The Uncommon Man

January 07, 2010

Poem: Pascal's Journey

by Charles E. Sternheim

I have dedicated my life to this work based on my principle of honouring my mother's experience, as well as that of my sisters and myself. As a young man I will use my voice to bring change. (1)

How do I tunnel out from under a culture of rage and wrath
where violence against women is my daily bread
if not by tearing childhood bonds that tie into tiny shreds?

How do I leave my mother and sisters
as they look up at me and cry
if not by promising to gain our peace then kissing them goodbye?

How do I power my voyage of renewal and return
around continents of doubt
except by wondrous winds of change faithful guide set about?

Charles E. Sternheim
January 2010

(1) Pascal Kelvin Akimana, born 27 years ago in a little village called Gatumba,15 km from Bujumbura in Burundi.

Posted by Daniel at 03:38 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2009

Ariving in South Africa

Great day to all.

It is incredible to think that after 18 hours of flying time, I'm ready for the day. It is with great appreciation that I bring the blessings and longing from by brothers and sisters in the United States (who wish they could be here to help) on this journey to advocate for gender justice.

I got a special blessings from one of my elders who celebrates this trip because of the long history of struggle. She stated, "How glorious that men from across the continent are coming together to share what they are doing for gender justice and positive masculinity. I have lived to see an African American as the U.S. president and now men on the continent are organizing on this scale -- it is a blessing indeed!"

I'm looking forward to meeting all my brothers and sisters who are attending this conference. I am especially looking forward to reconnecting to Pascal, who left South Africa just six months ago to support MRI's Men As Allies training and program implementation in collaboration with IRC in Cote d'Ivoire. I've heard him talk about how much he misses home, and to be here with him when is an honor.

In connection,
James Arana

Posted by James Arana at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2009

MRI in Cote d'Ivoire

Saturday, May 2

Sitting in the John F. Kennedy airport in New York, we are once again en route to West Africa. This time our destination is Cote d'Ivoire.

Based on our collaboration with the International Rescue Committee in Liberia, Men's Resources International and the IRC are now partnering to create a male involvement component of their Gender Based Violence program in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire. During this visit we will provide training and consultations to staff, and facilitate a meeting with community leaders from the six rural villages where the initiative will be launched.

James and I are joined for this trip by Simeon Afouda, a native of Benin (another West African country). For the past few years Simeon has been a graduate student at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts. His doctoral research focuses on school as an institution of cultural transmission and the impact of gender on girls' school experience in West Africa. Simeon is also bi-lingual in French and English. In preparation for our work in Cote d'Ivoire, he translated much of the MRI training handbook, and he will provide valuable help in translating language and concepts while we are in the country. We are grateful to have Simeon as part of our team.

The next flight takes us across the ocean to Accra, Ghana, followed by a short hop to Abidjan, the capital of Cote d'Ivoire.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

Posted by Daniel at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2008

Springfield Roundtable

Connecting Advocates of Family Violence Prevention and Positive Masculinity

Co-hosted by Men's Resources International and the Engaging Men Practicum Group

Overall Goal:
To increase the involvement of men as allies with women in preventing family violence, and as positive role models for children.

Roundtable Objectives:

  • To assemble a group of Springfield-based professionals and volunteers directly involved with family violence prevention and/or positive masculinity as it relates to healthy relationships and families.
  • To identify common values and share areas of experience and expertise with each other.
  • To identify potential opportunities for collaboration and collective action.
  • To discuss visions for a Springfield-based network for engaging men and boys as allies with women in violence prevention and healthy families.

  • Attendance:
    Over 30 people attended the event representing a rich diversity of organizations, experience and expertise. All shared a commitment to working with Springfield men, women and youth to create healthier relationships, families and communities. The discussion was animated and exciting, with participants expressing enthusiasm and optimism about the possibility for collective action. Several ideas for next steps were proposed and communication and planning among group members is ongoing.

    Posted by Daniel at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

    October 01, 2008

    Slideshow: MRI and Dean's Beans in Rwanda

    Click here and select slideshow to see full size photos.

    Posted by Daniel at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)

    September 30, 2008

    Slideshow: MRI with IRC in Tanzania

    Click here and select slideshow to see full size photos.

    Posted by Daniel at 02:46 PM | Comments (0)

    September 14, 2008

    MRI Convenes Expanded Practicum Group

    Many of the participants from MRI's 2008 Springfield Men As Allies training have chosen to attend ongoing practicum meetings, joining members of the 2007 training participants who gather monthly for continued...

  • Support for personal and professional application of strategies and skills learned in the training
  • Development of new projects and community mobilization strategies
  • Technical assistance for implementation of individual and group goals for violence prevention and positive masculinity
  • Improvement of group and community leadership skills
  • Networking and collaboration among different sectors, agencies, and organizations

    Practicum projects currently in development or implementation include:

  • Program Mapping Project and Springfield Roundtable: Connecting Advocates Of Family Violence Prevention And Positive Masculinity
  • Young Men Reading To Children
  • Development of Community Mobilization Plan, which includes:
    Annual "Ending Men's Violence" Round-table/Conference
    Men's Community Mobilization
    Young Men's Leadership Institute
    Boys' Awareness Programs

    MRI trainings and practicum meetings are steps towards a larger multi-sector community mobilization plan for engaging men and boys in violence prevention in Springfield.

    Posted by Daniel at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

    August 19, 2008

    Springfield Program Mapping Project Completed

    Connecting Advocates of Family Violence Prevention
    and Positive Masculinity

    The Engaging Men Practicum group identified this program mapping project as the first step in moving forward on a community action plan in Springfield. The overall goal of the action plan is: to increase the involvement of men as allies with women in preventing family violence, and as positive role models for children.

    The specific aim of the program mapping project was to identify and begin building relationships with Springfield organizations, programs, and individuals who are currently doing direct work around family violence and/or positive masculinity as it relates to healthy relationships. In the process, we will identify stakeholders for collective action, lobbying, collaboration, and resource sharing.

    After MRI staff and practicum members developed an initial list, MRI interns, Aaron Buford and Malcolm Chu researched the organizations, and began ongoing communication with targeted staff members through email, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings.

    The first report mapped geographic locations, services, populations served, and staff roles for over 20 organizations. Follow-up actions include organizing a roundtable discussion about men and women as allies in family violence prevention in Springfield.

    Posted by Daniel at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

    July 11, 2008

    Male Involvement Project in Cote d'Ivoire

    Building on our collaboration on a Male Involvement Project in Liberia, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Men's Resources International are now developing a similar program with communities in the neighboring West African country of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Like Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire is a country recovering from recent violent conflicts, and gender-based violence is a common part of family and community life.

    In Cote d'Ivoire, MRI will provide male involvement training for IRC field staff and for male and female leaders in six rural communities. A follow-up men's group will meet for several months to integrate and practice these skills using a curriculum developed in collaboration with Sonke Gender Justice Network from South Africa. Community awareness campaigns will then be developed and conducted in collaboration with community leaders and women's groups.

    In addition, the IRC has contracted with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to conduct a rigorous impact evaluation of the Male Involvement Project in Cote d'Ivoire. Baseline and post-intervention surveys will be conducted in the six intervention communities as well as six control communities where program implementation will be delayed until after the research is completed. This research will make a significant contribution to the field of engaging men and boys in violence prevention and positive masculinity.

    Posted by Daniel at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

    May 29, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: National GBV Task Force

    Today we traveled back to the Ministry of Gender and Development office for a meeting of the National GBV Task Force. The meeting was attended by over 30 representatives of various national and international NGOs. Unlike the meeting I attended in November 2006, most participants were Liberian.

    After a tedious protocol of reviewing last month's minutes, and a reading of statistics collected, we had 15 minutes for a presentation about the GBV program. We had also invited leaders of the women and men's action group in Chocolate City, Ben and Zoe, to talk about the impacts of the program on their community. Along with Ester Karnley, Advocacy Manager at IRC, we were a great team. There were many questions and requests for assistance in developing male involvement, and we encouraged other agencies to use IRC staff as a training resource.

