Be the Change…

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As an artist, I make things. My boys made fun of me while they were growing up for using the phrase, “well, I can make that,” because, I usually could. It was usually because there was no money to buy the same item and after careful examination, I would make my own item. They made fun until, they too, became makers themselves. Frugal has its rewards sometimes. But, the things I made are just things. They really have no impact on the world, just things that have helped to add to our family budget in small ways or to give as a gift to someone I care deeply about. Artists make, I suppose, to someday be recognized but I gave up on that a long time ago and make things out of my own need and just the enjoyment of seeing others enjoy handmade things.

But to make something that will become a legacy is different. As a woman and mother, I gave birth to two fine men, who will, and have impacted the planet in however ways they decide is important but I can’t really claim them as a legacy or their legacies as my own. My son John died in 2014. He was 30. A forester and an environmentalist. He planted 70 acres of trees before he died in the 7 months that he lived in the state of Oregon. Those trees are his legacy. They will, hopefully, without threat of fires on the west coast, live for many many years to come and benefit the planet that this current administration is trying to destroy.  I will go see the trees my son planted next year before they are destroyed and before I, myself, leave planet earth. But, in the meantime, I can try to be the change that I want to see in the world. Real change of real significance. So, when my friend Jeff Carithers asked me to help with a project he was working on, I saw a way to use my artistic skills to help make big changes in the lives of people in a country that I may never get to see because of my lack of funds to travel the world. My drawings will travel for me, with Jeff’s work, in the form of technology that will make change on the other side of the world. That will be my legacy.

Dr. Jeff Carithers is part of the stateside team at Empower Tanzania and his title is Improving Women’s Health, Community Hospital Alliance, & Beyond Gender-Based Violence Program Manager. I know that in the past he has taken iPads to the village health care associates, to teach them, along with their villagers about taking vital signs to improve their health and well being. He also loaded these iPads with information to help educate them about water health and the importance of healthy clean water, something that we take for granted in this country.

Jeff contacted me back in September when he was looking for help with a program he was assembling on reproductive health. It is an educational program on reproduction and sexual health to be taught to the school students, which will include videos, class discussions, and other approaches. He told me that in Tanzania, there is a big problem with pregnancies in the primary and secondary schools and associated sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In fact, 67 girls have become pregnant so far this year in a district with 25,000 students. You can read about this issue on their blog here.

So, in late February and all through March and April, Jeff and I have been emailing back and forth the drawings that he needed to illustrate the script he was putting together in an amazing training video to take to Tanzania to begin the process of demystifying the process of reproduction and to educate both children and adults what really happens when humans reproduce. We both feel that we have put together drawings that are clinical and yet simple enough that the process is understandable. Even though I have given birth twice I learned a lot in the process. Thank you Jeff!

March 9th is the anniversary of John’s death. I have had a harder time with my grief this year than in the previous three. Jeff knew this and shared several stories with me to  show me the impact my drawings could have. It gave me the strength to get through some rough days of my own grief.  One of the stories is below taken from Jeff’s email to me on March 2nd…

