The Uncommon Man

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November 29, 2006

Greetings from The Men’s Network of the Zambian YWCA

The Men’s Network of the Zambian YWCA (YZMN) joins the world in celebrating the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) that is held from the 25th day of November to the 10th day of December every year. We identify with this year’s theme “Advance Human Rights-End Gender Based Violence” in reaching out to you. The YZMN is committed to eradicating GBV in order to create a world that embraces gender equality and equity as social norms.

The YZMN directly involves and targets the male child, male youth and adult males in forming a Network that will fight GBV and promote human rights. For three (3) years now, YZMN has educated and advocated for healthy and better communities that will enhance peace, equality and development. The YZMN’s message to you is:

“Just like Leprosy, Small Pox, and Polio, Gender Based Violence is bound for extinction. United, we are strong”

Greetings from The Men’s Network of the Zambian YWCA and Zambia

Posted by Daniel at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2006

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

via Family Violence Prevention Fund

Thanksgiving weekend marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which since 1991 has sent a powerful worldwide message that gender-based violence violates basic human rights. This year, events begin on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and continue through December 10, International Human Rights Day.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
calls for eliminating all forms of violence against women by establishing a link between local and international anti-violence work, providing a forum for organizers to develop and share strategies, demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world who are organizing against gender-based violence, and creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises to eliminate violence against women.

In 15 years, some 1,700 organizations in 130 countries have participated. This year, in just one example of the activities around the world, the One Man Can Campaign in South Africa will use the Family Violence Prevention Fund’s Coaching Boys Into Men materials to encourage stakeholders – coaches, teachers, parents and others – to take action to stop domestic and sexual violence. Organized by the Sonke Gender Justice Network, One Man Can includes a toolkit with stickers, posters, fact sheets and more to help men support survivors of violence, use the law to demand justice, educate children, and challenge other men to take action.

Link to HIV/AIDS

“For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World: No More Violence,” is the theme of the 16 Days campaign this year, chosen to put a focus on connections between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. Addressing violence is essential both to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and to address the epidemic’s disproportionate impact on women and children. Violence or fear of violence can prevent women and girls from protecting themselves from infection, negotiating safer sex, seeking counseling, getting tested or returning for test results, or getting treatment if they are HIV positive.

The Global AIDS Alliance has developed a new resource to help activists highlight the intersection of HIV/AIDS and violence against women and children. Its Activist Toolkit provides an overview of the 16 Days campaign, the intersection of violence and HIV/AIDS, and a list of action ideas. It is available at

UN Support

“Violence against women causes untold misery, harms families across generations, and impoverishes communities,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. “It stops women from fulfilling their potential, restricts economic growth, and undermines development…”

“We in the United Nations must play a stronger, better coordinated and more visible leadership role,” Annan added. “Member States must do more to implement the international legal and policy framework to which they have committed themselves. And all of us must form strong and effective partnerships with civil society.”

The 16 Days Campaign is organized by the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University. For more information on activities, to request an action kit or join an electronic conversation, visit The Secretary-General’s message for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is available at

Posted by Daniel at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2006

Lagos Airport

13-14 November, 2006

Our bad travel karma continued to plague us, when we arrived early at the Lagos Airport only to discover that our plane left at 11 pm rather than 11 am. Security concerns prevented us from leaving the airport to explore the city, so we settle in for the day. A second floor restaurant with a security guard and glass windows overlooking the check in area proved a relatively comfortable setting for debriefing, reading and planning for our next visit to Liberia.

The rest of our travel home went smoothly, transferring in Frankfurt for a flight to Boston. We were met at the airport by Daniel Coyne, MRI Communications and Marketing Director, who has diligently uploaded these reports and photos to the website throughout the journey. Returning to the loving embrace of my wife, Joan, and son, Micah is the perfect ending to a wonderful journey.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2006

Leaving Ebonyi

12 November, 2006

Our bags were packed and ready to go when Ugo and Uduma met us early this morning. After taking photos with hotel staff, we drove to a church service held at the Women's Development Center. Sadness at our leaving mingled with waves of gratitude, shaking and rocking me as tears silently rolled down my cheeks.

Soon we were on the road to Enugu for a flight to Lagos. As is typical for road travel in Nigeria, we were stopped as several police checkpoints for scrutiny and unofficial tolls. Saying goodbye to Ugo at the airport, we knew that a powerful and important bond had been forged, many seeds of partnership had been sown, and we would be together again.