    During the afternoon we facilitated a workshop on male involvement in GBV prevention for IRC staff who were not part of the GBV program. Two GBV staff, Ester and Edwin, did a brilliant job of engaging the group in two activities (Beliefs About Men and The Man in the Box), and modeling how women and men can share leadership together. They drew the group into the discussion in a supportive and encouraging way that made everyone feel respected and valued. This was followed with a slide show we had prepared about the history of male involvement in the GBV program, beautifully narrated by the four GBV staff who were present. The slide show ended with pictures of men's projects in Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda and the United States.

    After more questions and discussion, we ended the workshop with each person describing a next step they could take. The responses were beyond our expectations. The two IRC Deputy Directors talked scheduling regular times when GBV staff could lead more discussions. Many spoke about talking with their wives or husbands. Others suggested inviting staff partners and children to a similar program. One man, an IRC driver, said for many years he has transported GBV staff, but never really knew about the program. Now he will be going home and talking with his wife about these ideas. Other men said they were very much changed by the experience and wanted to know if IRC could help them set up a men's action group in their community. Gertrude said this was the first time a GBV program was well received by other IRC staff. The feeling in the room was filled with encouragement and possibility. As the IRC Deputy Director, Elijah said, "Liberia is really ready for this now!"

    In connection,
    Steven Botkin

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

    May 28, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Wednesday IRC Staff Meeting in the Palava Hut

    On Wednesday mornings, there is a weekly staff meeting at the IRC office. At 8:30am sharp, the generator is shut down, the power goes off, and everyone leaves the building to gather in the “palava hut” in the yard.

    After announcements from all departments, and a security report about an increase in armed robberies, Steven and I were introduced to the IRC staff. We launched into our history with the Male Involvement Program, and our tag team approach was great. Staff responded with interest and enthusiasm to what was presented. The men dropped their defenses as they heard about our approach to positive masculinity, and their faces brightened as they heard about the feedback from the men and women from the different communities.

    Dr. Atillo raised his hand to make an observation of an experience he had in his office where his attempt to sweep the floor was met with contrary feelings from the woman, who felt that he should not be helping with the cleaning. We explained that because it is a new experience, it can feel uncomfortable for her and that even women have to get used to the idea of men helping out in this way.

    Edwin took Steven and I to the community called "Chocolate Factory" to meet with the Woman's Action Group and the Men's Action Group who will have their official opening day ceremony for their new Women's Center on Friday at 10am. We hope that there will be time for us to join this celebration tomorrow after our staff training and before we leave for the airport.

    They were proud of this new community center and are looking ahead to becoming a formal community-based organization. Mr. Ben made an impassioned plea for support to help take the young women off the streets by providing different kind of trainings that will lead to employment and self sufficiency. We explained that this is something we've heard from several community partners, and that we would pass this idea on to IRC.

    In Peace,
    James Arana

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

    May 27, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Jr. High GBV Classes

    Today, Tuesday, was one of the best days of many great days. We got to visit a junior high school (grades 5 - 8). There were at least thirty students who are part of a new initiative, Gender Clubs. This class is headed by a teacher who was trained as a GBV instructor while in the camps. When we arrived, the students were asked to share what they remembered from their GBV classes and they responded by listing the topics area they have covered: sexual exploitation and abuse, forced marriages, rape, domestic violence, child labor and others.

    They were asked why they felt it was important for them to learn about these topics. One girl responded by saying that lots of people don't know these things and they get taken advantage of. Another girl said that if an older man comes to talk to them about helping them out for money they will tell them that this is wrong and go tell her parents. Another child talked about how she told her father that when he hits her mother and yells at the children that he is doing domestic violence.

    The children then asked us what they can do when they see domestic violence taking place. We acknowledged that this is one of the questions most often asked of us. We said it was important for them to keep from being harmed themselves in those situations. And that to look and pay attention can help draw attention to the situation. We suggested finding an adult to talk to or going to the authorities. We recognized that sometimes there is nothing they can do to stop it, and talk to someone about that feeling of powerlessness is important. Finally, we reinforced how important it is for them to learn to be healthy adults themselves, and share their understanding with others.

    We then went with Edwin, GBV staff trainer, to the community called "Chicken Soup Factory" to meet with some youth who are no longer attending school for any number of reasons: not being able to afford tuition, needing to fend for themselves and not having a stable place to live. The two instructors, Kebe and James, who were both in the four day training with us, were in good form, sharing the facilitation. They had the attention of the class as they talked about gender and sex. These students ranged from 12 to 30 years old. We also had a brief but lively interview, had lunch, and went on to another WAG & MAG community center.

    The women at this women's center were taking a workshop in sewing. They reminded me of when I was an apprentice tailor back in Belize. They were practicing sewing button holes with different stitches -- all by hand. Then they were learning how to cut materials to complete a pattern. The instructor told us that she is volunteering her time because this is a worthwhile endeavor.

    A few minutes later, the leader of the MAG, Pastor Samuel D. Karnley, came to meet with us and with several other men's action group members. They told us how they helped the women's action group build the women's center we were in, and affirmed their commitment to supporting the WAG. They expressed the desire to address what they see as a major problem in their community. "Many young women in this community are now spending lots of their efforts trying to get money from men and it's destroying our community." Pastor Karnley told us of his goal to provide skills training and other forms of support for these girls so they would have other options for taking care of themselves. He asked our advice for how to get assistance in implementing this plan. We recommended that these ideas get discussed with the women of the WAG, so that any proposals are developed from a partnership between women and men. And we suggested that they get from Edwin a format for a grant proposal that could be given to possible funders.

    In Peace,
    James Arana

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

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

    May 26, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Ministry of Gender and Development

    This morning, after sitting in on the Montserrado County GBV staff meeting, we met with the leadership team to debrief from last week's training and provide consultation on next steps for program development. The morning ended with an overview of the training for the staff who had not been able to attend.

    In the afternoon, we traveled with Gertrude to the Ministry of Gender and Development (MGD). We met with the Assistant Minister of Research, the Honorable Patricia Kamara, who was eager to learn more about the developments in IRC's GBV program. She expressed keen interest in the male involvement project, saying that many other organizations and groups are recognizing how important it is, but don't know how to do it. She asked if the Ministry of Gender field staff could be trained in this approach. We suggested that there are now IRC staff, with extensive training from MRI, who can provide this training. Ms. Kamara told Gertrude that she would like to make this happen as soon as possible. IRC's commitment to working closely with the Ministry was affirmed, and it was beautiful for us to witness these two Liberian women working together for women's safety and empowerment. Our training day ended after meeting with the core GBV staff from each of the three counties and the National Coordinator. She and her team expressed their appreciation for learning about gender dialogue skills and how to hold each other accountable. The men and women shared their challenges with walking the walk in their own personal lives. They were magnificent in their vulnerability, and were excited to continue supporting each other on a regular basis.

    It was great sitting outside in this open structure with the view of the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon and a fresh breeze cooling our skin. We decided to meet in our compound because the IRC is like Grand Central Station with cars, trucks and people moving at a furious pace and the noise from generators humming at deafening decibels.

    In connection,
    Steven Botkin

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

    May 25, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Recap of 4-Day Training

    May 25, 2008: Recap of 4-Day Training

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    James and I are spending today (Sunday) resting after six days of consulting and training here in Liberia. A leisurely breakfast and a long walk on the beach gave us the chance to take a deep breath, share our observations and feelings about the week, and drink in the experiences of Liberia.

    Our week moved from consultations with the GBV leadership team on Monday, to IRC GBV staff training on Tuesday, to four days of training (Wednesday - Saturday) with representatives of women's and men's action groups from 9 communities in addition to IRC staff (a total of 50 people). With the support of MRI training and consultations, IRC has been carefully supporting the development of a women's action group (WAG) and a men's action group (MAG) in each of these communities. And now it was time to bring representatives of each of these groups together to enhance their leadership and partnership skills, strengthen their organizational capacity as WAG/MAG collaborations, and promote a national network of community-based organizations modeling how women and men work together for GBV prevention and economic sustainability.