The Maasai told that if a baby has a lot of vernix on it (vernix is the cheesy covering on some newborns, but not all) that this means that the husband had sex with his wife during the last 6 months of the pregnancy, a time when sex is prohibited by them because of the risk. They think the vernix is the semen. The villagers beat the couple if their baby is born with visible vernix on it. They told me of a couple who had a stillborn child and it had vernix in the mouth and nose, again normal. They blamed the man or other men in the village for having sex with the wife and the semen prevented the baby from breathing. They severely beat the couple and every male of that age group in the village for 4 days, nearly killing some of them. 
I told the Maasai men that sex is safe until the last week or so of pregnancy if all is progressing well. I explained that the closed cervix seals the uterus from the vagina and semen cannot get into the uterus during pregnancy because of a plug in the cervix. I also explained the amniotic sac, which would prevent semen from reaching the baby. I reminded them about the water breaking just before birth and they knew about that. I said that if water cannot get out until the very end of pregnancy, how could semen get in? They were very attentive and said they would educate their fellow villagers on this subject. 
This is just an example of how these drawings will help people understand and change lives. It is one thing to explain something, but another to see it clearly in one of your beautiful drawings. 
Another story was of a woman who now helps with the program…
unnamed-3Hilpa, one of the community health educators who does the public health presentations to the community. Hilpa is about 50, has a warm smile and is very friendly. Here is her photo. She is also one of our most engaging presenters. I asked her one time why she was involved in the program. She told me that 25 years ago she gave birth to twin girls and she and her husband were very excited about them.  However, they both died from congenital malaria within two weeks of birth. She uses this tragedy as motivation for her involvement in the program so she can prevent the same thing from needlessly happening to other parents and children. 
This is only one example of the many stories of people who participate in the programs. The programs have huge impacts on the recipients, but those who contribute also gain incalculable benefit. Knowing that tens of thousands of people will see your videos each month, I hope you are one of those, Susie.
I feel very passionate about women’s health issues, women’s rights and the right to choose in this country. But, my impact in this country can be made by donating money to Planned Parenthood and supporting candidates that share my views. Sometimes I feel that we are going back in time in this country and not being critical thinkers about women’s health and reproductive rights. We seem to be pro birth and nothing else. But doing this project feels like we (I) will not just help empower women but also men and children, giving them the knowledge to learn about how their body works and how to be healthy and to empower their government to create positive results to save lives, avoid disease and to have healthy families. And not be ashamed or embarrassed about the topic but to approach it full on and with an open mind and heart.
Jeff had a team of about 40-50 people helping him to put the videos together and my part in the process was to do drawings of the body parts and the sequences of how the reproduction works. After 100s of emails back and forth we are both pleased with the results and hope that the videos can be used by as many people as needed to bring the change that we want to see in the world.
The videos are broken into three topics because there will be different age groups that will view them and depending on the maturity levels needed.
The first one is on Puberty and this one will be show to kids, starting around the age of 7. It is to help them understand how their bodies are changing as they grow and develop hormonal changes. Things like body hair, the need for deodorants and physical changes that are occurring and to help them understand why this happens.
The second is on Periods. This video will show young adults how a woman’s period/menstrual cycle works and why. It answers the many questions surrounding this natural part of life. Jeff said that many young women are never told about this and when it finally happens that it can be a scary thing for them. Hopefully, this video will take some of the fear out of a natural process that women deal with. It also shows them the processes of caring for their body during this time of the month.
And the last video is about Relationships .  This talk is about reproduction, what happens during sex and that it is important to know when is the appropriate time to have a sexual relationship. Important issues like contraception and STDs are discussed in this one and how making a decision to have sexual relations can have consequences for both participants but doesn’t have to if you are prepared with the appropriate contraception device. And how making a baby is a big commitment, as we all know.
So, I am sharing these videos as a way of documenting my legacy because I can’t travel there in person. But, Jeff will teach them what is in the videos and my legacy will be the illustrations that are embedded in the videos to help him do that. Thank you Jeff and Empower Tanzania for being the change and letting me be a small part of that.
So, if you want to read more about Empower Tanzania and see what they do check out this link. There are many programs that they are doing that are having large impacts on the villages and if you have extra income, perhaps you might feel moved to contribute to their programs and help out.

Dave the Potter, a Google + chat

pottery jugs similar to Dave’s

Herb teaches elementary school in Strasburg, VA at Sandy Hook Elementary. He is the librarian there. He absolutely LOVES the children and is always looking for new ways to interact with them and engage them with books and learning. For about a year now, we have been using Google Plus to communicate with our boys and their new wives and Herb had the idea that maybe he could combine this technology in his classroom. He had gotten a book in the library about an African-American potter named Dave that lived in the 1800’s during slave times. Dave is known for the poems that he would carve into the pots that he made and many of Dave’s pots are still around today.

So, this is where I come in. Herb wanted to use the technology to let the kids learn about what Dave did by doing the Google Chat with me while I was demonstrating to them how to throw a pot. We did this for seven days straight and each day we learned a different aspect of the process in order to allow the children the best viewpoint for seeing into my basement through my laptop and Herb’s smart board in the library.

In order to do a chat with someone you first need:

  • to be in each other’s “circle” in Google. This requires that you have a gmail account and then find the other person and put that person in your circle.
  • then there is an entire menu of options on your Google page at the top offering links/tabs to
  • Once you set up a Google Plus Profile Page, which is similar to a Facebook Page, then you have the option of starting a hangout
  • There will be a hangout link on the right hand side of the page in Yellow
  • Clicking that link takes you to a page that allows you to invite others to your hangout. You will notice that a person is online if there is a green dot in the bottom of their thumbnail or if there is a video camera icon by their name in the list of names on the left hand side of your screen.
  • If you are planning on publishing your video to Youtube as we did for Dave the Potter, you will need to get code from Youtube site and register with them, otherwise this box can be left unchecked as can naming your hangout.
  • At this point, you will be taken to a screen that will activate the call to the other friends and they will come online and join you in the hangout.
The children were really into the chat they did with me and if I couldn’t hear their questions, Herb would re-ask it for them. They were not always close enough to the microphone for me to hear them properly. The nice thing about this is that because kids are so used to this technology, they didn’t see it as a technology advantage as much as a way that they could instantly see and talk to someone that was doing what the character in the storybook was also doing. Instantly, they could ask me what the clay felt like, why it didn’t fall over, when do I “paint” the pot or how many pots do I make a day?. They didn’t care that they were talking to a screen. They didn’t even see it that way. My generation is still amazed at the “technology” because we can remember a time when only the Jetsons were doing what we can now do today.
I have made some screen shots of the screens to get a hangout of your own started so you can know ahead of time what to look for and I’ve also included our final video with the children so you can see how they interacted with me. It was really a fun project to do with Herb but I was really glad when the 8 days came to an end.

