Kiki & Lala

Archive for November 2009

While the Philippines looks to a yellow clad Cory for hope,  the city of Newark, NJ looks to Mayor Cory Booker for hope and for the right kind of leadership that will usher Newark into prosperous times.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the city of Newark.  Its famous and infamous at the same time. It’s the largest city in NJ and it used to be  a formidable corporate hub housing a diverse selection of corporate headquarters.   It was a melting pot of diverse cultures. As such, it became one of the first with African Americans as the majority race.  However, it’s not exactly your ideal destination nowadays. This city has seen a lot of discrimination, violence and poverty.  I think a lot of it had to do with the riots of 1967 and the city never really bounced back after that.  Or it never really had a good leader at the helm to help it bounce back.

When you see it from a distance as you drive through the turnpike, you can see traces of its fading splendor.

Would you believe that this breathtaking Basilica of Sacred Heart is nestled in Newark, NJ?  The few times I’ve been to Newark I noticed the amazing architecture that still stands.   I get the same feeling as when I walk around the old part of Manila:  pretty buildings with a rich sense of history.  Yet as you walk deeper into the city, you can’t help cut notice the hardship and poverty all around.

Enter Mayor Booker.  What makes him special?

photo credit: Time.com

Apart from the fact that he is well educated (Undergrad: Stanford, Rhodes Scholar: Oxford, Law: Yale), he is tech savvy and has intrepid and ingenious ideas, I think as mayor he changed the face of politics and leadership in Newark. Through his out of the box mindset he was able to implement programs solely for the benefit of his city. He introduced a platform of transparency and accountability.  He created an awareness of the problems of Newark and invited experts to help him solve those problems, non-resident experts who now feel they have a stake in the success of this soon to be glorious city.  On the crime battlefront, he hired a White, Irish, no nonsense ex NYC cop to help him cut disturbingly high crime rates in his city – a rather risque move considering the deep-rooted racial tensions between Newark residents and policemen.  He installed close to a hundred surveillance cameras around the city.  And to prove that he meant serious business in his fight against crime, he started joining his policemen do night watch patrols and tweets about these night watches! Result: a 40% reduction in shootings and murders.  And if you still are not impressed, when he was a councilman, he moved into a run-down house in the projects of Newark to understand fully the problem of poverty and homelessness.  Imagine that.  How many public servants would be willing to do this?  Through all these he demonstrated that anything is possible if you have a genuine sense of commitment and a hefty helping of moxie.

His morning run along the projects

For me, the most impressive move he’s done so far was to turn down a very attractive offer to run Obama’s Urban Affairs office in DC.  This Ivy League Alum, Rhodes Scholar, golden colored boy passed up the chance to be a rock star in the nation’s capital. Instead he chose to continue his fight in the streets of Newark because this is a fight that he intends to win.

I’ve been following him on Twitter (and guess what, he’s following me too!) updating us about his many Newark-focused activities and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have these kinds of leaders back home.   We have well educated  and capable leaders but apparently that’s not enough.   After what happened in Maguindanao, I think our local governments need noble people of this variety DESPERATELY.  We need change, and with the small things that you and I are “working” on I really hope that change is gonna come.

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Apart from religious jokes, when do we really put these 3 personalities in the same sentence?   Never until these three actually came together, had a serious discussion about their differences in religions and made a concerted effort to respect each other’s beliefs as truth.

The interfaith amigos, Sheik Jamal Rahman, Rev. Dom Mackenzie and Rabbi Ted Falcon (no, not Ted Failon!), travel the country making their case about interfaith understanding and tolerance.  In this post 9/11 time, in this age when anybody sporting a longer than usual beard is called a Muslim or when anybody wearing a little hat is branded a Jew, this journey of theirs is undoubtedly no walk in the park.  In a way they really can’t blame people who choose not to look past religion and race.  Tragic experiences like 9/11 and the recent random shootings by a Muslim Army officer in Ft. Hood, TX  has created a huge sense of fear, mistrust and insecurity.   The fact is that there are bad people out there with incomprehensible intentions.  But they are not bad because they are Muslim or Jewish or Christian.   Right Kiki, tell that to the families of the 3,000 people that went down with the twin towers.   Well, the three amigos would say that while some acts are just impossible to reconcile it’s important to “refuse to make the other the enemy”.  That’s a pretty tall order don’t you think?    And so they live by example.  They’ve been putting a lot of hard work to accept each other’s belief  as their truths.  Why can’t we?

