed successfully with its fellows all around the globe.

To help them amplify their voices in civic affairs, they attended another City Club of Chicago luncheon, this time featuring Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

In the middle of the month, Peace Fellow Robert Biekman, a pastor on Chicago’s South Side, authored a personal essay in which he described his personal experience with the curriculum, which had increased his personal capacity as a leader as well as the capacity of his organization, the Chicago Alternatives to Incarceration Collaborative.

Delasha Long, the Goldin Institute’s Media and Content Specialist, profiled Peace Fellow Jamila Trimuel, who hosted the 2019 Recognition Ceremony to honor high school and eighth grade graduates involved in her innovative, highly recognized program Ladies of Virtue.

Among the international alumni of GATHER, a special honor was accorded to Jamal Alkirnawi, CEO of a New Dawn in the Desert, a Bedouin-Jewish organization in Rahat, Israel. Jamal was named as one of 12 prominent torch lighters for Independence Day in Israel.

At the end of the month, the Peace Fellows came together for a powerful meeting with the staff of activists at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, who are teaching non-violence techniques in some the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence.

June – Peace Fellow Gloria Smith reflected on her unique path to becoming executive director of the Black Star Project based in Chicago’s South Side. Smith took the helm of the Black Star Project after her brother, the organization’s founder, passed away.

In a dispatch from Uganda, Geoffrey Omony described the ‘Community Parliaments’ YOLRED organized to create a space for discussion, truth and healing in his community.  

GATHER Alumnae Cynthia Austin wrote an essay to celebrate the first anniversary of Shyne, the organization she founded to help survivors of sex trafficking build safe and productive futures in San Diego and other parts of Southern California.

Peace Fellow Robin Cline, assistant director of NeighborSpace, wrote about exciting new concepts to reform philanthropy and make more resources available to those working at the grassroots.  

In the remote, impoverished town of Mthatha, South Africa, Dieudonne Allo shared excited news about being selected for the 2019 Red Bull Amaphiko Academy and about new partnerships between his organization, the Global Leading Light Initiative, and other GATHER alumni in Chicago and San Diego.

Peace Fellow Maria Velasquez hosted her peers at the Telpochcalli community organization, which is based in the Telpochcalli Elementary School in Little Village, a neighborhood with a high percentage of Spanish-speaking residents and immigrants from across Central and South America.

The Peace Fellows conducted a series of meetings with key institutions to assess how they could establish partnerships to reduce violence in the city’s neighborhoods. The Fellows spoke with top officials at the Chicago Park District to discuss how that agency is using its facilities and staff around the city. At the Field Museum of Natural History, they were invited to inspect and comment on a controversial exhibit that is being revised to reflect current standards as well as its historical legacy.

July – Sokoni Karanja wrote about the Family and Youth Peace Day, one of eight summer projects the Peace Fellows collectively planned and funded. More than 200 people came out to the event in the Bronzeville neighborhood for positive activities.

The Peace Fellows returned to the Institute for Non-Violence Chicago for a specialized, intensive training session in Non-Violence as it was practiced by Martin Luther King Jr.

Continuing their discussions with civic leaders, the Peace Fellows met with Ald. Walter Barnett, one of the Chicago City Council’s veterans and a principle advocate of new approaches to stopping violence in the city.

In the interest of discovering best practices across the Midwest, the Peace Fellows visited an innovative anti-violence program in Indianapolis.

Late in the month, the Peace Fellows presented their progress through the course, and their plans for summer projects to staff and grantees of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a grant initiative that pools funds from multiple area philanthropies to try and obviate violence in the city.  

Finally that month, the Fellows attended “Black and Brown Lives in Green Spaces: Race and Place in Urban America,” a panel discussion at the DuSable Museum.

August – GATHER alumni Lissette Mateus Roa from Colombia, and Diana Alaroker and Geoffrey Omony from Uganda led an online conversation about mitigating trauma for former child soldiers with the other GATHER alumni as well as the Chicago Peace Fellows.