James and I were delighted to have Uduma accompany us to Lagos. After settling into our hotel room, he took us to the beach. Being driven through the city of Lagos was a harrowing experience. Moving at high speeds, constantly honking at motorbikes and minibuses with people hanging on to open doors, I felt like I was in a videogame. The road to the beach had "potholes" the size of the car. Beach access was controlled by local youths with a makeshift gate charging 100 naira/person (about 75 cents U.S.). The shore was lined with huts and stalls, and the beach itself filled with young people enjoying the evening. As we stood on the coast of Africa, gazing across the ocean we knew the Atlantic Ocean would always connect us to this land and these people.

As dusk began to settle, these reveries were interrupted by another reality. James and Uduma quickly hustled us off the beach, their keen street senses having noticed a group of youth who were gradually closing in on us.

Treating Uduma to dinner was one small way we expressed our gratitude to him for taking care of us throughout our time in Nigeria. But even more than that, we have found a true brother of the heart, who has promised to carry the spirit of our work for the rest of his life. Other than the Bible, he said this has been the most uplifting and inspiring experience of his life.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2006

Voices of Guidance

11 November, 2006

Each step on this Journey, I have tried to listen carefully to the voices of guidance from within and around me that point the Way. I find this guidance most reliably at the edges of my being, where my own heart and mind encounter the movements of the universe, the people and circumstances of my life. From the subtle interaction at these points of connection wisdom, vision and guidance emerge.

And yet, many times I am not listening. Fear fills my ears. I hold tight to the comfort of decisions I have already made about the correct course of action. I am humbled and grateful to see how Life simply gives me the opportunity to listen, over and over again, guiding me toward the deepest connection of an open heart and mind. Hallelujah!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This morning, at the suggestion of James, we opened a small savings account at a local bank. We had met two of the (male) bank managers at yesterday’s Women’s Day Celebration. A symbol of our investment in this community, it can also expedite future visits and collaborative efforts in the development of the Ebonyi Men’s Resource Center.

The effects of our work in Ebonyi continued to ripple throughout the day. Uduma took us to the market in Abakaliki, where we explored the maze of narrow alleys filled with small stalls selling beautiful fabrics and clothes. As I stood by the side of the road, a man who was filming yesterday’s Women’s Day Celebration approached me with curiosity about the contingent of men who were there. When he heard about the Ebonyi MRC, he wanted to become a member, and promised to attend the planning meeting in two weeks.

While visiting the DOVENET office and over a meal at her nearby home, Ugo told us how she had been receiving many phone calls of excitement and gratitude from training participants, some of whose testimonials we were able to videotape. After gifting us with beautiful fabric printed with the words “Ebonyi Women On the Move,” she suggested we make a courtesy call to the home of a State Senator who she knows.

I may not have yet explained to you how well connected Ugo is in her community. Through her years of community activism, and especially as the former Commissioner for Women’s Affairs in Ebonyi, she has earned the respect of a large network of community leaders. In recognition of her service, leadership and vision for the community, she was made a Chief in her community, a very unusual honor for a woman in Nigeria.

When we came to Senator Julius Ucha’s beautiful house, he was not at home, but his wife graciously welcomed us. As we talked with her about the training and the vision of the Ebonyi MRC, the Senator returned with an entourage of ten other highly placed community leaders. They were intrigued and very supportive with our work, recognizing its value for the next stages in their dynamically evolving society, and expressing their desire to sign the Nigerian Men’s Pledge. As we talked, the large screen television on the side of the room played an extended CNN report on violence against women in Africa. Coincidence? We continue to be humbled by the voices of guidance.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 11:34 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

James Arana: Can you believe it? It is all coming together

Years of planning with anticipation and trusting the energy and direction from the universe have all come together to our being here in this place, in this village, at this crucial time in the development of the relationships in this community in Abakaliki. I am sitting in this quiet place reflecting on our first and second day of the training — a discussion about holding everyone accountable. They continue checking us out (MRI) to evaluate the validity of our work to their community experience. And each time smiling with amazement in its relevance, smiling with appreciation, and joining in the celebration of their visions and desires for a more balanced sense of their men — strong in their commitment to a harmonious family, balanced in the nurturing of relationships with women, and unified in the raising of their children. I see the struggle to look at the gender roles in their community and culture are holding, to see how the roles are benefiting only one segment of their community, and to assess the community experience they want for themselves. There is no easy way for the dialog that community says it wants to have with its self, for they are often too close to the mirror to see the whole face. My heart smiles when the men and women find their meeting point in balance and in challenging each other in the direction they are going. Thanks must go out to the community that have come together to challenge itself, and Ugo Nnachi who has been strategic in bringing together a rich cross section from the different segments of her community (chiefs, elders, politicians, lawyers, polices, military, scholars, clergy and lay people). They’ve challenged and supported each other in their journey to accomplish their vision of the community experience they want their women and children to have into the next millennium. DOVENET is poised to support Nigeria in helping to create consciousness of its people. I see the passion, vision and commitment to helping its varied communities reach its benchmark of more supportive, balanced and nurturing masculinity in their young boys and men.

