Honoring and Celebrating Women

Women’s History Month

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, I’ve been thinking of women, and the many I admire, whether it’s family, friends, or some who have made advances in their fields. In the past, I’ve struggled to acknowledge my own accomplishments or played down my achievements.

Thinking back, I noticed this pattern not only within me, but in other women, too. Some examples are, shying away from compliments, or being acknowledged by someone and responding, “It was nothing.” These responses subtly discount our value, experiences, and our gifts.

Today, I want to highlight the women below who stood up, spoke out and made a difference. There are many women who have led, made contributions or significant advances.

I would love to hear from you about the women who have made a difference in your lives. Please feel free to list them in the comments section below.

Below are a few outstanding women who rose to the occasion, made a difference, and helped advance not only women but also their communities. Their efforts have forged an undeniable path for future generations.

 

Harriet Tubman  

Harriet Tubman

Born into slavery, Harriet escaped from the South through the Underground Railroad, traveling over 90 miles. She returned to the Underground Railroad as a “conductor” to help other enslaved people.

With her code name “Moses”, Harriet carried out 13 rescue missions, helping roughly 70 people escape to freedom.

She was active in the abolitionist movement and social justice, where she often gave speeches on women’s issues, including the right to vote.

Ms. Tubman served as a cook, nurse, scout, and spy for the North, where she led a military operation (along with Colonel James Montgomery of the Union Army) that freed over 700 enslaved people in South Carolina.

In 2021, she was inducted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame for her work with the Union Army during the Civil War.

Ms. Tubman has two national parks named after her, one in Maryland where she was born, The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, and in Albany, New York, Harriet Tubman National Historic Park, where she lived until her death in 1913.

 

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor was a plaintiff in the Defense of Marriage Act (a.k.a. DOMA). She sued the United States government for not recognizing her partner, Thea Spyer, who died in 2009.

Because they did not recognize their marriage, the government said she needed to pay estate taxes, estimated at $350,000.

Her court battle lead to the Supreme Court, where it ruled section 3 within DOMA was unconstitutional for not recognizing hers and other same-sex marriages.

Ms. Windsor struggle and this landmark victory led the path to legalizing same-sex marriages. She was also an activist for the LGBTQAI community and also championed women in the tech industry.

 

Judy Heumann

Judy contracted polio as a young child and began using a wheelchair for her mobility. At 5-years-old, her school sent her home because they considered her wheelchair a “fire hazard.” This type of discrimination had a profound impact on her and inspired her to create change.

When she was in her twenties, she sued the New York Board of Education who denied her a teaching license because they were afraid she wouldn’t be able to evacuate her students in an emergency.

She won her case and became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair.

Ms. Heumann is known as the “Mother of Disability Rights” and helped in the development and passage of several disabilities laws, including section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which:

“prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted and funded by the government.”

This was the first civil rights disability law enacted in the United States in 1973.

“Some people say that what I did changed the world,” Huemann wrote, “But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.”

You can find more information on Ms. Heumann here.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court for 27 years.

She was second woman and the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the high court. A lawyer who graduated first in her class at Columbia University, she was a trailblazer for women’s rights, gay rights, the poor and disenfranchised.

Ms. Ginsburg briefed and argued most of the major sex discrimination cases in the 1970s and was successful in five of the six cases.

In United States vs. Virginia Military Institute (or VMI), Ginsburg stated the male-only admission policy violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution in not allowing women’s admission.

In 1996, the Supreme Court struck down the VMI long standing policy. It was considered a landmark decision in the continual advancement of women’s equality.

Outside the Supreme Court after RBG passed away in 2020.

Ms. Ginsburg (affectionally referred to as RBG) became a symbol as an advocate and protector of equal rights for women, working throughout her entire career (over 50 years) to end sex and gender discrimination.

 

Bethany Yellowtail

A Native American from the Crow Nation, who is tribally enrolled in the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana, Bethany studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Technology in Los Angeles.

Learning to sew from the matriarchs of her family, she now has her own brand; B. Yellowtail, where she draws inspiration from her heritage of both the Cheyenne and Crow tribes.

Her work has helped raise money for such causes as the Dakota Access Pipeline or No-DAPL.

In 2021, Bethany founded the B. Yellowtail Collective, a group of Native artists from different tribes and peoples to create economic opportunities on various platforms.

Through her brand, she’s raising social awareness while also being an authentic leader of her culture in fashion.

 

NASA Space Center.

Katherine Johnson

A Mathematician, Johnson worked at NASA during the early space program.

With her work in orbital mechanics, she helped calculate the path of Freedom 7, where Alan B. Shepard was the first American astronaut in space.

She then helped analyze and verify the flight of John Glenn and assisted with Apollo 11, landing on the moon.

Her story, along with her female colleagues (Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan) at NASA, was recently made into a film entitled Hidden Figures, based on the book by the same title.

Katherine Johnson has won several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2015, and in 2016, NASA dedicated a building in her name at the Langley Research Center.

 

Jane Goodall

Known for her pioneer research on chimpanzees in the 1960s, Jane Goodall has spent most of her life helping endangered species and the earth.

In her research, she discovered primates made tools (once thought only associated with humans) and that chimpanzees were not vegetarian as once thought.