Peace Fellow Jeanette Coleman recounts the experiences she had during the Youth Exchange, a summer project which brought together teenagers from different Chicago neighborhoods together for an overnight retreat in a Wisconsin forest.  

Peace Fellow Gloria Smith described the robust on-line discussion with Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth.” Villanueva’s ideas for a major overhaul of the priorities and procedures of major philanthropies found a receptive audience among the Peace Fellows and GATHER alumni.

In addition to meeting on-line with the GATHER alumni, the Peace Fellows toured additional sites and institutions in Chicago to expand their network and amplify their voices. At the Rebuild Foundation's Stony Island Arts Bank, they met with Studio Gang's Urbanism and Civic Impact team to explore the Role of Urban Planning and Design in Peace-building and Violence Prevention.  A few days later,the Fellows toured the University of Chicago Urban Labs to learn more about the work of the Crime Lab.

September – Early in the month, GATHER alumnus Michelle Kuiper led an on-line discussion on women’s issues with GATHER’s global alumni as well as Chicago Peace Fellows.

Program Coordinator Burrell Poe reported on the Passport 2 Peace events, which were part of the Peace Fellows’ collaborative projects. Fellow Robert Biekman, who hosted one of the events in his neighborhood park, described a fun-filled day that drew hundreds of residents for activities focused on healing and development.  

With the Peace Fellows moving into the final phase of the program, the Goldin Institute convened the civic leaders who have served as a circle of advisors and reviewed the Fellows’ progress.

In Cameroon, GATHER alumnus Alexander Gwanvalla hosted a workshop on how to build on community assets for grassroots leaders of Nsongwa Mile 90, an area with high levels of recruitment of child combatants and separatist fighters.

Lo Ivan Castillon, a GATHER alumnus based in the Philippines, sent an update on the organization he founded, the Volunteers’ Initiatives in Bridging and Empowering Society (VIBES), which is involving young people in various projects all designed to rebuild and heal a region that his wracked by civil war and natural disasters.

At the end of the month, GATHER alumnus Dieudonne Allo from South Africa stopped in Chicago during his American tour, and met with Peace Fellow Jacquelyn Moore to plan their youth robotics projects. Dieudonne’s visit fortuitously coincided with the arrival of Ceasar McDowell, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been a senior advisor to the GATHER program since it was first conceived. Ceasar was in town to give an inspiring lecture at Depaul University entitled “Dialogue in Demographic Complexity: Overcoming Our Discriminatory Consciousness.”

October – Goldin Chief of Staff Oz Ozburn wrote about a partnership between the Peace Fellows and DePaul University's Technology for Social Good Lab to create a city-wide “Living Asset Map” which will connect grassroots leaders with a range of civic institutions dedicated to peace building.

This month also saw the fruition of the Goldin Institute’s partnership with the Voices & Faces Project and Brothers Standing Together, an organization founded by GATHER alumnus Raymond Richard, to lead “Testimony & Transformation: A Writing Workshop for Returning Citizens.”

In a special report from Kenya, Gather Alumnae Mariam Ali Famau announced the launch of Women of Faith in Action, a new program to stop the recruitment of children into armed conflict. A single mother herself, Mariam teaches young women self-empowerment and entrepreneurship in a community where there are perilously few economic opportunities.

November – The Goldin Institute celebrated the graduation of the inaugural class of Chicago Peace Fellows on November 14, culminating months of collaborative learning and implementation. The Peace Fellows immediately joined GATHER’s global alumni network, and have already started working on joint efforts across borders.

GATHER alumnus Yusuph Masanja from Tanzania contributed a special essay to commemorate a major milestone in his life, a journey to the Arctic Circle with explorer Sir Robert Swan. In the first episode of “The Polar Bear Talks,” Yusuph describes the support he received from many for his journey, including anthropologist and primatologist Dr. Jane Goddall. In the second episode, Yusuph narrates the journey itself. Don’t miss the video of Yusuph’s dip in icy waters!