Their journey started after 9/11 when they saw the schism becoming more and more pronounced.  The 3 amigos laid out all their questions and doubts about each other’s religions.  And in this exercise they found that their religions shared common themes, that they lived common values and with that, formed a rather uncommon friendship.  They pointed out verses from each other’s holy books that were marginalizing and degrading and battled over it until they came out with a clear understanding.

In fact, in one talk and in front of a large audience they declared misconceptions or “untruths” about their own respective religions.  For the minister it was that Christianity is the only way to God.  For the Rabbi it was that the Jews are the Chosen People.  For the Sheik its the “sword verses” in the Koran.  How humbling is that?!  That’s huge!  Can you imagine your parish priest, in a Sunday homily, saying that this Church you belong to is not the only way to God?!   That’s Majah!  Yet here these three are, exposing the imperfections and fallibilities of their own churches.

I never really understood the inflexibility of these big churches.   At the end of the day, aren’t we all in the same journey trying to live meaningful lives, finding our way back and connecting to something that is way bigger than us? I say go with what works for you and live it.

At least thats what the residents of  North Pole, Alaska (Cool no?)  allege.

Naughty and nice children who lovingly write wishlist letters to their jolly old friend in red will most likely NOT be getting replies from Santa and his army of little helpers postmarked North Pole.  Boo!  Why not?

For about 50 some years now,  volunteers from the Christmas all-year-round town of North Pole, Alaska have been receiving and replying to thousands of letters from children all over the country.  These responses were mailed by the US Postal Service to the children with a special North Pole postmark.  Volunteers signed these letters as Santa’s Elves or Santa’s Helpers.  This holiday tradition is really a central unifying theme for the townspeople of North Pole, where streets are named Kris Kringle Drive and Snow Man Lane.   All this merry-making went on for 50 years until last year…

One of the volunteers was recognized as a registered sex offender! I kid you not.  While his response letter to one of the children was intercepted, US Postal took it as a serious enough incident to enforce very strict controls in the whole program.  While the program still exists, major changes have been made for the town of North Pole.  In the past, all letters generically addressed to Santa Claus in the North Pole were automatically sent to the volunteers of North Pole, Alaska for response.  For Christmas 2009, this particular service will stop.  Double Boo! What a huge blow for the folks in North Pole whose tourism is obviously heavily based on all things Christmas.   I mean they even have The Santa Claus House which sells Santa Claus Letters in the hundreds of thousands each year!  Check out the chalet inspired Santa Claus House below.

And what’s going to happen to their cute North Pole postmarks, letter heads, etc?

North Pole Postmark

Santa Letterhead

I can’t believe that a whole town’s tradition and industry is allowed to be reduced to nothing because of some sex offender.  I get that there is a serious need to be more vigilant and even rabid against catching predators of this kind. I’m all for that.  But I think creative security measures can be introduced to keep predators away from children while continuing with this program.   Especially in North Pole, Alaska!  I probably wouldn’t feel so bad if the service was stopped in Queens, New York or something.  But not North Pole.  So yeah in this case the US Postal Service might just steal Christmas this year.  Bah humbug!!

This is Efren Penaflorida.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him but he’s huge news around here these days.

Efren is a teacher. A teacher without a classroom. Or to be more precise, he’s a teacher with (a classroom in) a pushcart.

He goes around Manila’s slums teaching kids wherever they’ll sit still and listen – dump sites, cemeteries, under busy overpasses.

You see, Efren was once a kid like his students. He lived in a slum area and was harassed by gang members. But like many of the heroes we talk about, he refused to let his circumstance be his fate. He was determined to get an education and make the best of his life.

At 16, Efren started teaching high risk kids in poor urban areas how to read and write. He also taught them Math and English.

That was 12 years ago. Now, at 28, Efren and his group known as the Dynamic Teen Company have changed the lives of over 1,500 kids. They have also expanded with their feeding and first aid programs, treating scabies and wounds. Today, former drug users and scavengers have become literate under his wing and several are now volunteers who teach or help raise funds.

His approach just makes me think how simple helping others can be. He just went out there and shared. It wasn’t always easy getting support but he found ways. The group sold recyclable materials. They even staged and performed in their own little concerts to raise funds.

I’m proud to say, the man the kids call Kuya Ef is now on the world stage. He has been nominated as one of CNN’s Heroes for 2009.

In fact, he leaves for LA today to attend the star-studded CNN Heroes Gala Night.

As a nominee he gets $25,000. If he is voted Hero Of The Year, he will get an additional $100,000.

You can vote for him here… as many times as you like.