In 1977, she established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global community conservation organization where their approach is bringing communities into the fold of conservation and, in doing so,

“improves the lives of the people, animals, and the environment.”

She has also created  Roots and Shoots, whose goal is to bring

“youth from preschool to university age to work on environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues.”

Ms. Goodall is a United Nations Ambassador of Peace and has won numerous international awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science.

 

Malala Yousafzai

An advocate for girl’s education in her homeland of Pakistan, she has been fighting for equal and quality education ever since she was a young girl.

She and her father, Ziauddin, spoke out about the need for girls to be empowered and demanded their right to an education.

When her identity was revealed in 2012, the Taliban shot Malala on her school bus for speaking out against the restriction of female education.

She survived and now lives (along with her family) in England where she continues to advocate for girls’ rights to free, quality education.

She founded the Malala.org where the organization

“invests in education activists and advocates who are driving solutions to barriers to girls’ education in their communities.”

Malala has spoken at the United Nations and is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

These women created a new path for what they believed in, and in doing so, fostered change which, collectively, we have benefited.

But here’s the thing, when I talk about women and their accomplishments, it doesn’t have to be something we perceive as grand or beyond our grasp.

It’s about having the courage to follow one’s passion, embracing our true selves, and honoring what we bring forth into the world.

 There are many ways we can contribute to our world, whether it’s lending a helping hand to someone in need or tending to a garden.

The Power of Art

When I was living in New York, my mother came to visit and we treated ourselves to the Broadway show, Master Class, about the famed opera singer, Maria Callas.

I remember the lights dimming in the auditorium, sitting in anticipation, knowing the magic theater creates.

That evening, I was transported on Maria’s journey (portrayed by the actor, Zoe Caldwell), her triumphs, struggles, and the loneliness of her life.

When the play ended, my mom and I walked out of the theatre, into the bustle of Times Square, and we didn’t speak a word.

We walked in silence through the frenzied streets of New York City back to my place where we discussed the profound impact the play had on both of us.

This is what great art has the capacity to do; an opportunity to transform and transcend us, offer a different perspective, or create more empathy and greater understanding towards ourselves and humanity.

Zoe Caldwell and the other actors didn’t know this happened to my mom and me, but that’s also the beauty of it.

I offer my experience as an example. You never know how one action, performance or an act of kindness can help change a person for the better, creating a ripple of effect of  transformation, goodness, empathy, or compassion.

When we listen within, we can honor our gifts and move towards what we know deep within our hearts we are here to do. The woman I listed above did just that – they were true to themselves.

If we have the courage to be vulnerable and trust ourselves in where our heart is leading us, if we believe in ourselves and the Universe enough to bravely align with our true essence, then we are living a life filled with our own unique power, a reverberating heartbeat that is felt amongst everything around us.

When we listen to the quiet voice inside saying, Yes, you can, and nurture that voice with love, kindness, wonder, and grace, we claim ourselves, where we embody our gifts and our power. From there, anything is possible.

 

With love and gratitude,

Stacy

Ways to Help the Ukrainian People

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, I contemplated where I could be of service. What, if anything, can I do?

I began researching organizations and discovered some incredible charities, helping making a difference.

 

If you are able and feel called, please consider making a donation to support the Ukrainian people. Every bit helps.

A donation of $5.00 or $10.00 dollars, can do a world of good for people still in the Ukraine or for those who had to leave their homeland behind. I’ve provided links to each website below.

 

Save the Children

One of the top charities rated for children, Save the Children, is working to help Ukrainian children and others affected by the conflict. 85% of donations made to Save the Children goes towards their causes.

For Ukrainians, a donation can provide food, blankets, and help in relocating to safe areas.

Save the Children

 

UN Women — USA

With over 97% of their donations going towards their causes, the UN Women commits to helping the Ukrainian people, especially women and children.

  • Women and children refugees are at a growing protection risk of gender-based violence and exploitation.

The organization is teaming up with other UN branches to monitor the situation while also developing a humanitarian response for Ukrainian refugees in specific areas surrounding Ukraine.

UN Women

 

Global Giving

Global giving is a non-profit organization that helps other non-profits through crowd fundraising.

Currently, there is a humanitarian campaign for Ukrainians, their communities, and Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing the country because of the conflict with Russia.

Global Giving

 

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The IRC is committed to helping Ukrainian refugees who are now in neighboring Poland.

It’s believed over 3 million Ukrainians have been displaced. IRC is providing food, finding shelter, and offering medical assistance to Ukrainians arriving in Poland.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

 

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders is a neutral, non-profit organization providing medical needs and humanitarian support in countries where there is conflict, natural or human-made disasters, and outbreaks.

A few ways they are assisting Ukrainians are shipping medical supplies, mass casualty training, and providing water and sanitation support in various cities within Ukraine.

Doctors Without Borders

 

 

Care Organization

Care’s mission is to end poverty, champion social justice, and help save lives.

In response to the crisis in the Ukraine, Care is providing food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support, and monetary gifts to families, women, children, and the elderly who are vulnerable and in need.

Care 

 

World Central Kitchen

The World Central Kitchen provides meals for people impacted by conflict, climate change, and humanitarian crisis.

At the time of this writing, a kitchen and a food depot have been established in Poland along the Ukrainian border to assist Ukrainians.