    The experience of these past four days was remarkable in many ways. For many of the community participants from the rural areas ("the bush") this was their first experience of the city. Sitting for four days in an air-conditioned room with facilitators who spoke "American English" was challenging. And yet, what happened during this time was an exciting example of individual and collective consciousness-raising and movement-building.

    Day One opened with each community of women and men introducing themselves using the ribbon pole ("commitment tree") that they had created in their introductory male involvement training. Using training handbooks and presentations by IRC staff, core components of the MRI training (beliefs about men, man in the box, male socialization and obstacles and strategies for engaging men) were reviewed. Inviting community members to give feedback to the female/male presentation teams helped to refine staff skills, empower participants, and model women and men sharing leadership.

    Day Two began with an activity that helps participants see what they have in common and what is different. As people stepped into the circle to see who shares "common ground" the questions they asked became increasingly powerful and painful. "Who had both of their parents killed before the age of 12?" "Who was abandoned by their husband?" "Who saw 50 members of their community murdered?" "Who was beaten by their parents?" "Who was a beaten by their husband?" "Who has beaten their wife?" "Who has committed marital rape?" Breaking the silence is being taken very seriously by these women and men, knowing that this is needed for making the personal and social changes they want.

    We then introduced the concept of "cross-gender dialogue" as an essential skill for women and men to build partnerships. Discussing the meetings of their women's and men's action groups provided an opportunity to apply this concept to their own experiences. There was a lot of interest in understanding the traps in cross-gender dialogue (e.g. men dominating the conversation, interrupting, ignoring and discounting what women say, etc.), and the different effects of using the words "but" or "and" was especially meaningful. Throughout the rest of the training there were many opportunities to practice and give each other feedback about these skills and traps.

    The WAG/MAG teams then had a chance to meet to prepare their mission statements, a timeline of their histories, and assess the men's action group on their ally behaviors. Presentations for each group were made by woman/man teams, practicing shared leadership.

    We ended the day with a slide show about the history of Men's Resources International and the men's initiatives we have been supporting in Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Liberia and the United States. Participants were inspired to know that they are part of a global movement of women and men as partners for ending violence and promoting healthy communities.

    Day Three focused on the process of behavior change and strategies for engaging boys and girls in GBV prevention. After describing the stages in a behavior change continuum we asked participants to talk with each other about the things in their own lives that helped them become more aware and engaged in GBV prevention.

    IRC announced engaging boys and girls as a priority for the next stage of their GBV program. We showed the video "Life of a Boy" produced by Promundo in Brazil, and were amazed at how much similarity there is with boys' experiences in Liberia. Based on these experiences, participants had many ideas about how they could support boys and girls in Liberia.

    Day Four, our last day together, focused on strategic planning for the women and men action groups. Participants were excited to envision community-based organizations with leadership teams composed of women and men working in partnership. We worked on a national mission statement for the network of community groups, as well as the second annual campaign for engaging men and boys as partners with women and girls for ending gender-based violence. And they were delighted when Gertrude (national GBV coordinator) announced IRC funding support for collaborative WAG/MAG proposals from each community for GBV prevention and economic sustainability.

    After reviewing the activities of the past four days, men and then women recited their pledges about ending GBV in Liberia. We honored each person with a certificate of completion for this training. In the closing ceremony each community ribbon pole was connected with new ribbons to a central pole representing the national network. Bells were attached to the ribbons and we experienced the wonderful sound of the connections among community groups breaking the silence together. The ribbons with bells were then wound around each pole as an addition, which will help them remember the strength of their connection when they return to their homes.

    The four days were filled with songs, and delightful group "energizers" shared by participants. And everyone left feeling inspired, informed and uplifted. We look forward to seeing what happens next.

    In connection,
    Steven Botkin

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

    May 23, 2008


    We, women of Liberia, call upon our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons to join us in ending gender-based violence in our families and communities. We understand the pain of women and men, and the costs to society, caused by this violence. We support men in their own journey of healing from violence, and welcome men as partners in creating healthy families and communities.

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

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


    We, men of Liberia, are publicly stating our commitment to ending violence against women. We understand the pain of women and men, and the costs to society, caused by this violence. For the health of our families and the future of our communities, we pledge to challenge gender-based violence in its many forms, and to support women's safety and empowerment. We will work together with women legal protections and social services for victims, and educational programs for violence prevention and gender equality. We will be role models of positive masculinity for our children in our words and actions. And we invite other men of Liberia to join us in this pledge.

    To read all Liberia entries in Chronological order and to see photos from the trip, Click Here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

    May 22, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Enduring Support

    May 22, 2008: Enduring Support

    I know it has been stated before about the magnitude of this movement of community workers from the different villages, towns and cities in Liberia. The women's action group (WAG) and men's action group (MAG) teams, primarily from the rural communities in Lofa, Nimba, and Monserrado Counties, are now working to coordinate their efforts, develop their skills as trainers, and expand their outreach to boys and girls. The appreciation shown by the staff and the community volunteers for each other continues to surprise them. Each day they look at each other and say that they did not expect that their learning together was going to be this easy, satisfying, profound.

    Each day, the women from the WAGs bless us with their knowledge, vision, and courage. They give direction and hold the men accountable for how they interact in their community. They talk about what is working well and where improvements are needed. The consistent theme from the women is their enduring support for the men for their efforts to be allies and partners. Many examples were given of the way the MAGs have successfully impacted other men in their communities, and the respect for women's leadership in the WAG/MAG partnerships.

    At the end of today's training I could see in the gleam in the eyes of all the participants as they understood the effects their actions are having. The potential for expanding their impact for reaching men and boys in supporting and creating a safer community for girls and boys was exciting and overwhelming at the same time. They know that they are the ones who are in the forefront of this struggle, and that they are at the beginning of a great journey.

    In Peace,
    James Arana

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

    May 20, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Poignant Stories of Change

    May 20, 2008: Poignant Stories of Change

    We spent the day with 14 staff from the IRC GBV program reviewing the core male involvement concepts and skills, practicing cross-gender dialogue, and preparing for the upcoming training.

    Sitting together in the outdoor hut we were filled with appreciation for these women and men who are deeply committed to the work of ending violence against women and girls in Liberia.

    The stories we heard about how men are changing in the communities where they work were profoundly inspiring. A woman in one community asked a female IRC staff, "what medicine are you giving my husband that he no longer beats me, and wants to be involved with the men's action group?" Another woman described how a big county-wide meeting did not have enough space to include the women who wanted to attend. But the women had learned to speak up for themselves and complained to the meeting organizers. And the men had learned to listen to women, so they made space for women to sit in the meeting and participate. And, in a dramatic evidence of social change, the women were invited to participate in an upcoming training for community leaders, a role traditionally reserved only for men.

    One of the male staff described an experience he had leading a community training (using the format he learned from Men's Resources International). During the men's "fishbowl" activity, where men sit in the center of the circle and describe their own personal experiences with violence, a young man talked painfully about the abusiveness of his father. When an older man in the group began to cry as well, everyone learned that he was the younger man's father. The father made a tearful commitment to ending his violence and changing his life. Several weeks later he invited the IRC staff to his home to witness how he was now talking openly and honestly with his wife.

    It is these stories that poignantly demonstrate the impact that the male involvement initiative has been having on the lives of people throughout the country. And we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear the how the strategies and skills that we have been teaching are rippling out through the IRC staff to communities throughout the country.

    In connection,
    Steven Botkin

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 11:51 AM | Comments (0)

    MRI in Liberia: Walking the Walk

    May 20, 2008: Walking the Walk

    The day of the 20th ended with great blessings as buckets of rain poured down for several hours. Walking home my sandals got stuck ankle deep in the mud. I had to stick my hands into the mud and water to retrieve them, then walk home barefoot carrying my sandals. At 10 pm I said goodnight to Ballah after a few hours of catching up with the inspiring work taking place in Lofa County, one of the most rural areas of Liberia. The whole day was full of men and women sharing stories of the impact of the two-and three-day trainings the MAG/WAG's have participated in.