My heart is filled with joy, for my sister, Ugo, has truly welcomed me back home to Mother Africa. My eyes overflow with salt water as my heart is filled with the warmth of the sun and the bosom of the land. This symbiosis was never there in the land where I was born. The welcoming of me by my sister and brothers is overwhelming, and I can only hope that this community is benefiting from this journey as I am.

This is a great time for both of us — Nigeria, Africa and me. We struggle and challenge each other with compassion as we nurture our vision for a kinder and more companionate world. It is only through the belief in human kind and our brothers and sisters that we commit to walk hand in hand on this path to holding the possibility of positive and healthy masculinity that will take our countries and people into the next millennium.

— James Arana, Associate Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

The Spirit of Africa: Nigeria Training: Day Three

I barely remember the beginning of this day, filled with experiences that have challenged and altered my consciousness. The Spirit of Africa is speaking to me in ways I have only known in the deepest chambers of my heart, and I am humbled by the Power that has guided us here, to the People of Ebonyi, to learn from each other and dream of a world together.

The energy of the day built slowly, with people gradually coming into the training hall throughout the morning. We began by discussing strategies for organizing men. Mbati and Stencilous shared lessons learned from the three-year history of the Zambia Men’s Network. Fidele talked about the formation of the Rwanda Men’s Resource Center over the past five months. And I spoke of my experience creating the Men’s Resource Center of Western Massachusetts. Steve Jefferson’s comments on the MRC “Journey to Healthy Manhood” video about his own personal transformation moved and inspired many people.

The room buzzed with possibilities as each person shared a personal action commitment to end gender-based violence and support positive masculinity. The reading of a Nigerian Men’s Pledge and a Nigerian Women’s Pledge was greeted with hearty applause. Posters from Men Can Stop Rape and Family Violence Prevention Fund were presented for the strategic ways they “advertised” our work. Many conversations had to be limited as time moved all too quickly toward the ending of the training.

Suddenly, the room was filled with young girls in traditional costume and the polyrhythm beats of African instruments, bare feet and bodies moving together in power and beauty. We were invited to place small bills over the hearts of the dancers and join in the celebration. After the dances were done, the girls listened wide-eyed as the traditional ruler explained the purpose of this gathering of men and women.

In the closing ceremony each participant was honored with a certificate from MRI. We planted the bamboo pole in a bucket, adding stones of our commitment to make it stand strong. As each person held a ribbon tied to the pole in a mandala of color, we invoked the poles just like this one at Men’s Resources International in the United States and the Zambia Men’s Network, and imagining circles of women and men in communities around the world. Amen!

In the evening several wonderful men took us out for more conversation. We learned more about the legacies of militarism and corruption in Nigeria, the marginalization of the people of Ebonyi, and the development of their empowerment. They described the interweaving of family relationships in their community, and I experienced a glimpse into a reality of profound connectedness. Their smiling faces invited me to know them as a collective spirit moving in a beautiful dance of survival and love, and, as I accepted the invitation, something shifted in my being, blessed by the Spirit of Africa.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 01:10 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2006

Courage = Compassion: Nigeria Training – Day Two

Everyone walked into the training hall today wearing the “Courage = Compassion” shirts. It was a beautiful sight! We began the day by looking into the eyes and greeting every other person in the room.

A lecture was then presented about gender-based violence and the women’s movement in Nigeria presented by Dr. Emma Abba, State Director of the National Orientation Agency. As the question and answer period progressed, a training participant from the Nigerian Police Force described a case he has been handling of child sexual abuse within a family. James used the opportunity to engage the entire group of support to think together as a community about how to respond.