 

 

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Berea, Berea Beloved…

This is the Official Berea College Logo. It is...

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In 1976, I was accepted to Berea College and really had no idea how my life was about to change forever. I’ve been thinking about Berea a lot lately. I have reconnected with many Berea alumni through Facebook and that has really been a wonderful thing. Berea people seem to all have a lot in common.

I have a friend from high school, (one of only 3 that I have allowed into my Facebook page) who has a daughter who is a Senior in high school and in the winter was looking to find the right college fit.  I had her look at Berea to see if she might consider Berea as one of her choices. Due to the less expensive cost for the education, Berea is unique, because if you make too much money, you can’t get in. It is primarily for students from the Appalachian Region who have the brains but not the financial means to go to school. In my case, I paid a full term bill because I was receiving Social Security money from my father’s death when I was 13. I didn’t have the grades to get in and got in on letters of recommendations. But once there, I managed to become a dean’s list student. I needed to get away from a home life where there was no emphasis on education. And I needed to see the importance of education on my life. At any rate, I paid about $4,ooo for a 4 year education. The cost of Berea is much higher now. but is still very affordable for students without the funds to go to college at all.

Melvin, (Steven's partner) Susan Strickler-Polstra & Steven Summerville

When I graduated from Berea in 1980, I had met the love of my life, had experienced classes that allowed me to think critically about things that I never would have thought about, and make valuable friendships that I hope to keep for the rest of my life. Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with so many wonderful Berea folks and I also have to say that has made a big difference too.

Dorothy Tredennick with students in 1980 at my wedding

Recently, I went back to Berea. I had not been there for almost 20 years. My art history professor, Dorothy Tredennick had passed away in February and her memorial was being held March 18th. I rode there with a potter friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. Dorothy was 96 years old and had led an incredible life of travel and teaching and inspiring her students. The service was more of a celebration of her life than a memorial. She was the kind of teacher that expected much from her students and while that kind of teacher can be hard to like, Dorothy was loved by all.

I didn’t make it onto the quadrangle to see much of how that part of campus has changed but made it inside the main block in the center of town. The students all look like a next generation of the students I went to school with. Porter Moore Drugstore, as it was when I was there is now a coffee cafe, equipped with wi-fi and espresso machines and sofas. The fountain counter is now a serving counter full of pastries and goodies with the typical chalkboard menus behind the counter on the wall like you would see in any large city. Yet the students still have the look of being from small towns and full of promise for a bright future after their Berea experience.

back of Boone Tavern, new drive up portico

me, Melvin, Joanna Griffin & Margaret Beasley

 

The disturbing thing about my visit back to my alma mater though is the change that looks like a marketing ploy. Boone Tavern is no longer owned by the college but by the Marriott Corp and it has the look and feel of a Marriott now instead of a unique hotel full of handmade crafts made by the students. I was told that the president of the college no longer lives on campus with the students but has a home in Richmond, KY, 15 miles up the road and is rumored to own a home in Northern VA. Not really the type of individual that seems to be relating to his students in terms of their backgrounds or needs. And the student crafts are being downsized and are changing, I’m sure due to the recession,  but the college is known for the student crafts as well as the top education that it offers the students. A Kentucky Artisan center has been positioned at a new Berea exit and it makes you wonder if the proximity to the college was on purpose to make it’s success play off the reputation of the college crafts.

On a positive note, I didn’t see that there are food courts and the kinds of additions to the college that I know many universities are spending their money on for the students that don’t add value to the student’s overall education. I saw additions to buildings that were definitely improvements such as a large addition to the music building to allow for a new elevator (which was much needed 30 years ago) and the elimination of the glass walkway on the art building to allow for more hanging space in the gallery. These are both good changes that are adding to the educational value for the students.

Union Church, Sally Wilkerson (fiber arts professor) on front pew

What a great way to spend a reunion! Celebrating a life well lived, reconnecting with friends and seeing change.