They are also providing meal distribution around the clock to refugees arriving at the Polish border.

Within Ukraine, the World Central Kitchen has active warehouses, providing food to eastern cities in Ukraine who have been heavily affected by the war.

World Central Kitchen

 

These are a few organizations assisting and supporting the Ukrainian people. What impacts one of us, such as the crisis in Ukraine, impacts us all.

My hope and strongest desire is peace and for Ukraine to remain a sovereign country. Until then, I will make donations to help the Ukrainians in their time of need. I hope you can too.

 

Love, strength, and peace,

Stacy

 

Destigmatizing Mental Illness

My First Experience with a Mental Health Disorder

I’m twelve, sitting on a plaid, sectional coach in my aunt’s  living room, trying to concentrate on my homework, but I’m distracted. No, I’m terrified.

Ten feet away, Aunt Sylvie is in the kitchen muttering, pacing back and forth. I’ve never seen her behave this way before.

My mom dropped me off at my aunt’s place for a few hours while she ran errands.

There was no way to contact my mother without going into the kitchen where the phone hangs on the wall. This was before cell phones became an everyday item.

Not knowing what to do, I pretend to be oblivious to my aunt’s conversations and pacing.

She seems agitated, and the last thing I want to do was cause her more frustration.

Aunt Sylvie stops her pacing, speaking in hushed tones to someone who is not there.

“Listen. You’re not fooling anyone; I know you’ve been watching me. Are you working for the KGB?”

Crash!

I jump, hearing what sounds like a baking sheet being slammed on the kitchen counter.

Soon my mom arrives and being a nurse, she calms my aunt down, speaking in soothing tones. Within minutes, my aunt’s anxiety and paranoia subsides.

Afterwards, my mom told me my aunt’s episode was caused by forgetting to take her medication, The incident was the first time (at least to my mom’s knowledge) that this happened.

It was witnessing my mom’s calm demeanor that helped reassure me. When we got home, she shared more information on bipolar disorder, giving me a deeper understanding and compassion for my aunt and her condition.*

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is where someone experiences tremendous highs of well-being and insufferable lows, to the point of deep despair.

While this is a general description of the disorder, the experience is unique and personal to the individual.

Even with today’s medical advances and research, we are still learning about the brain and how it functions in processing information.

Mental health conditions and bipolar disorder have been a part of my family for a while; however, during that time, it wasn’t discussed; the subject was taboo.

Today, with mental health issues either being ignored, under-funded or both, the stigma still lives within many countries.

Mental Health Studies

To give one an idea of the state of mental health in the United States and around the world, here are some sobering findings.

A study done in 2019 by Mental Health America revealed alarming statistics.**

  • Nearly 20% (19.86 percent of adults) or roughly 50 million adults have experienced a mental health condition.

 

  • Of these 50 million adults, over 27 million do not receive treatment.

 

  • Over 2.5 million young adults have severe depression with multiracial youth at the greatest risk.

 

  • A growing percentage of youth are living with major depression and over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive treatment.

 

  • Suicidal ideation continues to escalate, with 4.58% of adults having serious thoughts of suicide. This is an increase of 664,000 people from last year, with these numbers continuing to increase each year for the past 10 years.

For the world, mental health is a major concern and the urgent need for more mental health services has only increased once the pandemic took hold in 2020.

A World Bank article by health specialist, Rialda Kovacevic, shares some daunting figures.***

  • Nearly 1 billion people live with a mental disorder.

 

  • In low-income countries, 75% of people with a disorder or condition go untreated.

 

  • 1-5 people affected by conflict are estimated to have a mental health condition.

Ms. Kovacevic shares more statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO). Imparting these numbers: ****

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted, or sometimes, halting critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health services continues to soar.

 

  • The pandemic has increased demand for mental health services. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.

 

  • Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.

 

  • Countries were spending less than 2 per cent of their national health budgets on mental health and struggling to meet their populations’ needs.

 

  • Forecasts predict within the next ten years; depression will put more burden on nations than any other disease.

 

  • Every $1 dollar invested in mental health yields a $4 return.

With the last statistic, funding and providing mental health services to populations would benefit social, economic growth and well-being. With that said, why is the world lacking in offering adequate care for mental health? Ms. Kovacevic shares these insights:

  • Seeing mental health as a “luxury item” versus an essential need to our well-being.

 

  • Outdated service models and/or not enough preventive mental health care.

 

  • Lagging policies or not enough policies in place advocating mental health.

 

  • Shortages of human resources.

Perhaps the number one reason (and Ms. Kovacevic mentions this as well) why mental health lacks awareness, education, and funding is stigma.

What are the origins of mental health and its illnesses? Our collective history sheds some insights on how the stigmatization of mental illness began and continues today.

History

Hieroglyphs in Qena, Egypt

As early as 5000 BCE, mental health has been studied and treated in various parts of the world.

This is clear in the papyri found in ancient Egypt highlighting their advanced studies in medicine and of the mind.

Throughout this time, the cause of mental disorders was believed to come from supernatural forces, such as an angry deity or god, or demons.

Prayer, exorcisms, atonements, and the use of amulets were ways clergy, medicine man, and medicine women would coax and extradite the supernatural force or demon from the individual.

Around the 5th Century

Cupping therapy is still used today bringing equilibrium and balance to the body.

