Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘teens’

Twins Break Stereotypes

41+p5TChekL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Love Club by Donna Faulkner Schulte.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Whether The Love Club is based on real incidents, or completely fictional, becomes irrelevant as one reads the pages. It is rare to have teens portrayed as being good, feeling good, and doing good. This story, by Ms. Faulkner Schulte, is one of those rarities. It is a refreshing twist on what high school students can do, and how they treat one another, and help others.

Identical twins (Mariah and Miranda) return home from there first day of high school. They look upset. There mother (Sandy) asks them about it. “Ok. What happened that took those pretty smiles off your faces? Was someone mean to you? Were the older kids bullying you?”

No mom, everything went fine at school. It was what happened on the way to school that bummed us out.” Miranda said. “We just saw a man sitting in the woods licking a cracker wrapper and you could tell he was so hungry, but we didn’t know if we should offer him half our lunch or would he be insulted?”

It isn’t long until Mariah and Miranda enlist the help of their friend Ebony at school, and get the ball rolling on how to start a club that will provide the most benefit to help people that are homeless. The story also involves the girls first dates, and prom night, and how they develop healthy friendships with there peers.

The Love Club includes a number of references to church, God, and the Bible, but does so as part of the characters beliefs, and not in a way that is asking anyone else to convert, or believe likewise. Ms. Faulkner Schulte’s story is inspiring, and provides practical things people, and communities, can do to assist those living without a home. Just one day can change everything. None of us are immune to being in the same situation.

 

Is it the scent?

images-1Some folks search for love all their lives and never find it. Some run into it in their teens and others when they’re seventy. Some strike it rich with their first love and others on their second marriage expedition. For me, it was the third time around that was the lucky charm.

The younger my age, the more certain I had been about the mystery of relationships. I thought I was wise to love’s ways. I believed, “when we fell in love we just knew it. If it didn’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be.” Such was the awe-inspiring depths of my young perceptions about relationships.

As I’ve aged and traveled the many roads of partnership with the opposite sex, my previous certainties and simplifications have been blown away by the winds of experience. When I was a teenager, I used to think I knew everything about love and what love means. Now I know that I know very little, if anything, at all.

Why do some relationships and people, work together like two good actors on a stage, while others forget their lines, make the wrong entrance or are overwhelmed by the other actor or actresses personality or performance? Why do some folks stay together a lifetime and others less than a year, a month or a week?

There are some obvious considerations. If people are attracted to each other physically, able to communicate clearly and respect one another as complete, changing human beings, I would bet their relationship has a lot better chance of succeeding than those who lack these mutual attributes. But then again, I’ve met people who never listened to one another and have little understanding of their partner, yet continue to live together for many years with genuine contentment and joy. There are some human needs and agreements, spoken or unspoken, that the other person must fulfill in these arrangements. On the other ring finger, I’ve met people who had all the qualities I’d expect in a good marriage yet called it quits after a couple of years.

When I was eighteen years from birth I met Cindy, who was sixteen. I thought I had found true love and gone to heaven. The day we met we decided to move in together and two weeks later, with the permission of her mother, we did. Our love, lust and attention were all consuming. I would do anything to “make her happy”, thus denying my own desires and dreams and leaving her with all the decisions about how we would live and what we would do. Our plans for the future were very different, but I was blind to such realities and let my body rule my heart.

When Cindy turned eighteen and I was twenty, we married. Neither of us took it seriously (well maybe I did at the time) and thought it was a great excuse for a big party! A year after our marriage we divorced. She had done everything possible to get me angry, to make me stand up for myself, but I was lost in the poppy field of love and couldn’t get back home to my true self.

After a number of years and a couple of other interesting relationships, I met Pat. This time the roles were reversed and I found she would do everything I wanted to do, at least in the beginning. We were both involved in similar volunteer work, wanted children (and always had) and seemed to have similar goals and aspirations. Once again I thought our agreements and her acquiescence were love.

Pat and I were married and had two beautiful children. Then the truths and realities I had ignored and given lip service too, began to reveal themselves. We started arguing about everything and anything. A lot of what she had said or done in the past hadn’t been out of her desire, but because she knew it was what I had wanted to hear. Food, work, adoption, school; everything was in conflict. After eight years I came to my senses and we divorced. It was painful and difficult, but necessary. In addition to learning a lot about living with someone or how not to live with someone, our relationship had blessed us with the children we had both longed for.