After tea break, we listened to another lecture by Mr. Austine Nwazunku from the State Action Committee on HIV/AIDS about the connection between HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence. Through many examples, he carefully described how the norm for male sexual activity is based on domination and control, and how most women experience sexual coercion and rape. We were moved by his conviction and clarity about how men can learn to base our relationships on love and compassion, and approach sex as a mutual experience of love and shared pleasure.

We used the question and answer period to create the opportunity for men to practice listening to women without interrupting. When asked how to communicate to the women that we really heard what they were saying, many men stood up to pledge their support for ending violence and abuse. I described the three simple statements the women in the Zambia training wanted to hear from men, and in unison, the men spoke - “I hear you. I understand. I am with you.” The comments and expressions on the faces of the women told us that we were on a path of solidarity and healing.

The “Be A Man” activity further engaged the group in a critical analysis of the rules, benefits and costs of the social expectations for masculinity. And the “Journey to Healthy Manhood” story told how a little boy’s natural desire for connection was violated, and how he learned to seek safety and power through domination and disconnection. As several men relayed their own version of this story in their lives, we came to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the words on the shirts of everyone in the room: Courage = Compassion.

We concluded this day of training by asking all of the women to stand together holding our bamboo pole. In a circle around them stood the men, one hand on our hearts and one reaching out toward the women in a gesture of support, love and blessing. A closing prayer expressed our commitment and unity in ending violence and creating communities of love.

A large group of us then traveled a few blocks to the Women’s Development Center where we met with the Executive Secretary, Flora O. Awonge. She expressed delight at the vision for an Ebonyi Men’s Resource Center, a commitment to share this idea with the wife of the Governor of Ebonyi State, and an invitation to join the Women’s Day festivities over the next few days.

James and I returned to our hotel filled with awe at the depth and scope of the work we are blessed to be able to do, and with gratitude for all of the wonderful people who are on this journey with us.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
— James Arana, Associate Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2006

Nigeria Training – First Day

7 November, 2006

The opening ceremony for the training was attended by a number of notable guests, including the Commissioner for Women’s Affairs of Ebonyi State, who gave the keynote address. I conveyed greetings from the women and men of the United States, especially the MRI board of directors and supporters, and spoke of the global significance of their work in Ebonyi, Nigeria. The dignitaries were delighted when James and I presented them with our training handbooks and “courage=compassion” t-shirts, and Ugo with an MRI certificate of appreciation for her dedication and hard work on behalf of the women and men of Nigeria. We asked the special guests to bless the bamboo pole we would be using as a ritual object throughout the training, and the opening ceremony concluded with lots of photographs being snapped.

The thirty-five training participants (12 women) included social workers, lawyers, police officers, a traditional ruler, a nurse and a doctor. As James launched into the training with his usual skill and passion, he walked around the room making eye contact with each person, inviting them on a journey of violence prevention, positive masculinity, and healthy families and communities. He let them know that our work was not to define this journey for them, but to support them in taking the next steps, and in letting them know that they are not alone.

We described our understanding about the spectrum, types and cycle of violence, and the two root causes of violence – personal and historical trauma, and social permission for acting out power over others. In the enthusiastic discussion that followed both men and women spoke intelligently and vulnerably about their personal experiences, their culture, and their hopes for their communities. They asked the difficult questions about changing traditional culture, sexuality in male-female relationships, and institutionalized violence in governments.

We shared the results of a survey participants had filled out before the training. Even though we all acknowledged that they were not a representative sample of Nigerians, it was inspiring to know that 100% of the men said “It is not okay for a man to hit his wife if she won’t have sex with him,” and “A couple should decide together if they want to have a child,” and “Men should take an active role in ending violence against women.” We suggested that these kinds of responses could form the basis of a social norms marketing campaign to change the understanding about social permission for violence and gender inequality.

After lunch there were more heartfelt discussions about how Nigerian society gives permission for gender-based violence, and the benefits and challenges of engaging men in eliminating GBV. The day concluded with all of the training participants holding and blessing the bamboo pole. The energy and conversations that continued in the room, as well as the written and verbal feedback, told us that we had succeeded in creating an atmosphere of safety and inspiration that would lead to important next steps in the training as well as in their own lives. Ugo and everyone at DOVENET deserve tremendous credit for organizing this event and bringing together key constituencies to participate.

Sitting in the hotel room in the evening with our colleagues from the Zambia Men’s Network and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Center we talked about developments since our June training in Zambia, and the leadership and financial challenges of creating a men’s program. James and I coached them on relationships with women’s organizations, and discussed communications and collaborations with MRI.