This belief of an outside entity causing mental health illness prevailed until the 5th century BCE when the Greek physician, Hippocrates believed and stated that mental health stemmed from imbalances of fluids within the body, not an outside force.

To bring the body back into equilibrium some treatments used were laxatives, “bleeding” the patients by using leeches, and cupping. *****

Cupping is a practice where glass cups are heated and then placed on the body. As the cup cools, it creates suction, which is said to improve the flow of energy and fluids within the body, facilitate healing.

Isolation and Abandonment

During these early years, mental health patients were left in the care of their families. However, in some parts of the world, these loved ones were often hidden from the public because of the social stigma surrounding mental illness.

In places where a “pure” family lineage was of the utmost importance, family members with mental illnesses were confined to rooms, cellars, or abandoned in the streets and left to their own devices.

16th-18th Century

Starting in the 16th century, asylums were created in Europe and several years later, within the United States. The institutions were built mainly to house the growing number of individuals with mental health conditions.

These early asylums were more like prisons, where little to no treatment was provided. In darkened rooms or cells, patients were often chained to walls, allowing little mobility, subjected to torture, and lived in extreme, unsanitary conditions.

Bethlem Royal Hospital

The most notorious asylum during this time was the Bethlem Royal Hospital, often referred to as Bedlam. Located outside of London, the institution implemented bizarre treatments such as rotational therapy.

This was done by chaining a patient to a chair suspended from the ceiling and spun around at different rates of speed, sometimes for hours.

One of the most shocking aspects of Bethlem’s history was allowing the public to view inmates and patients for a small fee.

The policy was to entice family members to visit their relatives but became more of a spectacle; allowing Londoners to walk the halls of the facility marveling at patients and their dire living conditions.

A New Approach During the Late 18th Century

Phillippe Pinel

It wasn’t until the late 18th century when treatment towards the mentally ill and their living conditions improved.

The French physician, Philippe Pinel, was pivotal in providing an individual approach to their ailments, allowing patients to be treated with empathy and engaging with them in lengthy conversations as he took extensive notes.

His work was revolutionary and in France, he became known as the father of modern psychiatry.

Patients were given their own rooms with beds, ample sunlight and could walk freely in and around the asylum grounds. This novel approach had a major impact on patients and their well-being.

Late 1800s – Early 1900s

During the late 1800s to early 1900s, Sigmund Freud discovered psychoanalysis and his work has been influential in both psychiatry and psychotherapy. Around this same time period, Carl Jung was another trailblazer in psychology, becoming the founder of psychoanalysis.

20th Century to Present Day

Through the 20th century, psychopharmacology became a major influence in treating mental health illnesses, disorders, and conditions.

Yet, while medications have been helpful and effective, there are some who believe that patients may use medication without confronting their mental issues through counseling.******

Fear of Judgement and Isolation

Given our history towards mental illness, is it any wonder there is fear, shame and apprehension on the subject matter? 

In speaking with relatives and others who have various mental health illnesses and conditions, the overall feelings shared were fear of being judged by family members and/or being ostracized from their personal social groups and society.

Even the fear of losing one’s job was expressed if the individual shared their mental health condition with colleagues.

The stigma surrounding mental health disorders is so strong, people are scared to speak openly about it and receive help.

How do we overcome the deep-seated stigma associated with mental illness? Where can we breakdown the stigma and provide support for those in need?

Soon, I’ll share some insights as well as my own wellness journey.

 

Until then, I’m sending compassion, peace, and grace your way.

Stacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Names and event altered for privacy purposes.

** Statistics provided by: Mental Health America

*** Mental health: lessons learned in 2020 for 2021 and forward, by Rialda Kovacevic, February 11, 2021

:**** Covid-19 disrupting mental health services in most countries, WHO survey, October 5, 2020.

***** / ****** Excerpts and general outline from: The History of Mental Illness: From Skull Drills to Happy Pills, by A. M. Foerschener–Inquires Journal 2010

 

The Sahanaayili Village during the Pandemic

(The above image is a gathering at the Sahanaayili Village of Nanton before the pandemic. Now only twenty people or fewer are allowed to gather as of May 2020.)

Response to COVID-19

It’s been over five months and the world transforming before our eyes.

 

Sahanaayili Village – pre-pandemic.

 

The Government’s Response

On March 23rd, Ghana responded to the coronavirus by closing all borders: land, sea, and air. All travelers arriving in Ghana (before the lockdown and closure of airports) are tested for the virus and quarantined for fourteen days. Certain roads throughout Ghana are now closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

In a country that is the size of Oregon in the United States and a population of over 30 million, there’s been 5,735 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths.*

Map of Ghana, West Africa

COVID-19 in Tamale, Ghana

In the Northern region, there are thirty-one cases and ten confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city of Tamale.

The infected individuals within Tamale are from other countries: Guinea and Burkina Faso. These individuals were in the city for business after traveling through Burkina Faso and Togo. Officials quarantined them at their hotel while also testing the hotel staff.

At one point, a Guinean woman who was part of the group quarantined escaped from the hotel in the early morning hours, but found and detained a few days later in Accra.

Restrictions of Large Gatherings

President Nana Akufo-Addo is receiving praise for his swift response to the health crisis, and his poignant messages to the people.