With healthcare being the issue du jour in this neck of the woods, the Clio Awards has created a new awards category: healthcare.  I’m always curious to see how healthcare companies attempt to make their ads as interesting as possible.  How do you market medical equipment, for example?  Or how do you maintain the fleeting attention of TV viewers in this age of 500 + channels when you want to sell them hearing aids?  So I guess recognizing the creative efforts of the healthcare industry to advertise their wares would be in order here.  Here are some of the tvc’s that made it as finalists.

These first two are by GE.  I found them so cute.

I liked this next one too. Very clever.

Here’s another one.  We should show this to Lolo.  Who knows, this might motivate him to get a better hearing aid.

These are just some of the ads that caught my attention.  Click here to see the others.

Meet my hero of the month.  Her name is Tererai Trent and after I tell you all about her, she will probably be your hero too.  She was born in a poor village in Zimbabwe.  Like many women living there, her father married her off at age 11 to some man who constantly beat her.  Being married at such a young age obviously made it impossible for her to finish elementary school.  So she lived her life as an uneducated, abused wife and mother.  Typical story that we are all too familiar with, right?  Not her story. 

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Check out that tiny hut she called home!

One day, her village was visited by this lady called Jo Luck, who heads Heifer International.  During this visit, Ms. Luck talked about the power of women and the power of women with dreams.  So with that as inspiration and the encouragement of Ms. Luck, Tererai listed several goals. 

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Jo Luck with Tererai to her right

She aspired to get an education abroad, a bachelors, a masters and a doctorate no less!  She ended up working for Heifer as a community organizer and used her money to take courses that would qualify her for education abroad.   She eventually got accepted to Oklahoma State University.  She didn’t want to leave her 5 children with her abusive husband because she knew that he would just marry them off.   So she took the children along with her husband to Oklahoma.  Heifer offered to pay for her tickets and her family and friends sold off cows and goats and whatever they could sell to help her start off in the US of A.  With her husband and childern in tow, she flew here with the money raised by selling the barn – $4,000 I believe.   Like many who are in the quest of their life, moving wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.  With limited cash, they lived in a trailer which didnt do much to protect them from the extreme weather.  Her husband refused to be a house-bund and do any house work.  Instead he continued to  physically abuse her.   It came to a point where she was eating from trash cans!   She couldn’t just give up because she needed to make her life an inspiration for the many African women looking to her as their torch bearer of hope.  Too much was at stake.  So she “just kept on trucking.” 

Just when she was about to get expelled from school for falling back on tuition, her angel came in the form of some university executive.  He managed to raise funds to keep her in school.  His church provided Tererai and family with food.  Habitat for Humanity provided them with a decent home and she gathered the strength to have her husband deported for domestic abuse.  Pretty tele novela-ish life , don’t you think?  So where is she now?

Well, her husband came crawling back with his tail between his legs and with AIDS!  So she took him back and nursed him until he died.  Imagine that, she took back the one man that endangered her life and nursed him! She eventually remarried (happily) and finished her doctorate.  Her dissertation was on AIDS prevention in Africa.   She now works with Heifer as a program evaluator.  How amazing is that? 

This is a story of love, hope, perseverance and most important, a story of sharing, sharing even when it hurts. this is also a great anecdote to show that inspite of the bureacracy and corruption, aid organizations do work!  She still has that piece of paper where she listed down her goals.  Now she can tick off her final goal which was to get a doctorate.  From a destitute, abused woman in Africa, she has evolved into an empowered woman and mother with a Ph.D.   “Declare it and the universe conspires to make it happen”!

After your cyber declaration to take up knitting I thought I’d show you what I have right on the corner of my apartment.  It’s called Patricia’s Yarns.  It’s a cozy little shop nestled in the heart of Hoboken where you can find the best yarns which Patricia (the owner) hand picked in her many travels.  She’s also created an inviting little space for avid knitters to meet regularly and well, knit. Think Meg Ryan’s quaint children’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail only yarn instead of books.

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As I was saying, she hosts knitting groups where men (you’ll be surprised) and women gather around her table to knit and chat and have some wine and knit some more.  I pass her shop every night on my way home and its always filled with happy people just knitting away.   Every time I pass the shop I always toy with the idea of learning how to knit.

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So imagine my delight when I read that you were going to learn!  You have to admit, we have been surfing on the same wave length lately…creepy!  Anyway, check out her website and take a look-see.  If there is anything that you fancy, let me know and I’ll bring it home with me.  It will also be a good excuse for me to visit that charming little shop on the corner.


Tulong Para Sa Rizal

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