When we finally dropped into bed, we were tingling with a deep satisfaction for all of the energy and accomplishments of the day. We send our thanks to you, dear friends, family and colleagues, all over the world who are supporting us in this important work.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

Networking in Nigeria

Monday, 6 November, 2006

This morning Ugo took us to meet the Executive Chairman of the Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Board, Chief Austin Igwe Edeze. We were ushered into his large office with a group of other people, waiting our turn on black leather couches. The Chairman listened attentively to a presentation by Ugo and myself about our work and the vision for a Nigeria Men‚s Resource Center beginning in Ebonyi State. He spoke about his commitment to innovative educational programs (such as his prison program and schools for the disabled), and pledged his support for our project. He then brought out a bottle of non-alcoholic wine to honor our visit.

Our next stop was to the Ebonyi State Independent Electoral Commission where we met with the Chairman, Adeline Idike. She told us of her long commitment to women‚s issues, and that she is the only woman in her position in Nigeria. She expressed great appreciation for our work and invited us to join in the women‚s day activities later in the week. As with the village elders, we were offered the cola (a vegetable that looks like small green eggplants) with peanut butter, the traditional way of welcoming people.

The afternoon was spent resting, trying to send email and reviewing our plans for the first day of training. Then, Ugo took us to the home of her uncle and his wife, both of whom work in civil service. They treated us to some delicious food, and delightful conversation. Before we left they proudly showed us their snail farm, several large cages with scores of giant snail crawling among papaya leaves.

We topped the evening off reviewing the Attitudes About Masculinity surveys completed by training participants, and a heartfelt discussion about men and violence with the our colleagues from Zambia and Rwanda.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 07:12 PM | Comments (0)

The Real Africa

5 November, 2006

We were greeted this morning by a beautifully dressed Ugo with two cars to take us all to church. The Catholic church is a large cement structure with many openings for ventilation, and steel girders holding up a huge metal roof. After waiting outside in the baking heat, we seated ourselves amongst the 300 or more people. As the only white person in the hall, I was getting lots of looks that reflected curiosity and welcome.

The service was all in the Ibo language. In spite of the heat, the atmosphere was filled with a wonderful spirit. An enthusiastic choir was accompanied by a variety of unique (for us) percussion instruments and a keyboard. When a cassette tape of their music was announced as a fundraiser, I took a turn at the microphone to make a contribution and bring greetings from the U.S., Zambia and Rwanda.

After the service we drove to a party at the home of a man whose daughter was christened during the service. We were feed delicious, spicy food and extended our congratulations.

The journey to Ugo’s village was a one hour drive through rolling hills over roads that alternated between extremely rutted and newly paved. Passing fields of cassava, yam, banana and rice we observed why Ebonyi state is considered the breadbasket of Nigeria. The township of Edda is a large clan who speak the same dialect and live in a number of different villages.

Driving into Ugo’s village, we entered another world. The rough dirt road took us past very simple and well-kept homes. People on porches and walking everywhere greeted us with waves and smiles. Meeting their open, direct eye contact was a delightful challenge to me. Poverty was balanced by a peace and richness of spirit that was tangible.

Our first stop was a quick visit to Ugo’s namesake, a recently born baby girl. We were then welcomed into the home of Ugo’s late father (who died last year) by her mother and grandmother, and a group of 10 other women, who sang and danced us greetings. Ugo told them of our work, and James and I expressed our gratitude for their hospitality. More singing and dancing (“love is beautiful” and “unity is our strength”) drew us into their circle. Before we left we were invited into the backyard where beautiful children were sifting and cooking ground cassava.

A short drive took us to the village of Ugo’s husband (which became her village when they married). On the way we passed children dressed in costumes of straw and kerchief masks, a crowd of women and men singing and dancing down the street, and a gigantic “tree of judgment” where the elders of the village sit.

Ugo’s husband, Dr. Okoro Ojinnachi, a medical doctor, welcomed us to their beautiful country home (where she lives on the weekends). We then sat in the open-air veranda with a circle of 10 men who were elders and community leaders in Ebba, including a traditional ruler, retired politicians, school principles, and other government service officials. A coca nut ceremony was followed words of welcome. (Dr. Ojinnachi told us that he had been following the weblog entries from Liberia.) They were clearly impressed that our team included men from Zambia and Rwanda, and curious to learn more about our work. Although our time together was brief, the potential for collaboration was obvious to everyone – developing a model of men in a village working with women for safe and healthy families and communities. As we took pictures and said “Kaa,” the Ibo word for hello and goodbye, we all hoped that these relationships would continue.