A child wears Kente cloth face mask. The textile design is from the Ashanti Ghanaian tribe.

The president placed strict, social distancing measures including no gatherings at mosques, churches, or city markets and large weddings and funerals are banned until further notice. Schools are closed until further notice.

Communal living and celebrations are an integral part of the Dagomba tribe, who live in the northern region.

It’s not uncommon to see enormous gatherings at weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies.

While this government order has been tenacious, it’s necessary to help flatten the curve of the virus.

Minister Offers Help

One of the government’s minister came to the Sahanaayili Village and met with Chief Suale and the people of the village. Ministers meet with chiefs to assess necessities, especially during a state of emergency.

The minister provided hand-washing stations to Sahanaayili village and placed them throughout the community. They also placed a hand-washing station near the roadside for frequent travelers who pass by.

Not everyone has access to clean, running water, so these hand-washing stations are vital in protecting the people against the virus.

A Nurse Visits the Sahanaayili Village

Two weeks ago, a nurse visited the village to discuss COVID-19. He discussed factual information regarding the virus and offered the best practices during the pandemic. The nurse also handed out pamphlets and hand sanitizers to the group.

The demonstration was especially important since it provided preventative practices for the community. This is crucial since the nearest doctor and hospital is over an hour away from the Sahanaayili village.

A nurse travels to our village to share preventative efforts against COVID-19.

Lifting of Restrictions

On April 20th, Ghana eased partial restrictions of the lockdown. Some criticized the president’s decision, fearing the lift in restrictions may cause a surge in infections.

While there was a spike in recent cases, this was in part because of a backlog of samples that were tested and cleared in laboratories for the virus.**

Enhanced testing and contact tracing have also become prevalent, which may also contribute to the growing number of cases.

What has worked in Ghana’s favor is the government’s swift action, using their own emergency funding versus waiting for international aid, and fast, extensive testing.

Drones Helping Combat COVID-19

Ghana is the first country to use drones to test for COVID-19 in remote locations.

The drones provide quick delivery of samples from rural areas in the bush that normally would take several hours to deliver.

Using drones can save hours, even days, in providing test results. This offers a quick response to individuals who test positive for the virus.***

Gratitude

With the government’s help and its outreach to rural areas, so far there have been no COVID-19 cases in the Sahanaayili village. While  remaining vigilant, it’s imperative to have continue education regarding the virus as well as hygiene and beneficial healthcare practices in place.

During these ever-changing times, I’m grateful for the healthcare and essential workers who are serving so many around the world. It is with deep appreciation that I express my gratitude for their assistance and tireless service during the pandemic. Thank you!

Come Together

It’s clear now, more than ever, that we realize how connected we are through our shared humanity. Let us move forward and create a world where we uplift and empower one another other with a newfound sense of community.

This is my aspiration and motivation as I traverse this unfamiliar landscape and the dawning of a new world.

 

 

Take care and be well.

 

Peace, love and blessings,

Stacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Statistics as of May 16, 2020
** From BBC News article  
***  Time’s article 

Ernesto and the Holidays

A thirty something latino man with dark wavy hair and a trimmed mustache sits alone at a table with a small, spiral note pad. He meticulously goes through some notes and scribbles down fresh revelations or inspirations as they come to him.

He’s dressed in a nice pair of jeans, a crisp, blue button-down shirt and wears practical, dark, laced up shoes. He grabs his phone from his back pocket and dials. When someone on the other line answers, he speaks: 

Hello? Yes, mmm…my… name is Eeer…nn…est…to. I’m ccc… calling abb…about tthh.. the  aa… part… mmm… ent.

 He’s boisterous and I try to avoid glancing over because I know other people in the dining area are staring at him. Ernesto sits directly across from me, so it’s difficult not to listen in on his conversation as the volume of his voice increases when the person on the other end of the line is having a hard time understanding him.

I’m… ccc… calling aaa… about… th…th… the aa…app…part… mm… ment.

Challenges

Anyone who has lived in Los Angeles knows how difficult it is to find an apartment in and around the city. It’s a monumental task for most of us; not only to find an apartment, but to find something affordable is challenging.

Los Angeles homelessness is surging with nearly 60,000 people in LA county alone. A whopping 47% of unsheltered homelessness individuals are found in the state of California, the highest in the country.*

  * courtesy of Los Angeles Almanac.

Tears brim my eyes. I don’t know why I’m so emotional; maybe it’s because before me is someone struggling and there isn’t much I can do. So I do the only thing I can think of that may be of some help; I pray for him.  

I’m perplexed as to why I was so moved, but sometimes strangers can wake us up to the wider scope of our lives; showing us things about ourselves that are in need of attention or encouraging us in another area; venturing forth into new territory.

Giving

I reflect upon this, the state of our country and the world. In a time of great division where many are suffering, this is when in our rawness and vulnerability we need each other the most. One way we can create unity is through giving.

Studies have shown when one gives, one receives even more in return.

 Here are some benefits to giving:

 

  • A feeling of happiness and release of depression.

  • Helps in alleviating stress.

  • Improves sense of self and self-worth.

  • Improves one’s energy.

  • Gives one a sense of purpose.

During the holiday season, it can be a challenging time for many, so I did something different.

