13 June 2008
I know this is true for most, if not all, bloggers. But there are some things about me that you don't know. There's no real reason that you don't know this about me other than the fact that this just has never seemed like the right or appropriate space to talk about it. Ever since I was in high school (and actually, even earlier than that) I've been really involved in human rights and social justice issues. I worked with Amnesty International for quite some time in high school and college, leading many many awareness and letter writing campaigns on various human rights issues around the world. I have always known that I wanted to work for a nonprofit (which is where I find myself today, albeit in a different capacity than I had ever imagined) to give voice to those whose voices have been silenced or ignored.
When I was younger, I imagined a job that would take me to all corners of the world. Meeting people of different cultures, races, and ethnicities. This desire was what fueled my travels to Nepal, Central America, Ecuador, Venezuela (and just about everywhere else in the world that I've had the privilege of exploring). My passion for other cultures (primarily hispanic cultures, and the Spanish language) has grown stronger over the years. As I gained more experience and grew older, I began to be more and more interested in working with people in my own community on issues affecting them right here at home.
Upon moving to Minneapolis, I immediately (literally two days after arriving here) became involved with a local social justice organization working on immigrant rights issues. There is so much that I could say about immigration, how the current system is broken (which is something that just about everyone agrees on, no matter what your proposed solution is), how we are tearing families apart, how we are creating situations in other countries that causes people to flee and come here in the first place. But I will try not to get too political here (which is probably the reason that I don't generally talk about this topic here). What I will say, is that whatever the solution is, it must be one that is fair and just. One that respects all human beings, their family ties, their hard work, and their dignity.
One of the communities that I have been working with here for the past year and a half has been the Liberian community, which is quite large in Minnesota. Liberia has had an extremely tumultuous and unique history (one that I've learned a great deal about in these last 18 months), not the least of which was the civil war that took place there from 1990 until 2003. Like many countries that had experienced such trauma and civil strife, Liberia established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the peace accords that ended the civil war.
This past week, that very commission has traveled from the capitol of Liberia to St. Paul, MN to hold public hearings. They have been taking testimony of anyone and everyone who would like to publicly state the atrocities that they themselves, their family members or friends endured during the civil war. These stories are largely horrific ones of murders, abuse, corruption, and exploitation. I spent this afternoon listening to two of these witnesses and observing the interaction between the eight commissioners and these witnesses. The purpose of this commission is have the truth be spoken and to eventually create a plan to help the country and its citizens move forward peacefully as a unified nation.
This is no easy task. There is much more I could say about the lasting emotions and anger that exists among so many who are directly involved in this process. What left the strongest impression on me after two hours of witnessing this historic event was the hope for the future that the eight commissioners hold so dearly. The passion and dedication that they have for bringing together all Liberians to create a brighter and more peaceful future for their country is inspiring, to say the least. I have the utmost respect for these eight people, who have traveled their country, and now the world seeking truth, giving voice to those who have for so long been silenced.
I left the auditorium stunned, mostly horrified by the story of the last witness and the experience that her then ten-year old sister endured. On my drive home, it was sunny. With a few dark rain clouds coming my way. It began to rain. A glorious sun shower. The release of the rain by the clouds made me smile. It was as the release of these burdens of pain and horror that the witnesses at the hearing were experiencing. Many of these people had never spoken their stories out loud to anyone. The first woman I heard was not even able to tell her own stories, just those of friends who had not survived. But the relief of speaking these truths out to the world was so apparent among them. It was as the rain being released from the clouds and the sun continued to shine. I smiled. And am full of hope.