Our last stop in the village was to pay a visit to Ugo’s mother-in-law, who was recovering from eye surgery. As we stood in the large central yard filled with chickens, goats, mango, grapefruit, orange, and nut trees, Uduma opened his arms, beamed his tremendous smile, and said “this is the real Africa.”

Posted by Daniel at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

A Gathering of African Men

Saturday, 4 November, 2006

Our day began with a 5 am wake-up to get back to Lagos airport before the weekend rush, only to once again practice airport sitting until a 9:30 departure. After the flight to Enugu, we drove to Abakaliki.

I was delighted to be reunited with James, and to see our dear brothers, Stephen Mbati and Stanislaus Phiri from Zambia and Patrick Amah from Nigeria. As we sat together for lunch, men from Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Belize and the United States our hearts were filled with joy and gratitude. We saw our vision becoming form, and we recognized the tremendous possibilities in our collective commitment and passion. The discussion ranged from the challenges of our journeys to Nigeria, to the importance of our relationships with women’s organizations, to strategies for documenting the impacts of our training.

After taking time for James and me to reconnect and debrief our separate experiences of the past week, we took our dear host, Ugo Nnachi, executive director of DOVENET out to dinner. I had not seen her since we first met at the Bejing+10 United Nations’ conference in New York City two and a half years ago. Our dinner conversation deepened our relationship and mutual respect, as we shared our vision and developed strategies for moving ahead together. We will now search for a funder who shares our understanding of the great potential in this collaboration.

After returning to our hotel, James and I rejoined the amazing and far-reaching conversation in the room of Stephen, Stanislaus and Fidele. The "training" has begun, and the blessings are never-ending…

We send you a rainbow of hope and possibility, Steven

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resouces International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

Leaving Liberia

Friday, 3 November

After packing my bag, I spent the morning at the IRC office preparing my report on the first visit and coaching Ballah and Alfred (MIP trainer) on a workshop design on male socialization and violence. The afternoon drive to the airport was filled with a flood of gratitude - for the opportunity to witness Liberia at this moment in history, for being able to reach so many people in such a short time, for the work of IRC and other NGOs in providing support in the recovery and reconstruction, and for the resilience and beauty of the Liberian people in the face of poverty and war.

And then I sat in the airport for the next four hours waiting for the plane to depart. By the time I reached Lagos it was nighttime, and I was grateful to be met at the airport by a tall man with a beaming smile who wrapped me in an enthusiastic hug. Uduma, my guide from DOVENET in Abakaliki, then introduced me to Fidele, who had just arrived from Rwanda. Stephen and Stanislaus from Zambia had arrived early, and traveled to Abakaliki in the same day. We needed to stay the night in Lagos.

The energy of Lagos was like New York City with a third world lens. Our driver wove through traffic at high speed. Interactions with others had the hard edge. And we were cautioned to keep our doors locked and windows rolled up. Everywhere we turned someone was looking for a handout. I was very glad to have Uduma and the driver with us for the night. Between the four of us, the conversation lasted well into the small hours of the morning.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resouces International, USA

Posted by Daniel at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2006

James Arana's Notes from Nigeria: "I am overflowing with blessings"


Over flowing with blessings I am for I’m going back home twice in one year. I continue to give thanks to God for the opportunity to join my brothers and sisters on this journey in Nigeria in the struggle to end all forms of violence. MRI is honored to be standing side by side with DOVENET in the journey to bring men, women and the community together to eliminate gender-based violence (GBV). I am looking forward to listening to my brothers and sisters as they tell their stories of the richness of their communities and the strength and courage they have and display as they encounter life.

Going back home after oh so long a time, five hundred plus years, I am looking to connect to my history. My daughter was excited and anticipates the stories I will bring back. The only gift I have to give my brothers and sisters is my long history of helping to build communities. I look forward to connecting with the land, people and spirit of Nigeria.

After all the rushing to prepare for the trainings and the nail biting about getting our visas on time, I now find myself with extra time waiting in airports. Like Steven, I got to Logan airport four hours before my flight time. I got into Frankfurt Germany six hours before my connecting flight to Lagos. Using the time well to catch up on some much needed sleep and reflecting.