    Our training day ended after meeting with the core GBV staff from each of the three counties and the National Coordinator. She and her team expressed their appreciation for learning about gender dialogue skills and how to hold each other accountable. The men and women shared their challenges with walking the walk in their own personal lives. They were magnificent in their vulnerability, and were excited to continue supporting each other on a regular basis.

    It was great sitting outside in this open structure with the view of the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon and a fresh breeze cooling our skin. We decided to meet in our compound because the IRC is like Grand Central Station with cars, trucks and people moving at a furious pace and the noise from generators humming at deafening decibels.

    In Peace,
    James Arana

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

    May 19, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Reacquainted

    May 19, 2008: Reacquainted

    We arrived at the IRC office on the first day greeted by warm smiles, finger-snapping handshakes, "welcome back," and hugs (one for each cheek). So many now familiar faces.

    Most of the day was spent with the GBV leadership team, Gertrude Garway - national coordinator, Ester Karnley - advocacy manager, Musue Oberley - Montserrado county program manager, Musu Mulbah - Nimba county program manager, and Joseph Ballah - Lofa county senior program officer. This was the first time (in our experience) that this team was only Liberian nationals. There was much for us to catch up on.

    The IRC approach in Liberia is now moving from "post-conflict" to "reconstruction," and the GBV prevention strategy is shifting from service delivery to social change. The GBV staff has been reduced from about 60 to just over 30, as the emphasis is increasingly on supporting community-based groups to take over services and activities. The Male Involvement Project has been integrated into the overall "community development" dimension of the program (with five female and four male staff).

    Even as they navigate all of these changes, the spirit of the GBV program remains strong. They have created new women's and men's action groups in two additional communities in each county, bringing the total number of WAG/MAG teams in Liberia to fifteen. And in many communities these groups are developing collaborative activity and initiatives for awareness-raising and economic development.

    For lunchtime, we joined a group of "ex-pats" (from Kenya, Pakistan, Spain and other places) working for IRC who were going to an Indian restaurant. Their lives are filled with stories of working for a range of NGOs in countries all over the world. Such different perspectives than the Liberians working in the GBV program!

    In connection,
    Steven Botkin

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

    May 18, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Giving Thanks

    May 18, 2008: Giving Thanks

    I got up for my morning meditation with the knowledge that my ancestors had been waiting for me. I continue to open my self to their guidance. This journey, like all journeys begins with asking for blessings and guidance from my ancestors. My recent trip back home to Belize profoundly reconnected me to my elders and ancestors. In Belize, I sat in council with them, humbled myself, and was reminded of how important it is that I continue to be available to each and every one of them. I told my brothers and sisters, and my elders in Belize about this upcoming trip to support our brothers and sisters in Liberia.

    There is power in this journey, that despite the trauma of the middle passage, I am still able to go back home in love, caring, and visioning for our youth. My family in Belize asked me to give thanks to our Liberian brothers and sisters.

    I go to Liberia, carrying my brothers and sisters from the US and Central America in my heart. They have given us the trust and confidence that we are on the right path, supporting a nation, by supporting one person, one men's group, women's group at a time.

    I go on this trip, prepared by my 30 years of commitment to working with youth, and am overflowing with joy that we will walk with our brothers and sisters to build healthier communities. I would like to acknowledge and honor the strength, power and vision of our Liberian brothers and sisters, in their determination to support our youth and our future.

    The past few weeks leading up to this trip have been riveting, as we paid attention to all that needed to be done in preparation for this work. We, the MRI team, have been in overdrive to get our training handbook together. Much thanks to SuperDan for gathering all our ideas and making sense and order out of them. Thanks to Steven for his tireless work in gathering data for the training. I reap the benefits of both their work. I challenge us to make sure that all our hard work continues to be holistic, and engages not only our minds, but also continues to engage our heart and spirit.

    In Peace,
    James Arana

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos of the trip, click here.

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

    MRI in Liberia: Traveling to Liberia

    May 18, 2008: Traveling to Liberia

    We're on our way. Our fourth trip to Liberia over the past year and a half. It's a familiar journey now -- a short hop from Hartford to Washington; overnight to Brussels (arriving early morning after a short night's sleep); four hours in the airport; and another eight hours to Monrovia.

    Men's action groups (MAGs) working in partnership with women's action groups (WAGs) have formed in 15 different communities throughout Liberia as a result of our collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Together they are forging new community-based strategies and a powerful national network to end gender-based violence and promote positive masculinity.

    The relationship with between Men's Resources International and the IRC has enabled us to provide ongoing in-country and remote support for staff training and the development of these action groups -- something we have not yet been able to do in other settings. During this visit we will be meeting with representatives from most of these WAGs and MAGs for four days of training, consulting and planning for the next steps in their community mobilization. This will include advanced training on cross-gender dialogue skills, the development of a behavior change continuum model for engaging men in GBV prevention, initiating an action planning process for engaging boys and girls in GBV prevention and gender equality, and planning for the creation of sustainable community based organizations.

    In the Brussels airport we met the Liberian country director for Search for Common Ground, an international NGO dedicated to using media for peace-building. We had an inspiring conversation about how the men's and women's GBV prevention action groups could be a resource for media representations about peace-building initiatives in Liberia, and how SFCG could be a resource for helping the MAGs and WAGs to get our their messages about GBV prevention, positive masculinity and healthy families.

    On the drive into Monrovia from the airport we listened to a radio program where one person after another made announcements about missing family and loved ones from the war that they are trying to find. It was a heartbreaking reminder that the impacts of the war are far from over in this beautiful and traumatized country.

    In connection,
    Steven Botkin

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

    May 17, 2008

    MRI in Liberia: Introduction


    On May 17, 2008, MRI directors Steven Botkin and James Arana traveled to Liberia for a fourth visit in support of the International Rescue Committee's new project, "Part of the Solution: Involving Men in Preventing Gender-Based Violence."

    Funded in part through Irish Aid, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Liberia first contracted MRI in October 2006 to help develop an innovative approach to engaging men as allies against GBV in conflict affected settings. Through onsite visits and remote technical support, MRI's work with IRC has lead to:

    * Increased understanding and investment among IRC GBV staff in
    the value of a male involvement project

    * Increased knowledge and capacity among IRC GBV staff on the
    fundamental principles for engaging men and basic skills for
    facilitating women and men working together as allies

    * Development of 15 Men's Groups

    * Initial training and supervision conducted with the initial nine
    Men's Groups

    * Planning for a national awareness raising campaign that was
    launched in June 2007

    A considerable amount of momentum has been generated in the 15 communities where Men's Action Groups have been started. IRC has contracted with MRI again to provide additional in-country and remote technical support.

    During this fourth visit from May 18 - 30, 2008, Steven and James are leading an advanced training on cross-gender dialogue and action-planning, consulting with IRC regarding long-term goals and strategies for the program, and helping to develop monitoring systems for the men's action groups and initiatives.

    To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here

    Posted by Malcolm Chu at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

    April 17, 2008

    Moving Forward Program in Amherst, MA seeks new Director

    The Moving Forward program of Amherst, MA is searching for a new Program Director. Moving Forward offers state-certified batterer's intervention services, anger management and healthy relationship programs and is the flagship program of the Men's Resource Center for Change. A fuller description of the job is below. Please disseminate this job posting to all you think may be interested.


    Moving Forward
    Domestic Abuse Intervention | Anger Management
    Youth Violence Prevention | Healthy Relationships

    Moving Forward, the largest program of the Men's Resource Center for Change, has been a leader in Western Massachusetts since 1989 in providing domestic violence intervention services for men acting abusively. We are seeking a new Program Director to help usher the program into its third decade of service and advocacy.

    Moving Forward offers state-certified batterers' intervention groups that address a full spectrum of abusive behaviors with both voluntary and mandated clients. We also offer anger management, healthy relationship programs and plan to reinvigorate our youth violence prevention program. We seek an inspired and dedicated person to expand the reach of our program through strategic fundraising and marketing, innovative collaborations, and effective articulation of our program's mission of supporting men and challenging violence.

