It starts off as an idea or a hope or a dream that one day we might be able to be who we want to be or do what we want to do. Without any knowledge of how society works and limited knowledge of what’s right or wrong, these dreams start off small. Making these dreams come true requires that we take a path that betters our chances and prevents societal constraints from diminishing our hope. However, as we grow and learn and make way towards our future, it’s surprising how much we discover. We discover injustices. We discover failures. We discover successes. Most importantly, we discover that the dream we once held to ourselves can be put in the reach of someone else and give them the chance to make their own path. Your dream might just allow you to help someone else create their own.
This is exactly what Kakenya Ntaiya sought out to do when, after struggling through poverty, genital mutilation, and little power to push her forward, she was given the chance to chase her dream of becoming a teacher. Her education at college in America after schooling in Kenya helped her realize that there’s so much more that she can do to help girls in Kenya divert the path that so many are forced to follow. Marrying young, traditional genital mutilation, lack of property rights. Ntaiya’s dreams saved theirs. Learn more about her story by watching the video of Ntaiya’s TedTalk and checking out her website here.
“As you change your world, you are going to change your community.”
Personally, I find people’s reactions to be incredibly interesting. I’m not creepy; scout’s honor. It’s just very…intriguing to see how every single person responds differently to a scenario presented before them. It’s very odd, to me, that the reactions of two similar people can be very radical – some being incredibly positive, and others being despairingly negative. But, when you think about it, there are so many factors in our everyday lives that can change how we feel about a specific topic or issue. Gender, nationality, culture, age, etc.; the factors are endless, really.
In a high school environment, however, these factors are stifling, because at this stage in our lives, they are our identity. Despite what high schoolers think, we have not been exposed to the “real world” until that moment when we are thrown out into the shock of the cold world. It’s difficult to develop opinions about real issues when we haven’t been exposed to a lick of anything real, and the only opinions we have been exposed to are those of our parents or those which society tells us are right.
Recently, my high school watched a documentary about third world countries and the issues/struggles that consume said countries every day. To me, this video was just a rehash of things I had already read, watched, written, or learned about over the past couple of years. The same could not be said for 90% of my high school comrades. It was a little of a shock to me how…little the majority of my school cared about these documentaries. I mean, here was Olivia Wilde in an impoverished country, and all they could focus on was their beauty sleep. I could almost hear the rolling of eyes and thoughts of “great, another documentary that we’re being forced to watch about something that doesn’t affect me.”
Even though this is high school, and yes, it is filled to the brim with angsty teens trying to “find themselves,” this mindset isn’t confined to hormonal teenagers. A lot of people typically have the developed opinion of a baby when it comes to actual worldly issues, because they don’t know anything about the problems in this world that don’t have to do with the cease of Twinkie production. However, people cannot be completely blamed for knowing nothing of the latest bombing that occurred somewhere other than Boston. There are a lot of reasons that the indifference level towards the suffering of other countries is so high here.
A lot of the problem is simply due to human nature. Unfortunately, when we are presented with a lot of information, humans just shut down into hibernation mode and refuse to wake up until its snack time. So, when a lot of new facts are presented to people about the suckiness of others’ lives, the executive decision to slam down the panic button is made; this happens more often than not in high school students, believe it or not. To add to it, a feeling of hopeless likes to rear its incredibly unattractive head on the horizon. The fact that people don’t know what to do with the information that children die every day from starvation, or that others don’t get clean water unless they walk 5 miles a day, really freaks them out, because it’s not something that crops up in the everyday stream of consciousness. People just don’t go: I’m kind of hungry, it’s been a long day. Oh! Here’s an apple AND OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS A CHILD IS BEING DEPRIVED OF FOOD RIGHT NOW AND HERE I AM EATING FOOD WHAT CAN I DO TO SAVE THEM. That just doesn’t happen. But, it’s not your fault that you don’t think about saving the world every day.
At the same time, however, not enough people do anything because of documentaries like the one I watched to actually make a difference. Especially as a high school student, it’s very difficult to become involved and actually make a difference. We all think too often about the big picture, and it scares a lot of people off, as they think “how could I possibly make any difference, ever?” It’s difficult to find any way to help anyone when all you have is $2.40 in your bank account and you’re having boyfriend troubles on top of that.
Honestly, the first step is always the most important, and the most time-consuming, as it consists of just finding out things about the issue you’re interested in. You can look up organizations, see who you want to devote time to, if you want to raise money. It’s really all about knowing what’s going on in the world. You don’t have to start the next groundbreaking multi-million organization, but a little awareness never hurts.
A few weeks ago, my family and I travelled to Paris over Spring Break. We toured the Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Rodin museum, Notre Dame, and of course the Eiffel Tower to mention a few of my favorites. We stayed in an apartment in the cinqième arrondissement (the fifth district or region of the city) next to the Seine - about a five minute walk from Notre Dame.