I am looking forward to seeing the different faces like when I was a young boy and just moved to the Bronx, NY and looked at all the African faces to see if I can see another Garifuna. It was great to see someone's fetchers and knew that they were from the same region I come from; and when I heard them speak Graifuna, I smiled wide because I felt the connection. I felt great knowing that I was connected in so many ways. I now know that I’ll be looking for the resemblance of my family. I’ll be listening to words I know in Garifuna and see if they mean the same thing. I’m looking and listening to drums and find the Punta beat, the soul of our music. I am looking for my long lost brothers and sisters.


Ugo welcomed me at the airport in Lagos with open arms and it felt good to have a familiar face and someone who knew the place -- it was a great gift. I could not be in better hands and I’m glad. Her ability to navigate this system was great. While driving from Abuja to Abakaliki, we came to a checkpoint and got stopped by soldiers with machine guns and asked what was all the luggage we had. She just said to them that we were returning from travel and that they were personal belongings. They then checked the papers for the driver and then they let us pass. This felt tense for me, for anything could have happened. It was like being in the States and getting stopped by the police, with the difference being that the police looked like and they were not stopping me or us because we were different but because of chance.

I can’t believe that it is Thursday already. The past few days have been getting my body into this time zone and it seems as though it’s taken a little longer. My meeting with Ugo for breakfast and dinner has helped to acquaint me with life here in Abakaliki. Patrick can’t believe that it is really happening. Patrick is working hard at following up with participants. Ugo has arranged for me to meet with one of the participants and I just got back from a 5-hour walk with a participant in the upcoming training and we had a great time getting to know each other. It was great how this young man asked me with anticipation what is it we are coming to give in the training. He asked me very direct questions about my skills experience and commitment to this kind of work. It was great the way he said that he felt good about the way I responded to him and that he feels good that MRI was there to help them in reaching others.

Posted by Daniel at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2006

Liberia: Day 4

Thursday, 2 November, 2006

This morning, one of my housemates returned home to Ethiopia. He had been working for IRC in their reproductive health unit for four months. There are many "ex-pats" (people on extended work contracts away from their home country) employed in Liberia through the numerous international organizations operating here. It is a challenging lifestyle, and I‚m very glad I am a consultant/trainer who can return home in two weeks.

Today, Kelly (gender-based violence program coordinator for Liberia) invited other international NGOs interested in GBV (gender-based violence) programs to meet with me and learn more about IRC's Men's Involvement Project. At the table were people from the United Nations Relief Agency (UNHCR), UNICEF, the Christian Children's Fund, the United Nations Family Planning Association, and the American Refugee Council, as well as Annie from the Ministry of Gender. My description of MRI's approach to understanding and engaging men obviously intrigued and inspired everyone. They were also very appreciated of my expertise and advice in helping to organize an interagency campaign to engage men in violence prevention. The next step will be including men in the annual march against violence during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in late November.

This meeting enhanced IRC's role as a leader on this issue, and established MRI's expertise as a valuable resource. They were already asking if they could send their staff to the MRI training planned for our next visit to Liberia.

Kelly, Sara, Ballah and I had a debriefing meeting at a nearby beachside restaurant. (Suddenly, there were white people.) In addition to an overview of my recommendations, I gave them gifts of the "courage=compassion" t-shirts and handbooks we were bringing for the Nigeria training, a poster from the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a book on engaging men in violence prevention, copies of Voice Male magazine, and a poster from the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. We all agreed that this consultation had accomplished a tremendous amount in the four days of my visit.

The day ended with a dinner at our house with three Kenyan men and a woman from Liberia who is the reproductive health program coordinator for IRC. "Mama G" told us about her experiences as a displaced person during the war, helping to build health clinics in border towns with Ivory Coast. She then had us feel the bomb shrapnel still lodged in her neck that almost killed her three years ago.

Tomorrow I leave for Nigeria. Unfortunately, my plane flight from Monrovia to Lagos has been delayed to the afternoon, which means I will miss the last connecting flight towards my destination in Abakaliki. I am supposed to meet the delegates from Rwanda and Zambia and the guide from Abakaliki at the Lagos Airport, a daunting prospect under the best of circumstances. My experiences traveling in Africa have helped me to learn to take each challenge as it comes, and have faith that it will work out, just not always in my timeframe.