This year, instead of giving gifts, I’ve asked friends if they’d be willing for us to contribute to a charity or non-profit we both feel passionate about and wanted to support. They loved the idea. Here are a few from my list. 

Charities/Non-Profits

These two websites below offer a list of charities and non-profits to choose from throughout the United States.

https://www.charities.org

https://greatnonprofits.org/categories/view/homeless-and-housing

 

Here are a few non-profits and charities I’ve donated to and who are doing wonderful work around the world.

Save the Children

http://www.savethechildren.org

  • Save the Children helps children around the world with health, education and protection.

Oxfam

https://www.oxfamamerica.org

  • Oxfam has a wide range of services, including ending poverty, gender inequality, local disaster response, and climate change.

Care

https://www.care.org

  • Care helps in the elimination of poverty and advocates social justice.

There are many charities and non-profits within the US and around the world. If you find one that resonates with what you’re passionate about, see if you can offer help and brighten someone’s holiday.

Volunteering

Another option is to volunteer at a local shelter, mission, or soup kitchen. Most people who work in these facilities welcome any help or acts of kindness. Not only are you extending a hand to someone in need, but it can also help one feel more aligned and inclusive within their community.

Connecting

If you’re feeling isolated or alone, reach out to a friend or family member and spend quality time with them.

More and more people are yearning for quality experiences versus material items during the holidays.

Spending time with a dear friend can uplift one’s spirit and also help gain perspective on areas that may seem overwhelming. It can also provide comfort and hope.

Peace and Good Will to All

May we fill our hearts with kindness, love, and compassion during this holiday season, and as this decade draws to a close, let us come together in peace.

 

Peace and blessings, 

Stacy

 

P.S. Thank you to my family, friends, colleagues, and clients. You have all added to my life in wondrous ways!  I am truly grateful.

 

 

Maria and Apollo

“Do you mind if I sit here?” Asked the women in a bright purple shirt with shoulder blond hair and brown, doe eyes.

I’m seated at the Whole Foods dining area reading my book, enjoying my coffee and small salad while taking in an invigorating, sunny spring day.

Earlier she was in front of me at the grocery check-out line. Her legs appeared to bother her. After paying the cashier, she shuffled off to the side when she glanced toward me: “Go ahead,” she called out while fumbling with her purse. The women seemed to struggle not only physically, but mentally; distracted and distraught at the same time.

“Yes, of course,” I said, gesturing towards the seat as I move my purse to give her some space.

The woman sat on the corner of the weathered picnic table and heaved a sigh. A nearby raven cawed and a gentle breeze caressed my skin as the two of us ate in silence.

The woman was staring out out into the parking lot when she blurted out:

“I just put down my dog,” she said, her voice cracked. “Man, it’s been really hard.”


“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I replied, knowing how difficult it was to lose a family member. 

“It’s only been a week, but for some reason these past few days have been the hardest,” the woman said, staring off into the distance.

“I completely understand. I’ve been there.”

Apollo

The woman went on to share about her four legged family member named Apollo: a handsome golden retriever who was thirteen years of age and was  a gallant, loving and brave Soul to the very end.

“I still feel him around me. I mean, I go on the same walks that we use to go on together and I know this may seem strange, but I feel his presence all around me,” she said. I nod in agreement. “Perhaps he is.” 

She looked over, waiting for me to go on. 

“We are all made up of energy and Einstein took this concept even further with the discovery that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it can only change from one form to another,” I said, leaning towards her. “So, perhaps Apollo isn’t gone per se, but has merely changed form.”

 The woman considers this “Yes, I believe that is the case.” She grinned and asked, “Are you in the health profession? I ask because you have a really beautiful energy about you.”

“I’m a Reiki Master and a writer,” I replied.

“Oh that makes perfect sense. You have such a peaceful, calming way about you.”

Maria

The woman introduced herself. Maria is her name and she worked in the healthcare industry assisting the elderly. She was also a singer and songwriter; singing on demos, as a backup singer for various artists and sometimes performed at local coffeehouses.

She burst into laughter when she recounted stories of her stoic Apollo; how she sang to him and he would serenaded back to her in his baritone howls. Maria shared how Apollo helped her enjoy each moment, and how he reminded her to be more present each day. Simple things Maria had now come to treasure, the shade of a grand tree, the soft grass under her feet, the warmth of the sun on her skin and Apollo’s companionship.

We talked for nearly an hour where Maria revealed she doesn’t have any family nearby and Apollo was her family. She thanked me for taking the time to speak with her.

“You know Stacy, I really appreciate you. You’ve helped me a great deal today,” She said, taking my hand. “I feel so much better.” 

“It’s been lovely chatting with you, Maria. If you ever want to get a cup of coffee or chat, feel free to give me a ring,” I said.

I handed her my card and a broad grin envelopes her face. “Thank you, Stacy. I’ll do that,” she said, nodding.

I squeezed her hand when she rose from the bench. As she walked off, I could sense a lightness within her being as strode through the parking lot.

Vulnerability and Connection

We all need support and this need can show up in various ways; whether it’s sharing a painful experience or certain life challenges that may be troubling us.

It’s easy to get caught up in our “other worlds” such as the ones on social media and even in our daily lives; however, even if these aspects are a part of our current reality, what is truly real is our vulnerability as human beings.