December – GATHER alumnae Lissette Mateus Roa wrote a dispatch from Colombia, where there are mass protests against systemic problems afflicting the nation; a failing health care system, an ill-equipped, under-resourced education system, inequality, impunity and rampant corruption.

South African GATHER alumnus Dieudonne Allo finished the year on a note of a triumph, reporting on a highly successful Acceleration Summit he hosted to boost the youth programming of the Global Leading Light Initiative.

Thank you to our global network of grassroots champions whose support made this momentous year possible!  We look forward to your continued support for community-driven social change in 2020! 

South African Acceleration Summit Update

By Dieudonne Allo, Goldin Global Fellow, South Africa

Dear All,

Our Acceleration Summit was a remarkable success. I am writing to share a few highlights and pictures of the event.

The head of CSI of IDC (our current donor) IDC’s portfolio manager, IDC’s Mthatha-based staff, representatives of the local municipality, Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), Boston College, New and Old Board members, staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, a few of their parents and a student from our Student Innovation Lab made up the list of participants. A representative of the Daily Dispatch Newspaper was also present.

During the summit, certificates (cisco-accredited) were awarded to beneficiaries of the project, as well as in-kind start-up capital in the form of hand tools.
Each beneficiary highlight their LL-Tech Academy journey, presented their businesses and made an ask. A student from our school programme, the Student Innovation Lab, presented a game she created which is helping students improve their pass marks in economics. Her idea started at a Design Thinking session last year which GLLI organised during the student innovation winter school. We (Zona and I) presented an overview of the LL-Tech Academy and our plans for the future, which includes the construction of an Open Innovation Hub in Mthatha.

The NYDA representative offered to sponsor each of their businesses with amounts ranging from R55,000 to R200,000. They will go through a formal application process to get these grants from January.

The IDC were upbeat about GLLI’s professionalism, creativity, accountability, ability to deliver and the LL-Tech Academy model. They requested that GLLI and IDC start discussing the post pilot project as soon as possible.

Gratitude to our Board Members for your support. Special thanks to Mr Dyeyi who was our Programme Director, Mr Wopula, who welcomed our guests on behalf of the Board and Mr Sejosengoe and Mrs Mabija who handed our symbolic gifts to the visitors. Special thanks to Sharon Ries, who accompanied me to IDC to discuss our proposal last year and helped with parts of the proposal. Thank you all for your words of support, even to those who couldn’t make it to the summit in person. I cannot thank you all enough.

Due to the success of this summit, we plan to make the Acceleration Summit on rural tech entrepreneurship an annual regional/provincial event, which we plan to co-organise with IDC. It will be a Launchpad for grassroots technology entrepreneurship in the Eastern Cape (and eventually nationally) and catalyse growth in the tech economy of the province. I will have a chat with Travis Rejman, Jimmie Briggs and Cynthia Auston, our US-based advisory members to explore the possibility of involving U.S acceleration partners who may want to join us next year at the summit.


Colombia Protests Inequality

By Lissette Mateus Roa, Co-Facilitator, Global Alumni Network

Colombia is the third most unequal country in the world, and the gap is growing. That is what is causing the latest mass protests in the country.

Colombians no longer care about FARC guerrillas, they no longer protest nor fear this group that signed a peace agreement with President Santos 3 years ago. Now, Colombians have turned their eyes to the real problems that afflict the nation; a health care system that does not work, little chance of education, inequality, impunity and especially corruption. Above all, it is the corruption of politicians that keeps the country in a precarious state because the money that should be available for the benefit of a country is stolen by a few and the government persists in benefiting those few.