Not long after our divorce I met Audrey. We’ve now been together twenty-three years and married for twenty. We were pulled together like magnets and could not deny the attraction and love that existed between us. We seem to have all the ingredients for a magical partnership – love, respect, honesty, communication, desire, admiration and support, but all the right ingredients don’t always make a good dish. We’ve been through some painful, difficult times and moments, but haven’t flinched or had doubts about our marriage. And, to tell you the truth, I don’t know why. Why are we going to happily live together until one of us dies? Why do we feel the way we do about one another? Why do we feel so comfortable and at ease with the others presence? Why am I still so in love with her after all these years?

Maybe it’s all about pheromones, the unique scents and smells we excrete to attract mates (like most animals). Yeah, that’s the ticket! That explains everything, pheromones and circumstance. The next time someone asks me how we know when we are definitely in love, I’ll tell them it all comes down to the nose: the nose, the stars, the planets, knowing your self and a truck load of luck.

One by One They Died

Life of Nane Alejandrez. Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

naneOne by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. 

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

More of Nane’s story, and others, at: Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

The Skin of Lions

Short story from children’s story collection.
The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales.
Edited by Gabriel Constans.

At one time, all of the children in this book lived on the streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Their parents died from the genocide in 1994 or from the AIDS pandemic. They have been given new life and hope at an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children. The stories from The Skin of Lions are taken from their personal experiences, traditional folk tales or unique creative imaginations. The children range in age from ten to nineteen and tell tales for all generations. They share their words from a thousand-year-old oral tradition and speak for all those that have been silenced.

The Skin of Lions by AHIKIRIJE Jean Bosco (Age 17)

There was a man, named Cambarantama, who looked after his sheep and cultivated his fields. One day, while he was looking after his sheep and leading them to the grasses, he found a small animal in the bush that had eaten some of his crops. When the man came back the next day, the same small creature had eaten more of his crops. He took the little animal back home and said, “I’m going to have to kill you for eating my crops.”

The small animal said, “Wait; please don’t eat me. Forgive me and I will not eat your crops any more.”

Cambarantama had a good heart, forgave the little animal and let him go.

On his way back to the shamba (field) the next day, Cambarantama was approached by a very big animal. The big animal told Cambarantama that he had to kill one of the sheep in the field and give it to him for his kettle. Cambarantama was scared and did as he was told. He went and killed one of his sheep and gave it to the big animal. This kept happening day after day.

One day, on his way to his shamba, Cambarantama met the little animal that he had forgiven. The little animal said, “I see that you have less and less sheep. What has happened?”

Cambarantama replied, “There is a big animal that comes every day and makes me give it one of my sheep. That is why you see so few that are left.”

The little animal he had saved said, “The next time that big animal comes I will be next to you, hidden in a bush. I will tell you what to say.”

Cambarantama took his sheep to the grasses and the big animal once again came from the forest and told him it was time for him to give him another one of his flock, but Cambarantama said he would not give him any more. The small animal was hidden next to Cambarantama and spoke out loud.

“Who are you talking to?” asked the big animal.

The small animal said loudly, “I am the king of heaven and earth who puts on the skin of lions.”

“Who is that?” asked the big animal.

“What are you looking for?” shouted the little animal, hidden behind the bush.

The big animal was scared and said, “I . . . I’m just looking for firewood.”

“Sit down and don’t move!” shouted the little animal, who then whispered to Cambarantama to get the firewood rope and tie the hands and legs of the big animal.

That is how Cambarantama captured and killed the big ferocious animal and saved his sheep, with the help of the little vegetable eating animal he had forgiven.

MORE STORIES

(All proceeds from sale of book go to ROP Center for Street Children.)

Is This The One?

My brief contribution to the book The Real Meaning of Life. Edited by David Seaman. (New World Library, 2005).

Some folks search for love all their lives and never find it. Some run into it in their teens and others when they’re seventy. Some strike it rich with their first love, and others with their second marriage. For me, the third time around was the lucky charm.