Our vulnerability is authentic, it’s what connects us as human beings. It takes great courage to show our real self; warts and all, whether it’s during a time of grieving, our struggles or our shadow side that we may abhor and want to push it away.

Yet, in facing our fears and being vulnerable, we free ourselves from the burden of the belief we are alone in our struggle.

Diving deeper

Once we reveal our vulnerability, we can find comfort in others who support and lift us up, who can empathize and offer us compassion, kindness and encouragement. We can honor ourselves and our authenticity by allowing to be who we are with judgment or 

I think about Maria and Apollo and I’m touched by how brave she was in sharing her grief and struggles with a complete stranger. In Maria’s sharing, we were both transformed and better for it. Our connection and vulnerability brought relief, while also empowering both of us.

Maria and Apollo’s names are also significant: Maria is the latin form of Mary, the blessed Mother in Christianity. Some of the qualities associated with her are faith, perseverance, compassion and unconditional love.

Apollo is the sun god of ancient Greece; a powerful deity who is also the god of music, light, medicine and healing. I find it interesting that Maria and the spirit of Apollo came to me just before the Easter holiday. They are both gentle reminders to me on what it means to be authentic. When we are real and vulnerable, we are at our most powerful.  

During this holiday weekend, let us remember and come together in our humanity. Let us have the courage to reach out to others even if it’s a simple “hello” or to pay a compliment to a stranger.

May kindness and empathy lead the way to a deeper connection for a better understanding of each other and our connection to each other through our humanity.  

With a deeper connection to ourselves and each other an inner peace fills us; creating a luminosity within and as a result, we transform. Thus, a rebirth begins as we rise and awaken to the divine within us all.

 

Peace and richest blessings,

Stacy

 

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A Poem to My 110 Year Old Self

Studies have shown that writing down thoughts and inspirations of gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to make us feel happier and to create more meaningful and joyful experiences in our lives. By expression gratitude on a regular basis, the impact can last for months and deepen one’s own well being.

A few months ago, I was part of a creative writing class; a community of writers from around the world. We had weekly assignments where we would critique, inspire and empower each other. Our last assignment was to imagine ourselves living to the ripe age of 110.

Knowing that we were nearing the end of our life, we were to write an encomium –
an expression of high praise for the life we had lived.

We were not only sharing our life, (as well as what we imagined our future life would look like and be) but we were also expressing gratitude for all the experiences; the many colors of joy, sorrow, elation and anguish because all of our experiences have their lessons to teach us. Give it a try and notice where you feel more joyful in your life and subsequently, more at peace.

 

I chose to write my encomium in the form of a poem. Enjoy!

 

Firefly they call you 

Lighting up the night

Your tender belly illuminating your flight

What a majestic tapestry you are weaving

Of a well lived life.

Shine on, sweet one. Shine bright.

As you grew more curious, the seeker that you are

You reach high through the treetops to the glittering stars

And when the turmoil within your family seemed too great to bear

I gently murmured to your aching wounds –

Take heart, dear one. Take care.

The chaos of the world grew louder 

At times, you were distraught

But you kept listening, hearing my voice

You, a Phoenix rising

Continued to soar.

Fly on, free spirit. Fly on.

Building bridges beyond borders

Your conviction and joy unbound

An ambassador of peace; your mission discovering and creating 

Compassion for common ground. 

Lead on, gentle one. Lead on.

As your tapestry of light flourishes

A splendor of colors and deep, sumptuous hues

Your weaving strands connecting others

Their light shining with you.

You raise your voice for others

Standing with them in unity; their time long overdue

Honoring them with your actions and words

You stand for their truth.

Stay strong, dear one. Stay strong and true.

And even when doubt would cloud your mind

You remembered the riches of being alive

Were the experiences that cannot be changed

With the passing of time.

 

The thoughtful conversations with your father, hours on end

Mom tending to her garden and your child’s first grin.

Gentle kisses from your lover under a shooting star 

And cool summer raindrops caressing your warm skin —

Yes, these are the moments you will remember by far.

Remember, kind one. Remember and rejoice on.

Your love ones now encircle you

With heartfelt messages and tearful farewells

Your eyes fixated towards the heavens

You know it’s your time

You know this all too well.

For your grand life is before you

Luminous and dazzling

A blazing fire in the evening night

It comforts and soothes, it radiates and glows

As you say your last goodbye


And as your tapestry continues to unfold,

Its fiery embers float towards the infinite sky

I stroke your silvery, long mane of hair

Whispering sweetly in your ear 

One last time.

 

Thank you dear love, for this glorious tapestry of your life.

Thank you dear love, for shining so bright.

Peace, love and blessings,
Stacy

Nanton Village

The Village of Nanton

 

Traveling to Nanton.

Billows of red, dust trail behind our car as it barrels down the dirt road.

We’ve been traveling for over an hour into the bush to visit with family and the Elders of the Nanton village.

Family is all-encompassing in Ghana and good friends are often called uncles, aunties or grandfathers, and grandmothers.

 

The Family

When you’ve been away in America for some time, (some family members consider a couple of months a very long time) it’s necessary to see all your family and when I say all, that means a large number of people; consisting of immediate, extended family, friends and friends of friends. Even people that may not know you, greet you as family.

Welcome sister!

 

Visiting one of our grandfathers.