President Iván Duque, who was the candidate of the former president and now-Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, has neglected the peace agreements, has not complied with them, and instead has allowed new illegal groups in the country to start arming again to fight for routes of drug trafficking and land. Because of that, there are newly displaced people and new massacres again. In addition, due to the tax reforms that Ivan Duque is presenting before the congress and a new law lead by the political party of former President Álvaro Uribe, he has shown that it is a government that aims to favor the richest, widening the gap of inequality in the country.

There are specific requirements that are being presented to the government and for which the huge protest marches began on November 21, 2019:

  • Reduction of war budget, which is larger than the health budget even though the FARC no longer exists.
  • More budget for higher education, because only 10% of young lower social class students enter the university and only 48% of those are from official schools.
  • That the government complies with the peace agreements, and stops the killing of demobilized people. Already 130 have been killed in the last 2 years.
  • That the government stop the genocide of indigenous people and systematic murder of social leaders in the country. 134 indigenous people and more than 400 social leaders have been killed during the government of Iván Duque.
  • That the government stop widening inequality gaps. That it desist in the tax reform (called the package), which raises taxes for the middle classes and lowers the taxes of large companies. It could reduce the salary of young people under 25 years old to 75% of the current minimum, eliminate the pension funds, and left with precarious work to the independent ones that are around 40% of the country workers.

To understand this reform a little more, along with the new law, it is important to know that in Colombia, 1 hour of work is paid 1 dollar, and the minimum salary is 236 dollars per month, but a congressperson in Colombia is paid 9,531 dollars per month, this means 40 time more than a minimum salary. The law proposed by the government pretends to make a flexible minimum salary, and have young people working per hours, or part time, which is going to be cheaper for employers, but precarious for workers who would have monthly salaries of less than 236 dollars. The government said it is a way to have more jobs for unemployed people who currently are 10% of population. Apart from that, they said they will reduce from 48 to 45 hours a week of work, but this is going to leave workers without two days a year in payment, which they used to have for having time with their families and without 2 extra hours a week of recreation. Moreover, workers won’t have Sunday as their rest day, but it could be any day of the week, even if they would not have time with their families because their day of rest does not match with their families’. And they won’t have payment for holidays either.

On the top of that, with the tax reform, the government wants that independent workers, which in Colombia is half of the workforce (about 11,800,000 people), pay 19% in taxes over their salary, knowing that they already pay about 21% of their salary in VAT and payments of health and pensions. Meaning that if an independent worker has a monthly income of 3,000, they should pay about 40% of their salary in taxes, VAT, and parafiscal contributions. While this happened with independent workers, the big enterprises will have a reduction in their tax payments from 33% to 30%, which will amount to a little bit more than 2 and a half billion dollars, which is double the budget for the country's university education, if we want to compare it. Another proposed law states that if companies hire young people less than 28 years old, they would have a 120% deduction on payments. In this sense, under this reform, along with the before mentioned proposed law, companies could hire people for less payment and less obligation, and they would have more deductions. What a great government for big companies!

Apart from that, the products already have a 19% VAT. For example, one gallon of petrol costs 2.60 dollars. All of this is going to widen the inequality gap and will make the rich richer, the middle classes unable to obtain more, and the poorest even poorer.

Despite all of the above, the government says it does not understand why citizens want to protest. For this reason, since the first march on the 21st, police and ESMAD (Mobile Riot Squadron) forces were deployed during the peaceful marches during the day. Because of that, citizens started a “Cacerolazo” from home, a form of protest in Latin America in which pots with spoons are beaten to make the government feel that the protestors are not vandals but an entire nation from their homes protesting peacefully. This sound was heard and spread throughout all neighborhoods and cities in Colombia.

To give you a sense of what these peacedful, if noisy, protests looked like, please watch this video taken at the street level and this video showing an overhead view.