    The Program Director will manage and supervise our program staff who currently run 11 groups in the four counties of Western Massachusetts as well as the Hampshire County Jail and House of Corrections. The Program Director attends District Court and community roundtables and represents the program at statewide meetings of batterers' intervention and victim service programs. The Program Director is responsible for maintaining current contracts and expanding our funding sources. We seek a passionate individual with both management experience and a commitment to ending domestic violence and engaging men.

    The ideal candidate will have:
    • Knowledge about domestic violence from the perspective of both victims and perpetrators
    • Commitment to diversity and cultural competence
    • Experience in management and administrative supervision of staff
    • Proven success with grant writing and contract management with government agencies, foundations and other funding sources
    • Demonstrated community outreach, marketing and media relation skills
    • Director-level experience, including program development and financial management
    • Excellent communication skills; bilingual Spanish/English a plus.
    • Experience in the field of violence prevention and intervention a plus.
    • Batterer's intervention certification, clinical experience and license preferred.

    Position is 32-37 hours/week. Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience. Send letter and resume by mail or email to: Sara Elinoff Acker, Moving Forward, 236 No. Pleasant St., Amherst MA 01002 or Position expected to begin July 1, 2008. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Women and people of color are encouraged to apply.

    236 No. Pleasant St. | Amherst, MA 01002
    (413) 253-9588 |

    Posted by Daniel at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

    February 16, 2008

    MRI Hosts Zambian Activist for White Ribbon Day Events

    MRI hosted Zambia Men's Resource Centre (ZAMREC) founder/director, Stephen Mbati, in Massachusetts from February 13-15. Following a reception and presentation at MRI's office in Springfield, Mbati accompanied Steven Botkin and James Arana to the White Ribbon Day ceremony at the State House in Boston. MRI and Mbati met with staff at Jane Doe, Inc. and Family Violence Prevention Fund. Several strategic planning conversations helped clarify priorities and direction for ZAMREC and Mbati who is interested in doing direct work with male perpetrators of violence in Zambia.

    Additionally, MRI helped arrange a month-long internship for Mbati with Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta.

    Posted by Daniel at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

    December 03, 2007

    MRI at International Conference in Salzburg

    Greetings from Salzburg, Austria! (Click images for larger size.)

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    The worldwide movement to engage men and boys in sexual and reproductive health, preventing gender-based violence, and positive masculinity is taking another significant step forward this week as 50 men and women from around the world gather here for a technical consultation, hosted by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund and Promundo.

    Arriving from places such as South Africa, Brazil, Sri Lanka, India, Canada, and the United Kingdom, we will be reviewing and discussing programmes and policies for engaging men and boys in the promotion of gender equality and health equity. This technical consultation will inform the development of a toolkit that will contain examples of good practices and lessons learned in engaging men in sexual and reproductive health, violence prevention, fatherhood and maternal, newborn and child health.

    And, most important of all, we will be continuing to strengthen the connections that will form the foundation for a global network of men and women joining together to work toward a vision of families, communities and a world of peace and equality.

    It is exciting that Men's Resources International can be part of this event and movement building on this scale, and I will do my best to send updates and photos during the week so that you can participate in some way in this historic occasion.

    In connection,


    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    For the past two days the MenEngage steering committee and international members, a group of 14, has been meeting to discuss the formation of country and regional networks and a global "MenEngage" alliance. There is a tremendous amount of work on engaging men and boys that is going on around the world on every level. Grassroots awareness-raising and community organizing has been happening in places as diverse as Cambodia, India, Sweden, and Jamaica. Research projects are underway and being launched on local and international scales. DVDs, curricula and best practices documents continue to be produced. An Asia Pacific regional MenEngage coordinator has been hired, and a global symposium on engaging men is being planned for November 2008. A MenEngage website will soon be launched which will serve as a vehicle for resource sharing and communications.

    The field is mushrooming more quickly than any of us expected, and there is a feeling of trying to move quickly to keep up with all of the developments. I am honored to represent Men's Resources International among this powerful group of men and women, and to add our voice and experience to this developing alliance. I have volunteered to serve on a task group to identify strategies for increasing relationships with women's rights organizations, and another task group on increasing our capacity for resource sharing and referrals.

    There is much work to be done, and a recognition of the precious opportunity of being all together in person from so many corners of the world. The energy that comes from working on a shared vision of this scale is exhilarating and humbling.

    I look forward to the next three days when we will be joined by another 30 people to work on a best practices toolkit that can become another valuable resource for this movement.

    In peace,


    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    En route back to the United States, I am reflecting on the experience of the last three days sitting together with 40 representatives of United Nations agencies, the World Health Organization, and national and international civil society organizations (NGOs). Everyone in the room was deeply invested in strategies for engaging men and boys in violence prevention and family and community health. Many had only recently begun to be interested in this field, but a remarkable number from as diverse locations as Cambodia, South Africa, Norway, Brazil and Australia have now been involved for many years. The accumulated experience and wisdom was inspiring and humbling.

    Our purpose was to provide input and advice in the formation of a "toolkit" (or "sewing box" as a doctor working in Eastern Europe kept insisting) of good practices to be published and made available on the internet. Unfortunately, most of our formal time together was spent with PowerPoint presentations about many of the participants' programs. However, the opportunities for networking and learning from each other were tremendous.

    There were many people who were working in or from Africa, and I helped to convene an informal networking meeting for this region. We talked about the recent MenEngage consultation in Tanzania with representatives from a number of south and east African countries, and the national and regional networking activities of Men's Resources International. Great enthusiasm was expressed for intersecting these initiatives into a larger African network. MenEngage, UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) and IPPF (the International Planned Parenthood Foundation) agreed to provide seed money to hire a coordinator for a mapping and needs assessment of existing networks. Holo Hachonda, who is from Zambia and has recently left a position with IPPF in Nairobi, agreed to serve in this position. MRI will be arranging for Holo to visit western Massachusetts when he is in the United States in January.

    I met with Juan Carlos Arean of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, and Todd Minerson from the White Ribbon Campaign to explore the creation of a North American MenEngage network. We discussed the recent roundtable in Boston of U.S. based men working with men on violence against women prevention, and the growing number of White Ribbon activities in the United States, and agreed to work together to plan for a survey to map current programs, resources and needs.

    Once again, it became obvious that as this field expands the need for capacity building resources at the local, national and global level will continue to grow. As I said in my closing comment of the conference, even an excellent toolkit will need experienced advisers, mentors, trainers and consultants to assist in the translation from paper (or website) into actual practice. Many people were interested in MRI programs, activities and strategies, and I expect many fruitful follow-up conversations. We will keep you posted via this website and our email list of developments as they occur.

    In connection,

    Posted by Daniel at 04:27 PM | Comments (0)

    October 09, 2007

    Steven On the CARE Training

    After packing our bags, we traveled to the CARE office where we met with staff from CARE and representatives from other community organizations who had attended the training for a follow-up strategic planning meeting. We began with a rich discussion about the lessons learned from the training, which produced many valuable ideas about how to apply the MRI approach to engaging men in Rwandan contexts.

    The conversation then moved to how to provide follow-up support and accountability for training participants, especially in accomplishing the personal goals that they had committed to on the last day of the training. After discussion about the relationship between personal and professional work, it was decided that an email group will be established, and a check-in meeting with be scheduled in several weeks. One of the men in the meeting reported that last night he had already talked with his wife about the ways he has been abusive, and how he will be changing.

    We had to leave the meeting early, because our airplane flight had been rescheduled for an earlier departure time. We look forward to hearing what came out of the discussions about next steps for CARE program development and national networking.

    As we left CARE offices with heartfelt good-byes to Delphine, Maimouna, Fidel, Peter, Frederic, Jeannette, André, Kushbu, and Charles, they affirmed their desire for an ongoing consultation from Men's Resources International. We know that they are building a very special collaboration that has the potential for significant impact throughout the country. And we know that we will be back in Rwanda to continue to support this journey.