I will try not to get caught up in describing the atmosphere of Paris too much. There have been far greater men and women who have spent the better part of their lives trying to encapsulate the city’s entirety who, I am sure, can do a much better job than myself.
That being said, it is important to understand how the city is geographically “set-up.” At the city’s heart there is L’Île de la cité, literally the isle of the city. This naturally occurring island in the middle of the Seine is the old city. This is where Paris was when it was first established centuries ago. The island is less than a mile in length but is home to many historically significant places, the crowning jewel being Notre Dame. Because the Seine runs through the city, separating Paris into the isle, left, and right banks, there are thirty seven ponts (bridges) that have been constructed over the river. Of these, four are strictly pedestrian.
Now, no one knows how it first began, but there has been a growing trend where two lovers secure a padlock onto the side of one of those thirty seven bridges and photograph/video tape yourself throwing the keys into the Seine to symbolize their everlasting love. I suppose it is a sort of urban way of carving your name into a tree. At first, native Parisiens hated the locks, thinking that it was an act of vandalism. So the Parisian government decided to remove all of the locks around the city’s bridges. The following month however, the locks came back more conspicuous than ever. After a while, the government gave up and several pedestrian bridges are covered with these symbols of everlasting, young love.
One day, when my parents and I were walking across Pont des Arts to visit the Louvre, we noticed the locks. There must have been hundreds of them in all different colors of all different sizes adorning the bridge. After finding out what they meant, it made you feel a little happy. Although they were not the most beautiful things in the world, it made you cheerful to think that they all represented a relationship between two people who loved one another.
As we were looking at the bridge with its many locks, we noticed there there were several large, black, metal hearts with QR codes pasted on them. I did not know what they meant at first and thought that they were part of some dating service. When we reached the end of the bridge however, there was a banner explaining what they represented. To my surprise, the hearts were not some display of everlasting love or cheesy advertising gimmick, but represented the many women that were and are victims of an abusive relationship in France.
According to French police statistics, 9,842 women and girls were reported to have been victims of domestic violence at the hands of their “lovers” and/or “friends” in 2009 with 5,261 being underage. And these are only the reported incidents.
Although I focus this post on France, this gender equality gap can be seen in many more developed countries around the globe. Granted MDCs do not have nearly as severe of gender based violence and crimes as LDCs, these statistics go to prove that even if a country, like France, is considered more developed, it does not necessarily mean that there is total gender equality.
You do not have to look hard into today’s news to find stories of revolutions occurring and countries overtaken by militants and regimes. Sadly though, most of the stories that are found describing the horrible events that are occurring worldwide do not fully describe the terror that is being inflicted in the hearts of the innocent victims caught in the middle of these disputes. While many stories go into deep detail about the battle casualty counts and the numbers of militants and civilians killed in the dispute, they fail to address the very important and often overlooked issue of rape in times of war and revolution. In conflicts such as the revolution in Syria, it is not hard to find a story on the casualties and deaths among rebel and government forces, but it is hard to come by a story such as the one told by Kanawati, a psychologist in a refugee camp, in which a family’s house in Homs, Syria was broken into by Syrian army soldiers. The father and son of the family were tied up and the mother and three daughters were raped in front of them. The story of this family is not one that is extremely rare though. In many war-torn countries, it has become common to find more than one type of warfare raging throughout the country.
While there is still the warfare that has been used since the beginning of civilization, tyrants and regimes have also been continuing the use of another type of warfare to get to the minds of the people they are oppressing, as well as the hearts. This tactic is used to demoralize and break down the minds of the opposition. It breaks apart families and destroys the willpower of many to fight. The one thing that can do all of this to the minds of thousands is Rape. Tyrants and the militaries serving under them have been using rape as an effective tool to prevent and suppress rebellions for hundreds of years, but it is still not recognized by the media and many still fail to realize the extent to which one can demean and demoralize opposition through rape. Many also fail to realize that rape is even used on a large scale today. As much as I would love for rape to not be used as such a tool and for it not to exist at all, I am afraid that we must come to the realization that it is indeed very real and a very prominent issue in the modern as well as developing world.
Thousands of women (and men as well) are being and have been sexually abused and raped as a result for the sole reason as a tool in political oppression tactics. We must come to the realization that this is true before we can begin making changes to it. Stories of people like one unnamed Free Syrian Army soldier, who was captured by Syrian Government troops and forced to watch the rape of his fiance, mother, and sisters in the Syrian prison he was being held in, are becoming common to find in countries that are war torn or going through revolutions. We must come to the realization that these stories are true and tragedies like this happen every day and it is our job to do something about it.
The first step to preventing future rape and stopping the use of it now is to raise awareness of it. Spread the news of it. Through way of paper, the internet, or even just by telling people. These violations of human rights and large-scale crimes against humanity must come to an end and we are the people that hold to power to bring the end to it.