The younger my age, the more certain I was about the mystery of relationships. When I was a teenager, I used to think I knew everything about love and what it means. I thought I was wise to love’s ways. I believed that “when we fell in love we just knew it.” If it didn’t work out, then it wasn’t “meant to be.” Such were the awe-inspiring depths of my young perceptions. As I’ve aged and traveled the many roads of partnership, my previous certainties and simplifications have been blown away by the winds of experience. Now I know that I know very little, if anything at all.

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Birthday in Rwanda

Volunteering for three weeks with a medical team and trauma specialists to provide care to children orphaned by the 1994 genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, is not a young man’s usual birthday wish on their fourteenth birthday, yet that is what Shona Blumeneau, a teenager from Santa Cruz, California experienced at ROP Center for Street Children. “It was really cool and different,” he says with a warm grin. “The people are very kind.”

Some estimates put the number of orphans in Rwanda at over a million. There have been vast improvements since the nineties, but thousands of kids are still living on the streets and many of the orphanages and youth centers that have taken in survivors (also referred to as “street rebels”) are struggling to provide basic needs, let alone education and vocational training for the children in their care.

Shona and his family held yard sales, received donations from relatives and friends across the country and had a local musician put on a piano concert to raise funds for their journey. “I worked as a referee and as a coach at a summer soccer camp,” Shona recalls. He saved half of any money he got for his birthday or holidays and put it away for his airfare to Rwanda. He says could have stayed home with friends, “but I really wanted to see Africa and make a difference.”

When he arrived in Africa and started working at ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Shona found that “half the time the kids accepted me and tried to bring me into their culture and the rest of the time they wanted me to get them things or bring them home to The States.” He said they all assumed he was rich because he was from America and comparatively speaking, he is. The average daily wage in Rwanda is about one US dollar per day. “It would be hard to grow up in an orphanage and not have a family to support you,” he reflects. Every morning they returned the boys and girls would approach, grab his hands and ask if he remembered their name. They wanted to be seen, heard and reassured that they would not be forgotten. “It was awkward when I said ‘No’,” says Shona, “but I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.”

The team Shona traveled with came from throughout the U.S. and included two nurses, a psychologist, family therapist, nurse practitioner, dentist, minister, two teachers, journalist, photographer and a quilting instructor. They worked with six translators, from early morning until evening, with hundreds of children at ROP for almost three weeks. Shona assisted the nurse practitioner and dentist to give these children the first check-up they’d ever had in their lives. “At first I took pictures and then I started taking their height and weight and testing their eyes with a wall chart,” Shona proclaims. “Whitney (the nurse practitioner) taught me how to look in ears and what to look for and Jim (the dentist) showed me how to record information about teeth and gums.”

Most of the children at ROP are in their teens and adopted the young American as their brother or “inshuti” (friend in Kinyarwanda). “Everyone has a story,” says Shona, “about how their life has been since the genocide. There was one kid whose parents and siblings were killed, except for a baby sister. They were stuck on the street, taking care of the sister and eating rotten food until the director of the orphanage found them and brought them to ROP.”

His time at the orphanage was not all work and no play. “Sometimes I was just chilling with them talking, trying to communicate and understand each other. A lot of them are learning English and I picked up a few words of Kinyarwanda.” Shona’s family also brought four suitcases of donated soccer uniforms they had been collecting from parents and kids back home and provided enough outfits and balls for four teams. Shona, who has played soccer since he was four years old, would make foray’s to play with his adopted brothers and sisters on the mud and rock strewn field behind the orphanage and come back after twenty minutes dripping with sweat. “Those guys are really good!” he’d exclaim, trying to catch his breath, as he collapsed on one of the thin wooden benches used by students during class.

The words “life-changing” are often thrown around loosely in our society. To Shona Blumeneau, the words are real. “This trip has changed my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever whine about anything again.” His perspective on the privilege he enjoys in America was matched by his new found appreciation and understanding of Rwanda. “Even though there is poverty, it isn’t as bad as people describe it. Most of Africa is poor, but there is also a lot of development and hope. The kids really want to learn everything they can. I have a lot of respect for them.”