    Posted by Jorge at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

    October 05, 2007

    Adin Reflects on the Trip to Rwanda

    I joined Steven and James' co-facilitation team on this trip as a woman with a background in peacebuilding as well as gender, and several years' experience working in Rwanda. It's been an amazing experience on multiple levels. Taking such a journey together for the first time, two men and a woman, to work with men and women in a culture not our own with issues that have affected all our lives, was a big undertaking. We are flying home as I write, and there is more to look back on than I can describe, so I'll mention only a couple of things.

    First, about Steven and James and the work they do as Men's Resources International. They are extraordinary facilitators, distinctly different from each other, each bringing a powerful distinctive perspective. Their work is very emotional, designed to open men to a deep experience of their impact on women, and the way this impact has harmed themselves as well as their loved ones. They honor the experience of men as they simultaneously hold them accountable for their non-awareness of their violence and its impact. My role as it evolved was to weave in aspects of the perspective of peacebuilding, exploring the links between intimate violence and global violence, and the ways violence wounds identity, for example. It was also useful to have me there as a woman, responding as a woman, articulating truths not yet emerging from the women in the group, and working directly with them.

    The second striking aspect of Steven and James' work is their commitment to turning it over to the people they're working with right from the beginning. While their engagement with others includes training, the training is a process of lighting a fire (as they say at the beginning, working with head, heart and soul, in order to understand, feel, and believe), with faith that the tinder to keep it going will be found in the room. Thus, each training evolves into a process of discussing next steps in building a grassroots movement with the energy and commitment awakened in the group. They are respectful conveners of this process of planning. In each workshop they share information about similar groups which are working already in other places. Dreams emerge from participants, such as developing an Africa-wide network of groups working to engage men in working with women on gender based violence, with teams on the group who could go when called to new communities.

    The work was intense, exciting, fun, and moving, in new ways for me. While I carry questions always about the impact of people like us coming from other countries to "help" in Africa, there's an undeniable hunger for support to address this violence so inherent in culture here, and we bring not so much "expertise" as ourselves as men and women, albeit embedded in our own cultures, to work that has many similarities world wide.

    Posted by Jorge at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

    October 04, 2007

    The CARE Training Ends with a Goodbye to Rwanda

    Today, the last day of the training, focused on deepening the honest dialogue between women and men about the emotional experiences and gender issues raised in yesterday's activities. It is both painful and heartening to watch the group struggle with this process. The powerful commitment to ending violence and creating healthy families in Rwanda was evident as they continued to build a new foundation of trust among themselves.

    The action commitments that were generated as a result were deeply personal and very encouraging. Many men said they will be immediately changing the way they are relating to their wives and children. And many women said they will be going home to talk with their husbands about their experiences and needs, and about how to raise their children with more gender equality. Staff from Burundi also committed to bringing Men's Resources International to their country.

    As we ended the day with certificates for all participants honoring the work they have done in this training, we knew this was an important step on a long journey. And as we completed the closing ceremony, wrapping the bamboo pole in our multicolored ribbons, and remembered the pole created last week at the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre, and the poles in Zambia and in Nigeria, and the nine poles in communities throughout Liberia, and the one at the MRI office in Springfield, United States, we knew we were witnessing the growth of a movement.

    Posted by Jorge at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

    October 03, 2007

    CARE Training, Day II

    The second day of the training focuses on the themes of listening to women's and men's stories, breaking the silence about violence, and understanding the social and emotional dimensions of male socialization. It is a highly emotional process that engages the head, heart and soul.

    Men are coached to listen to women and to become vulnerable about their own experiences with violence. Women are supported in their need to be heard and respected by men, and their demand for men as partners in change. Together, we learn how to cultivate this delicate, intimate and profound social change process among ourselves, laying the foundation for taking this work into our families and communities.

    In the evening, Adin met with Rwandan students enrolled in the School for International Training program where she teaches (in Brattleboro, Vermont). James and I met with Fidel and Theogene for another expansive brainstorming session about possibilities for collaboration on program development and evaluation, and economic sustainability for the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre. The intersection of our resources and areas of expertise holds many intriguing prospects.

    Uduma, James, and Ugo at the Wedding on Saturday

    Posted by Jorge at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

    October 01, 2007

    Preliminary Visits with CARE, and Some Time with IRC and PROFEM

    James, Adin and I spent this morning at the headquarters of CARE International where we met with key staff in violence prevention, health and education to prepare for tomorrow's training. We learned more about CARE's commitments to engaging men in these program areas, and they listened eagerly to our descriptions about our experiences in different African countries and Men's Resources International's approach to training and consulting.

    In the afternoon, Fidel, James and I visited the International Rescue Committee headquarters, sharing with the executive director and chief officer our experiences with IRC in Liberia, planting the seeds for potential future collaboration with the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre.

    Upon returning to the hotel in the evening we joined Adin in a meeting with two leaders of PROFEM, the national network of women's organizations. Agnes Mujawayezu, executive director, had attended the opening ceremonies of the training, and Suzanne Ruboneka, country coordinator for action campaigns, expressed their appreciation and support for the existence of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre and the importance of getting men involved in the efforts to end gender-based violence, They repeatedly embraced the concept of "positive masculinity" as an valuable approach to gender equality. And together we began developing strategizing for most effectively collaborating on social change in Rwanda.

    It was another profoundly satisfying day.

    Posted by Jorge at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

    September 30, 2007

    More Goodbyes, the Gacaca, and Personal Stories Shared

    After saying heartfelt goodbyes to Ugo and Uduma who were returning to Nigeria, Fidele drove James, Adin and me to witness a Gacaca, the community court held once a week in every district throughout Rwanda to hear and try cases related to the genocide.

    With one of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre members serving as our translator we joined hundreds of Rwandans packed on hard benches and crowded around the perimeters of an open air meeting space (with a roof to protect us from the sun). Sitting together were eight men dressed in pink outfits, the prisoners charged with crimes. The five judges (one woman) called them up singly or in groups to defend themselves, and to cross examine them. People from the community came forward to give their testimonies, as accusers, and witness and to provide other information relevant to the case. The process was slow and deliberate, carefully designed to provide time for everyone to have their say. The cases involved murder, looting and intimidation. When we left after six hours of sitting without a break no judgments had yet been made and half of the cases remained to be heard. Witnessing the intense focus and patience of this community for the entire time, and understanding that this process has been replicated throughout the country for the past several years, we understood in a new way the significance of this truth and reconciliation process.

    After returning to the hotel we were met by two training participants who shared with us their personal stories. The woman was orphaned when she was sixteen, and become responsible for caring for her three sisters. A family friend helped her with schools fees to complete secondary school. She was then able to get a job with a coffee cooperative in a rural area. Determined to make a better life for herself, she entered university, commuting into Kigali for a few days each week. She dreams of getting a house for her sisters, becoming a manager at the coffee cooperative, helping to improve the lives of the farmers. She was able to attend the training because of the support from Dean's Bean's Organic Coffee.

    The man is one of 18 children from a family that still lives mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His family has no money, but through his powerful commitment to his own education, he is now in his last year at university. He explained that he walks everywhere and goes some days without eating in order to have money for his studies. His final paper will be on the impact of punishments in Gacaca. He has been a dedicated volunteer for the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre and assisted with much of the on-site logistics of the training.

    James and I were impressed with the courage of these two people, and went to bed knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of others throughout Rwanda with stories just like them.

    Posted by Jorge at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

    September 29, 2007

    Adieus, a Wedding, and Meetings with Government Officials

    Because we did not know when we would have the opportunity to all be together again, this morning was spent in a flurry of discussions, exchanges of digital photos, and expressions of love and commitment among Zambia, Nigeria and the United States. After lunch we bid fond farewells to Stephen and Stencilous as they began their long journey back to Zambia.

    Fidel then took Ugo, Uduma, James and me to a wedding ceremony and reception. And after that, we traveled to the home of Theogene (the senior consultant whom we had met the previous week) where he was hosting a party for people involved in a research project he is leading about the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS clubs in schools. Sitting in chairs neatly arranged on the manicured lawn of his magnificent home we met the Minister of Education and other government officials, a representative from the World Bank as well as his team of over 20 young people who conducted the extensive survey throughout Rwanda. (it covered 100% of all secondary and 30% of all primary schools). We were having grateful for this marvelous opportunity to witness a particular dimension of Rwandan society.