On November 22 again there were marches and there were riots in different parts of the city (see video here). In the evening, President Ivan Duque decided to generate a general curfew in Bogotá and militarize the city. Somehow, a panic campaign was created – we still don’t known by whom it was orchestrated – through social networks, calls, and people entering residential complexes. It was said that they were going to destroy houses and that they were going to steal. It was a night of panic for the entire Bogota City. The next day, the mayor of the city said that all the alert calls were a lie and that it had been a dark campaign to generate chaos in the city.

After that night, many were afraid to go out and march. However, the marches continued on November 23, and in the afternoon hours, Dylan Cruz, 18 years old, was shot in the head by the ESMAD. Dylan was about to receive his high school grade on November 25, but instead, due to the impact, his body did not resist any more, and he died on his graduation day.

Despite all these marches and events going on, the president had said in his speeches he wanted to establish a dialogue. Last week, in the middle of the strike, the president passed the tax reform to the congress, and it was approved in the first plenary. The aforementioned law was also approved. In addition, the housing subsidy for the middle class was removed, and a law was passed to the congress so that the ESMAD could have more riot weapons. And the cherry on the cake was a law called Andrés Felipe Arias, named for a former minister of agriculture of prior President Álvaro Uribe, who was accused of giving land that should be for the poor to the rich, a scheme from which Alvaro Uribe Velez himself benefited. Andrés Felipe Arias was imprisoned in the United States and found guilty, as he was found guilty in Colombia. However, this law will allow him and many other corrupt individuals out of jails or house arrest and shorten their sentences.

Faced with this mockery and interweaving of laws and reforms to benefit a few, Colombians have not stopped marching.

Last Sunday, December 8, a march was called, that was supported by artists and was massive. The marches and protest will continue, but the government does not want to listen.

So, in this moment, we ask for international support for Colombian people. As Desmond Tutu said, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Chapter 2 of the Polar Bear Talks: tales of an epic trek from Africa to the Arctic

By Yusuph Masanja, Global Alumni Coordinator

Welcome to the second chapter of my epic trek!

Click Here to read the first chapter of Yusuph’s journey to the arctic, which was supported by his mentor, Dr. Jane Goodall, and the expedition was led by Sir Robert Swan, founder of the 2041 foundation, environmentalist and polar explorer, the first person to walk on both poles. The expedition included individuals from 27 countries, but Yusuph was the only one from Africa.

“Is the Ice truly melting?”

After I returned from my Arctic journey, Ian, one of my friends in Dar Es Salaam, paused during his partner’s birthday dinner and asked if the arctic ice was truly melting due to climate change, “because at least you have been there, so, I can believe if you say it’s true.”

It conjures up mistrust when, on an everyday basis, what you hear from media and some elites’ debates is mostly news to justify inaction in the face of the problem. Furthermore, it is sad to see that some of those who agree and are dedicated to working towards solutions are continuing to treat the issue as some sort of a “future problem” – contrary to our current reality as we know it. It is due to such inaction that we are continuing to see a continuous rise in global warming levels every year despite a number of international treaties signed and interventions implemented.

My country is already experiencing the impact of the climate change with annual events that cost in excess of 1% of GDP each, affecting millions of people and their livelihoods (Tanzania’s first INDC). My government analyzed the cost of mitigating the impact on public health, energy supply, water resources, agriculture, etc. to be approximately USD 60 billion by 2030 in mitigation investment. And this is a story of only one African country, so one might wonder, “What’s the story of a whole continent at large in line with mitigation and adaptation capacities?”

So, yes, homie – the ice is truly melting. I can report that myself having been there this past June!

26 countries united, for one bold, audacious and humanity’s most important quest.

Transforming the global economy into a more climate resilient path was one of the goals that brought us all together. We spent two weeks gathering and learning about the scientific facts, inspiring each other with our track records of efforts to shaping the future, and discovering innovative solutions for the planet.