When asked if he would like to return to Rwanda, Shona, who is now a high school senior, said quickly, “Absolutely! I learned that even though I’m in another country, I still like working with kids and I can do that anywhere, even if I don’t speak their language. I think I would like to work in the medical field and I love traveling.”

You can bet your last dollar that this determined young teen from the United States will indeed make his way back to Africa, where the orphaned children of The ROP Center for Street Children will hold his hand, look him in the eye and ask, “Do you remember me?”

Adoption: It’s About Time!

“Be all the parent you can be – adopt!”

“If you want to change the world, become an adoptive parent.”

These fictional adds proclaim the reality and need, across this country, for people to become adoptive parents and provide homes to children who are currently living in foster care, orphanages or state run institutions. Newborns, preschoolers, adolescents and teens are waiting for security, love, commitment and yes, sacrifice. Parenting requires the endless sacrifice of one’s ego, vanity, time and selfishness, whether it’s through adoption or birth! It’s not for everyone. Some people don’t want it and some can’t hack it.

Parenting puts you on the front lines of changing society. Teaching children how to live with the reality of emotional pain and loss, in the context of a secure and safe environment, is one of the greatest gifts we can provide future generations. To do so not only heals the wounds of abandonment, abuse, and betrayal, but also helps prevent additional pain, violence and acting out as our children become adults.

I think the title that comes closest to describing the experience of parenthood is, “The Agony and The Ecstasy”. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It can be a long, arduous, painful journey that requires us to take it one day at a time. Yet the rewards and the joy are far greater than any pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! Your heart can overflow with love and pride when you see your child grow, make a new discovery or accomplish something they never thought possible.

Becoming a parent quickly removes any pretenses or misconceived perceptions and expectations one may have previously held about parenthood and oneself. It puts a mirror to your soul and makes you look honestly at your reflection.

Since the age of sixteen I knew I wanted to have children and created a lot of convenient images and fantasies of what that would be like. When, at age twenty-six, my first child was born and the reality of how much attention they needed hit me full force (night after night of interrupted sleep and demands), I fell into months of postpartum depression. The reality that I was now responsible for another person for the rest of my life ran me over like a runaway crib!

As my daughter grew older and we had another child, two and a half years later, my heart for them both was filled with all the love, wonder and compassion I had expected, along with the unexpected. The next hurdle was learning when and how to say “no” or “yes”. It wasn’t as easy as it had sounded in the books!

Then, when the children were about five and seven years old, another unexpected event took place. I got divorced. We had just adopted a five-year-old boy through the county, before our divorce, so I had to go back to court and adopt our son as a single parent. Luckily, in our area of the country, this situation was not a problem for the county adoption agency or the courts, but it was a problem for me. It was exhausting! Luckily I met an incredible woman and eventually remarried. Though she made sure to not act like a substitute mother, she was and is an incredible support and is now called “Mom” by one and all.

After navigating divorce, single parenting and the adjustments of a new family, I thought I would never have another child, birth or adopted, but once again we were called or I should say “asked”, if we would “take in” another child. We said yes, having no idea what we were in for. That’s when our foster daughter moved in to our home. She was fourteen years old at the time. If I’d thought it was difficult learning how to parent the younger children as they grew, it was nothing compared to the needs and circumstances of an abused teenager. But, with the help and support of friends and family and the county foster care programs social worker, we all made it through with, as they say, “flying colors”.

Because every human being is different, children offer a unique insight into human nature and how we come to be who we are. There are some that need and want more limits, structure and guidance and others that need physical and/or emotional care and attention. Some are shy and withdrawn, while others won’t stay put and talk up a storm! Sometimes you need to be with them every minute and at other times you need to let them go and explore the world on their own terms. What they (and we) all have in common, is a need for unconditional love, presence and safety.

If you cannot or have not, physically had a child and/or you already had a birth child or two, I strongly encourage you to consider adoption. The challenges of bonding, dealing with previous losses, conditioning and fears are sometimes different then those of birth children and sometimes the same, but the attachment and love you feel for them (whether they physically come through you or someone else) is just as powerful, awesome and fulfilling.

The new add campaign says, “Parenting. It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure!”

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