    Stencilous Presenting Zambia Mug

    Posted by Jorge at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

    September 28, 2007

    A Visit to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial

    This morning Fidel met us at the hotel with two cars and the eight of us drove to a restaurant on the outskirts of Kigali. There, overlooking a magnificent view of farmland and hills, we discussed the next steps in the strategic development of Zambian, Nigerian and Rwandan men's initiatives. Topics included the challenges of leadership and staffing, the importance of relationships with women's organizations, and the need for economic sustainability.

    As the leaders of these newly developing organizations shared information and advice with each other, we all recognized the significance of these relationships and the value of the support being shared. The idea of an African Men's Network naturally emerged as they explored their collective needs and visions.

    In the afternoon, many of us visited the Rwanda Genocide Memorial, a burial place and museum about the 1994 ethnic violence when approximately one million people were killed. The horrors of human violence were painfully portrayed, including exhibits about genocides throughout history. It was a sobering reminder of what we are working so hard to change.

    In the evening we all went out for our last dinner together, since Stephen and Stencilous would be returning to Zambia tomorrow. It was truly an honor and a blessing to sit among these courageous and humble pioneers as we celebrated how far they have come and recommitted ourselves to the journey before us.

    Uduma of Nigeria and Elias of Rwanda

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

    The Rwanda Workshop: An Eye-Opener

    From the time we gathered at the Addis Ababa International Airport, I knew we were about to change history in Africa. The Rwandan training was an opportunity to reunite with Steven, James, Phiri, and Mbati. The MRI family and the African Network were received by Fidel at the Kigali International Airport. What good memories the reunion brought forth!

    The training was a very worthwhile experience; I must confess that the Rwandan people are warm, accommodating, and eager to make connections despite the language barrier. The opening ceremony was graced by the Deputy Mayor of Kigali and the Executive Secretary of PROFEM, a women's organization based in Rwanda.

    Here I must commend the thoughtfulness of the Rwandan Men's Resource Center, under the leadership of Fidel Rutasiyare, for providing us with interpreters who made the training a huge success. The participants were able to share deeply rooted concerns and the facilitators were down to earth with different dynamics of violence. They imparted to every participant the richness of years of research and experience in the fight against Gender Based Violence and the effort to create healthy families and communities.

    I consider this a golden opportunity and feel privileged to have been part of this training on eliminating Gender Based Violence in Rwanda, where the world failed to heed to the cry of a people as they sank into genocide. I hope to come back here someday to see the level of change in Rwandan society that has been achieved by our training in this Country of a Thousand Hills.

    Uduma Agwu Uduma
    Coordinator, Steering Committee
    Ebonyi Men's Resource Centre

    Uduma Agwu Uduma

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

    Opening New Frontiers in Rwanda

    The Rwandan Training on Engaging Men in Eliminating Gender Based Violence is yet another milestone towards raising a critical mass of men across Africa who pledge zero tolerance on Gender Based Violence.

    The workshop was not just enriching and educative, but it also helped participants recreate relationships in their families and communities. The workshop was truly a life-changing experience; it should be experienced by many more people. Realizing that eradication of Gender Based Violence will to a large extent determine the growth of society, both men and women must show concern and commitment towards eradication to guarantee a progressive society.

    I am almost certain that, with the inclusion of men's voices in the fight against Gender Based Violence, women's voices will be louder and victory will be achieved. Bravo MRI! Bravo Africa Men's Network on Eradicating Gender Based Violence!

    Ugo Nnachi
    Ebonyi Men's Resource Center

    Ugo Nnachi

    Posted by Jorge at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

    Steven Writes As The Rwanda Training Ends

    The training ended today. There is no doubt that the lives of the 40 participants have been changed. Once again, men learning how to listen to women is a transformative experience for both the men and the women. Once again, breaking the silence about the profound impact of violence on our lives offers an experience of healing and empowerment. And, once again, both women and men are eager to embrace a positive vision of men as partners with women in creating healthy families and communities. The idea of building a society of unity and reconciliation is a particularly relevant theme right now in Rwanda. Our observations about what is happening in the country right now is evidence that they have the individual and collective will to make this happen.

    On the second day of the training Stencilous Ndandalika from the Zambia Men's Network facilitated a creative adaptation of the "Man in the Box" activity, engaging participants in deciding whether to put certain human characteristics (for example, "being emotional") in the man box or the woman box. After uncomfortably struggling with the dilemmas of these choices, we understood how social expectations force us into these unfair and dehumanizing roles.

    On the last day of the training, Stephen Mbati from the Zambia Men's Network and Uduma Uduma from the Ebonyi Men's Resource Centre in Nigeria each gave a presentation about their organizing efforts since the MRI trainings in their countries. Participants from Rwanda listened with great interest to the successes, obstacles and lessons learned. Fidel shared the story of how the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre was born, and a RWAMREC member presented the organization's action plan. It was clear that we were all on this journey together.

    In the evening Fidel and his wife Christine invited all of us to their beautiful home just outside of the city. We met their son, Elion, who was born just a week after Fidel returned from the MRI training in Nigeria, as well as Fidel's younger brother Jean Claude, who is completing his last year at university. Sitting outside, listening to the "natural music" of the frogs and crickets from the fields below, looking at the full moon, in this magnificent company, we knew we were blessed.

    Fidel and his wife Christine

    Presenting the RAMREC Action Plan

    Rwandan Hills and Fields

    Posted by Jorge at 10:38 AM | Comments (2)

    September 27, 2007

    James on Day Two of the Training: From Sun Up To Sun Set

    As I stated before, I got up with call to prayer and did not put my head down until midnight. After our planning session for the final day of training. We -- Steven, Adin and I -- were struggling to keep our eyes open, but knew that we could not end the day without processing our work together.

    We resolved to wake up early to get to the training site by 8:30 A.M. to start at 9:00 A.M. sharp. We were continually trying to figure out what we would not be able to squeeze in, and have to let go, trusting that we would be able to tie it in somewhere else. We paid close attention to the way we were working together with the four facilitators (from Nigeria and Zambia) who we invited in to this process, and discussed the areas of the training where we were not feeling supported or connected.

    The day was a whirlwind, with a catch-up pace from the beginning. We acknowledged that the participants were fully engaged, connecting with each other, challenging each other, and grasping the concepts well. What more could we ask for? Well, for one thing, we would have liked to recover the extra hour we lost by ending the day at 4:00 P.M. We agreed that the participants were hungry for more details on every topic area we were sharing. The four participants from the Coffee Cooperative were asking when we would be back to provide the training to their group, convinced that further work would help their community.

    We had a great meeting that lasted four-plus hours with a Rwandan consultant who had recently drafted national policy guidelines for the Ministry of Gender. He listened with great interest to Chef Ugo Nachi of Nigeria describing the impact of the training in her country, and began to envision strategies for measuring impact, sustainability, and replicability. To say that we welcomed Mr. Gakuba's perspective would be an understatement. We left that meeting knowing that our day would not be complete until our planning session and fill-ins were complete, certificates for the participants signed, calls made home, and blogs emailed.

    Training Participants

    Cultural Group at Closing Ceremonies

    Posted by Jorge at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

    September 26, 2007

    Steven Writes about the First Day of the Rwanda Training

    This morning Fidel transported us to the training venue, Club Mamans Sportif. The opening ceremony for the training included remarks from the executive director of PROFEM, the national network of women's organizations, and an executive secretary for women's affairs in the city of Kigali.

    Our inability to speak Kinyarwanda or French required translation throughout the training. Although this slowed down the process, the ability to speak in their own language contributed to a comfort in self-expression and openness that made this day a success.

    After the 30 participants introduced themselves the day included discussions about the violence, presentations by Chief Ugo Nnachi of Nigeria and Stencilous Phiri of Zambia about gender-based violence in their countries, and the obstacles to engaging men on these issues.

    We ended the day affirming that a belief in men's natural caring and compassion is central to MRI's strategy for male involvement in violence prevention.