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The Horse: A Noble Steed

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and freedom. ~ Sharon Ralls Lemon

 

For the next few posts on this website, I’ll be sharing my time in Ghana with my partner, Chief Suale.

A Graceful and Sentient Being

The horse has been a faithful guardian and trusted confidant throughout time. It’s not surprising that this noble creature is deemed sacred and held in high regard within the Dagomba tribe and it’s clear that there’s a special affinity with the creature; a bond that knows no bounds and at times, feels otherworldly.  

Communion

The evening sun fades in the distance and the first star rises into the painted sky of rich pink and purple hues. At a nearby mosque, an imam sings evening prayers over a loudspeaker; a lullaby to the end of the day.  I close my eyes and breathe deeply, the melody is soothing and a sense of peace washing over me.  

The beauty and grace of these magnificent beings.

It’s still in the upper eighties (along with high humidity) even though the sun has set so I do my best to stay cool, catching up on some reading. Time passes and I wander out into the great hall, saunter out onto our porch, where now the darkness of the night envelopes the landscape with only a few specks of illumination gleaming from nearby houses. 

Stardust

There in the courtyard quietly stands the horse, Stardust. Even though the Dagombas have a special bond with these four legged beings, they don’t name their horses, so I took the liberty to do so. Stardust is a striking white stallion with a silver mane and flecks of grey spots splattered throughout his torso; almost as if Jackson Pollock decided to used his body as a canvas. 

Stardust with ceremonial henna on his forelock, chest, hips and legs.

I lean against our porch railing when Stardust glances up towards me with his ears at attention. In silence, I watch, the beast as Stardust resumes grazing; chomping on some fresh cut grass from the bush that some local boys collected

Knowingness

I feel the intensity of Stardust’s gaze and I quietly take a seat in a handmade, wooden chair. A chorus of frogs bellow from the stream next to our home and the crickets chime in with their verse; nature’s chorus coming to life. I listen and feel their earnestness; a desire to become a part of this unique, wordless dialogue.

I sit and watch Stardust communing beyond any sounds or movement – it’s an exchange of dynamic energy, a sensitivity of allowing.

The Medicine People

This knowingness is not uncommon in Africa and especially with the Medicine People. Indigenous healers are important pillars in the Dagomba community and they offer an array of remedies and consultations including; guidance, insight, clarity and protection. 

Chiefs often need protection due to their stature within the community and horses play a unique role as protectors to the chiefs. Medicine Men/Medicine Women prepare charms (for lack of a better term) for the horse to wear to increase his/her strength, protection, and to heighten their senses to see and feel beyond the veil.

Horses also support in the journey of a chief’s career. It’s said a horse will carry a chief to his or her destiny and the Medicine people are able to view and discern the capability of each horse and the qualities it possesses.

Special Occasions

One can find horses throughout Tamale and they are often a part of special occasions including marriages, naming ceremonies and funerals. Below is a link to a video of a horse dancing to the rhythm of the drums at a funeral in Tamale from a couple of years ago.

Teaching

The next morning I wake to the crowing of roosters at 5:00AM in a nearby yard. The early rays of light break across the horizon beckoning me to rise. I wash up and take my time getting ready while the outside world comes to life; bustling with energy. 

A couple hours later, I glide through our great hall,  glancing out the window to discover Stardust is surrounded by children.

A visit with the neighborhood children.

 

It’s not uncommon for children to wander into another person’s yard. I’m sure their curiosity is partly due to the fact that I’m the only Caucasian in the area.  

The children sit in chairs and on the ground surrounding him and Stardust; they are a captive audience. While a family member taking care of the horse shares with them the importance of horses are to the Dagomba culture.    

Wonder and joy fill the children’s eyes. This may be the first time they have seen a horse in such close proximity. This sharing helps children learn about their culture and traditions, communication, from one generation to the next.

To be an active participant and advocator of children’s education, is something I’m passionate about, and seeing these children relish in this moment, lifts my spirits.

 

With love and gratitude,

Stacy

Adventures in Ghana

Hello and welcome!

I’ll be sharing some travel posts here for the next couple of weeks. These adventures are from my recent trip.

Arrival into Accra, Ghana West Africa

Ghana – West Africa, here I come!

Arriving in Accra at 8:00pm has moments of glee and patience.

Excitement because I’ve arrived in Ghana after nearly 24 hours of travel, and patience because of the time required to get through Ghana customs and retrieve luggage can be a task.

Freedom from the Internet 

One thing is for sure, the internet isn’t always accessible and in some places, it’s spotty at best.

The Internet – a go go but maybe a little slow slow or even a no show (at times) in Ghana.

We tend to take the internet for granted in the USA without a second thought.

Once you open your phone or computer, boom!

Congratulations! You’re on the internet!

However, in Ghana you can be without internet access for several hours and sometimes even days.

Brown/black outs are frequent here and having a wifi router in your own home doesn’t guarantee internet coverage especially with the heavy, monsoon precipitation that come during the rainy season. 

One can view this as a gift or a curse.

What I decided when I first came to Ghana was this: being in this country and the ability to travel is a unique and incredible offering which to me, is a blessing.

 

I view the unpredictability of the internet as a welcome repose: to step away from my devices and enjoy the freedom of being off the grid, and being in the moment.

 

 

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