In one of my reflections, partly due to a question from a friend I had met, I found myself contemplating the feeling of being trapped on a ship far from home with zero possibility of leaving should one of us feel bored, agitated or just happened to dislike someone! I began using this analogy to the ongoing discourse around climate change and how all of humanity has no other planet to escape to, should warming impact becomes most catastrophic. My instinct, as a consequence of experiencing this feeling, was that I should do my best to understand everyone around me on the ship and strive for coexistence to successfully move ahead together towards a common goal despite our individual differences.

Such instinct gave rise to a newly adapted frame of thoughts pertaining to how humanity must treat one another in order to solve the climate crises sustainably. The frame contained a value of responsibility in extending ourselves spiritually towards the growth of our collective well-being. And by so doing, discovering how our dialogues and actions shall improve as a consequence of truly listening. Listening to the people around us, to the world, and to the planet – because that’s what our extension will do to us, and it is good.

Storytelling for Change

Throughout the expedition, we harnessed the power of storytelling to communicate convenient solutions and climate resilient pathways. Kyle, one of the team leaders, led a crucial series of story-telling coaching, which rendered me the first on spotlight! I had to come up with a story from a picture I had taken previously when we visited the Fram Museum while incorporating principles of storytelling in my reflection. Considering my nervousness and self-conscious tendencies while on stage, the challenge was helpful in building my confidence and public speaking skills.

The story of the Norwegian polar exploration and the ship “Fram” was remarkable to me, given the sophisticated techniques used to navigate to North and South poles in the 1890s. I was impressed by the ship’s design and most importantly its preservation so that we, and future generations, can visit to see it in a museum.

The story captivated me so much in that, as bad as things might be going now for us, we have gone so far past radical adversaries that faced us historically and, perhaps, if we – just like the “Fram” explorers – could harmoniously work together, the climate crises will be addressed.

The Polar Bear Talks

Africa’s proverbs are still shaping my society as they provide best moral conducts as well as important explanations on various misfortunes. Naturally, we don’t have polar bears in Africa, but the following proverb “Rain does not fall on one roof alone” crossed my mind when I stood in a zodiac looking at a family of polar bears.

The proverb explains a natural cycle of life in a metaphorical manner. Its meaning, “Trouble does not discriminate. It comes to everyone at some point,” struck me. I knew, from the polar bear presentation given by one of National Geographic guest speakers, that these animals help keep our ecosystem’s health at balance. Hence, their endangerment indicates that something is wrong in the broader ecosystem. Their home is melting twice as fast as other parts of the planet. Being on top of the food chain, them being at risk, places other species in the ecosystem at risk too.

Just like how our elders would speak such proverbs to children to teach them a lesson, I felt sort of hearing the same coming from the elder polar bear as we quietly stood watching them. It’s obviously the case that our homes are in as much danger as polar bears’ habitats; the impact is being felt in most parts of the world already. Yet another Swahili proverb contains enough wisdom to help us through, “Where there's a will there's a way.” Maybe, if we get our intentions clearer than we already have right now, then humanity will prevail and reverse the change.

The Disciplined Voice Said, “You Are in Charge of Africa”

Sir Robert’s final remark to me, “You are in charge of Africa,” on the last expedition day in Oslo generated a sense of broad responsibility within me. For once, I began to think not only of Tanzania, but Africa at large. For once, the wise words of Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere and those of Nelson Mandela started to emerge from my subconsciousness. These are two people I know to have striven for a free continent. Such freedom is now in jeopardy, as African economies tap on pathways that led “developed” economies to their current emission levels.

Upon my return back home, I started talking and thinking about ways I could make my contribution counts. A friend’s mention that became a mantra: “You have a responsibility to all Africans who were not as privileged with the opportunity to witness and learn about climate in the Arctic, and who have no idea about its implications” started to dawn on me.

So, to begin with, I spoke with a few students and teachers in Arusha, Tanzania. The conversation helped me to discover a goal to work towards: Engaging young influencers into experiential training programs on sustainability. I have started working on creating Africa’s center for climate change awareness in Tanzania to engage young people in sustainability education.