With thanksgiving for all of our experiences of peace, Steven

Posted by Daniel at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

Another Day in Liberia

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This morning the Male Involvement Project was discussed with most of the GBV (Gender-Based Violence) staff, a group of about 30 women and four men. Sitting in rows of benches in the grass covered open air "palava hut", the group had a lively discussion of the pros and cons of including men in the GBV program, and what could be done to address some of their concerns. I watched amazed that I was in Liberia, Africa, listening to women and men, barely one year after the end of a devastating 14 year civil war, talking with passion and wisdom about how to include men in their work to end gender-based violence. It was easy for me to end the morning affirming the pioneering nature of their work.

After a group lunch of rice, and spiced fish and chicken, a small group met to review plans to conduct surveys (adapted from the one we used in Zambia) and focus groups in the three counties being targeted for piloting of the Male Involvement Project.

Then, I was off to the airport (again) to retrieve my suitcase that was lost in transit from the U.S. I have been surviving (quite nicely) with the clothes I arrived in, plus two shirts quickly (and expensively) grabbed in the London airport. However, I was excited to be reunited with my bag, especially as I leave for Nigeria on Friday.

Waiting for the plane to arrive, I struck up a conversation with the IRC driver who took me. Tuni has been driving for IRC for four years and nets $132US per month. He is supporting a family of four, and putting his daughters and wife through school. His father was killed during the war, when he was in 10th grade, so he could not pursue his higher education. He himself was assaulted by rebels during the war, tied up and told he was going to be killed. Thankfully, a senior officer came by and intervened. Tuni was a national soccer star, but the war prevented him from getting out of the country to play internationally. He dreams of going back to school to get a certificate in computer repair, but cannot afford the $200US this would take. In spite of all this, his commitment to his family and his work are strong, and his faith is powerful.

And this is a common story here in Liberia. Everyone has been profoundly traumatized by the war.

Within minutes of my conversation with Tuni, a boy approached me saying "I want somebody to be my friend." Although I was alert for being manipulated or pick pocketed, we started to talk. He tells me that both of his parents were killed in the war, and he is living with the parents of a friend who are abusive to him. He is the captain of his football (e.g. soccer) team. When I ask him why he is looking for a friend, he says "so that somebody will remember me." It was heartbreaking for me to leave him, with a dollar in his hand and a squeeze on the shoulder.

Tomorrow is Liberian thanksgiving. I give thanks for all the blessings of my life.

With a full heart, Steven


Steven Botkin
Executive Director
Men's Resources International

Posted by Daniel at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2006

MRI building relationships in Liberia

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am living in a comfortable house in the IRC compound with two men from Kenya and one from Ethiopia who work in the reproductive health and blood donation programs of IRC. The compound has five houses for ex-pats, and IRC staff from other countries. Surrounded by 15 foot cement walls topped with glass shards and rolled barbed wire,. The entrance has large metal gates staffed with 24 hour security. All of our travel in Monrovia is mediated via a staff of drivers in white vans with large radio antennae on the front hood and the IRC logo on the sides.

My day today spanned a huge spectrum of life in Liberia - meeting with the Deputy Minister of Gender in the morning, and a grassroots group of women and of men in a make-shift women's center in the afternoon.

Chicken Soup Factory is a community on the outskirts of Monrovia (named after a business that used to operate in the area). The women's center was constructed by putting woven grass mats over one of the unfinished cinderblock structures that are crowded together in the area. We were welcomed into the room by 35 singing, drumming and dancing women of all ages wearing paper crowns decorated with words challenging domestic violence. Interspersed with songs and a skit, they spoke to us about how they formed their group during the war, and their desire to have men as active partners in their work. As if on cue, a group of 10 men filed into the room, members of Men for Peace, another informal group founded during the war. They all listened intently as Ballah affirmed their vision of women and men working together, and I told them about the pioneering nature of their developing pa rtnership, and described the work of women and men like themselves in Zambia, Nigeria and Rwanda. After the meeting was adjourned Ballah and I met with the men to affirm their commitment and discuss next steps.

It is exciting to be working as a consultant for an organization (IRC) that has developed such a strong foundation of relationships, infrastructure and momentum in their GBV programs. Everyone is eager for and receptive to a male involvement program, and my expertise is being put to good use in advising managers on program development, coaching and mentoring staff on presentation design and facilitation, and inspiring community activists and organizers. I have been paying particular attention to developing staff skills in dialogue between women and men, and emphasizing the importance of practicing with each other. Tomorrow we take another step at the GBV staff meeting.


Steven Botkin
Executive Director
Men's Resources International

Posted by Daniel at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

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