Learn more about the expedition on the following short videos:

Yusuph and Robert Swan at the Arctic Cycle by Kyle O'Donoghue

Climate Force video about the expedition Kyle O'Donoghue

Also, feel free to connect with me via facebook at

The Polar Bear Talks: tales of an epic trek from Africa to the Arctic

The First Chapter

My Arctic voyage this past June strikes me to be a dream like sensation, more than 4 months later and I am still dreaming a variation of the same tale – humanity on the edge! For nearly a year, I dreamt, attempted, gave up, whined, and eventually buried the hatchet and acted –succeeding to raise enough to afford the expedition. To go and learn (with all my senses, I technically mean it: all senses) about climate change ramifications, and to return home with an insight for actions I can take to save my local planet. An experience that recounts in the most surreal manner to me!

My journey was led by Sir Robert Swan, founder of the 2041 foundation, environmentalist and polar explorer, the first person to walk on both poles, together with other, amazing individuals from 27 countries.

I was the only Tanzanian and the only participant coming from Africa!!!

The trip was so rich with the right information about climate change, its impact and solutions –at both micro and macro levels. The leadership on the Edge training by a notable coach from New York and guest speakers from the National Geographic team - naturalists, scientists and educators - were equally superb.

Coming back home felt a little strange. I missed the freshness of the Arctic air, the all-time midday sunlight, polar bears, whales, birds and the ice. I also missed the daily dose of yoga and meditation.

Climate change does not cause global warming, per se. It is highly connected to social justice in general. Poor communities are experiencing the impact far more than wealthy communities. But that's only part of the story. The other part of the story is that at-risk poor communities are resilient beyond belief and from them so much can be learned about mitigation and adaptation.

With this nexus of Climate change and social justice, I am working to bring a convenient solution by establishing a sustainability learning center targeting young influencers.

I’ll have more to say about the actual journey in future chapters, and there are some videos of the trip below, but it was important for me to issue a note of gratitude first.

One of the most important persons who made my journey possible is Dr. Jane Goodall. One evening, as she and her colleague Dr. Anthony visited Dar Es Salaam, we sat on the porch of her house. Among our many discourses, I asked if she knew Sir Robert Swan. Of course, Dr. Goodall responded, “Yes.” She continued speaking highly of Swan’s mission to shape the next generation of youth by taking them to the Antarctic. I retorted, “By the way, I have applied to go on their first expedition to the top of the world, but I doubt if I can successfully raise required funds.” She looked at me and said, “I can help you with a recommendation letter.” That moment, my heart smiled and part of me knew that I was destined to go.

Of course, this could not happen with a recommendation letter alone, I had to work 16 to 18 hours every day in May this year, getting past all criticism and shame for not having started fundraising much earlier when I had time. I had quit my job at this time and I had all the time I needed to logically deal with such heartbreaking criticisms, strategically manage my time and resources to ensure I reach out to everyone I knew to have their heart at the right place (whatever this might mean at the time) and it worked.

The lesson, I think, is this: “Perhaps, to encourage successfully applicants (of educational opportunities) to also cover their costs and provide them with professional fundraising guidance, is (more than anything else) to help them become more attentive, engaged, intellectually critical and useful in their communities after the program.”

I will share another chapter in this unfolding story soon, but in the meantime, please watch the short videos below to learn more:

The First Chapter by Kyle O'Donoghue

Just 600 miles from the North Pole, Sir Robert Swan interviews Yusuph about his concept of a sustainability center in Tanzania. “You’re going to address this whole thing of people and animals in the wilderness. It’s going to be a practical thing,” Sir Swan said. “People in this world don’t need to be talked at - they need to be shown solutions and I’m so proud of you.”

Arctic Expedition: Recruiting the Next Generation of Climate Activists by Madeleine Ptacin

Yusuph’s polar plunge experience by Trent Benson

Best of all, click above to watch take a dip in the cold blue waters of the arctic.