    Participants expressed encouragement and hope as they left the first day of training. One young man, who lost his father when he was five, spoke beautifully about being ready to be married, but confused about these issues -- "I wonder if I should wait until we have created more gender equality."

    Adin Discusses a Point with a Participant

    Music is Always a Feature
    in MRI's African Trainings

    Posted by Jorge at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

    James Describes the First Day of Training in Rwanda

    This morning, I got up with the 5:00 A.M. call to prayer and I felt so rested after a physically grueling day yesterday. The eighteen-hour flight on three different planes and several time zones threw me for a loop. After all that time of confinement and body restriction I got up yesterday about 4:00 A.M., and knew I had to get up and move my body. I left the room at daybreak to admire the kaleidoscope of colors painted across the sky.

    The view of Rwanda from our hotel balcony is just stunning. This is called the land of a thousand hills and aptly so. I wanted to go jogging but was intimidated by all the hills. You cannot walk too far with out walking up or down a substantial hill, so I decided to take a walk to find a park for a round of Tai Chi and some karate. My body was calling out to be stretched. I found a nice landing overlooking some fields that was ideal for meditation and practice. As I stretched and moved, my body screamed out for more. After an hour and a half, my body was singing and I thanked God for the gift of movement and the opportunity to be here in this sacred land with so much history. I was now ready for the day ahead.

    When I got back to the room Steven was doing his Tai Chi. We acknowledged each other with a smile and I got ready for breakfast and our planning for our first day of training. At the breakfast table Adin, Steven, and I marveled at our being here with our brothers and sisters from Nigeria and Zambia.

    We all were breaking bread this morning after converging yesterday at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to board the flight for Kigali to meet our brother Fidel. The airport erupted with joy when we saw each other. To see Stanislaus, Stephen, Uduma and Ugo all with great big smiles and open arms was a great delight. We hugged, kissed and beamed with each others' smiles.

    Of course it was a nail-biting experience waiting on the seemingly motionless line to get to the other side where we would see if we would all be on the same flight. Our African friends had spent the night in Addis and got to the airport hours before we did. We did make it onto the same flight, but what was supposed to be a one-hour trip took two-plus hours because of the local stops. The extra time was nothing compared to what had come before: we traveled from Bradley airport in Connecticut to the Washington, D.C. airport, to Rome, to Addis Ababa, to Kenya, and on to Kigali, with three airplane changes. To say that I needed to feel solid ground under my feet would be an understatement.

    Yesterday's training was a great success. There were at least 28 participants. A few dignitaries gave their blessings and we began to get to know our new brothers and sisters. As usual, there was not enough time to get in all we wanted because of the need for translation. We spent extra time trying to make sure that our thoughts and concepts were being understood. It was beautiful to see how sensitive, patient and caring the two translators were. It was fascinating to observe their struggle to try and capture certain concepts in Kinyarwandi.

    By the end of the day I was super-tired and needed a nap. I was able to get a strong hour and a half nap and was good to go for the rest of the evening.

    I am looking forward to a new day of training.

    James With the Ceremonial Pole

    Blessing the Pole at the End of Day One

    Posted by Jorge at 03:03 PM | Comments (0)

    September 25, 2007

    Steven Reflects on the Arrival in Rwanda

    Yesterday passed by in a blur of plane flights (landings in Rome, Addis Ababa, Nairobi and, finally Kigali).

    Returning to Africa is a deeply emotional experience for us in many ways. The reunion with our friends and colleagues from Zambia, Nigeria and Rwanda was joyous after the last 10 months of communication and support via email and phone. Rwanda truly is "the land of 1000 hills." The city, carpeting the hills, is bustling with life. Evidence of reconstruction and development is everywhere. The legacies of ethnic conflict and genocide are not visible to us newcomers.

    After settling into our rooms (with a breathtaking balcony overlooking the eastern hills of Kigali), and taking a much needed shower, we met with staff from CARE International in our hotel restaurant (a veranda with another spectacular view) to make arrangements for next week's training and consultation. Delphine and Maimouna were delighted at the timing of the connection with Men's Resources International, as they are launching new programs where male involvement will play a critical role.

    We then moved to another table where members of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre executive committee had gathered to welcome us to Rwanda. We were impressed with the social stature of the men Fidel has recruited, and their excitement about the MRI training.

    After dinner, we gratefully and quickly went to bed.

    Stencilous Ndandalika from Zambia

    Fidel (Rwanda) and Ugo (Nigeria)

    Posted by Jorge at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

    September 24, 2007

    Reunion of colleagues from Zambia Men's Network and Ebonyi MRC in Addis Ababa airport.


    Training Participants Introducing Themselves

    Discussion During the Training

    More Training Participants

    Posted by Jorge at 06:17 PM | Comments (0)

    September 23, 2007

    Steven Writes En Route to Rwanda

    Dear Friends,

    James, Adin and I are 3900 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, on our way to Rwanda. It's a 20 hour journey (with a refueling stop in Rome and a change of planes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).

    In Addis, we will meet our colleagues from the Zambia Men's Network, Stephen Mbati and Stencilous Phiri, who will join us for the trip to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). We will also be joined in Rwanda by our colleagues from the Ebonyi Men's Resource Centre in Nigeria, Ugo Nnachi and Uduma Uduma. We will be met in Rwanda by our colleague Fidel Rutayisire, founder and chairman of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre.

    We are gathering again (having been together in Nigeria last November) to conduct our training on engaging men in ending gender-based violence for members of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre (RWAMREC) and others from the community. And to continue to build the network of connection and support among men and women in Africa who are doing this work. We are excited and humbled by the opportunity to continue to support these initiatives Men's Resource International has helped to launch over the past year and a half.

    The challenges are daunting -- centuries of violence and oppression, cultural legacies of patriarchy, extreme pervasive poverty, lack of funding for programs. And yet, these leaders have committed themselves to pursuing the vision of building networks of men allied with women for ending violence and promoting positive masculinity.

    Our three-day training, funded completely by individual donors to Men's Resources International, will include more than thirty Rwandans (in addition to the international delegates). With support from Dean's Beans Organic Coffee Company, four representatives from "up-country" coffee cooperatives will be attending. Following the training we will facilitate a strategic planning meeting with members of the RWAMREC board of directors.

    During our second week in Rwanda, James, Adin and I will conduct a similar training and consultation with CARE International staff who are eager to develop male involvement in their violence prevention and reproductive health programs.

    We will do our best to keep you updated on these experiences through regular blog entries, and photographs. You can send us your thoughts and blessings by posting comments on this weblog or emailing us at On behalf of all of us gathering in Rwanda, we thank you for your interest and support.

    In faith, Steven

    View of Kigali from Hotel Balcony

    Representatives of the Rwandan Coffee Cooperatives
    Sponsored to Attend the Training by
    Dean's Beans Organic Coffee

    Another Participant from the Rwandan Coffee Cooperatives

    Posted by Jorge at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

    September 21, 2007

    Rwanda: The Journey Begins

    Associate Director James Arana, who with Executive Director Steven Botkin leaves for Rwanda on Sunday, September 23, writes:

    Our journey to Rwanda started during a meeting in the Haymarket Café in Northampton Mass. where we handed over some copies of our brand new, hot-off-the-press MRI brochure to Adin Thayer of the Karuna Center. Adin was leaving for one of her many trips to Rwanda and asked if we would like her to pass out our brochures. A few months later, Fidèle Rutayisire of Rwanda emailed MRI to get information on how to start a men's center and the communication never ceased. Fidèle did his research and, after long emails and phone consultations with MRI, assembled his potential board members together and the Rwanda Men's Center was born. Six months later, Fidèle joined us in Nigeria for an MRI training.

    What a pleasure it was to meet Fidèle after months of email and phone conversations! He, along with 35 other Nigerians, Zambians, and MRI staff from the Americas, embarked on a rigorous training to help bring everyone together around the work of supporting African men to end gender-based violence.

    So, to say that we are excited to be going to Rwanda is an understatement. The realization that I'm going back to Africa, the motherland, is overwhelming. This trip is important to MRI because to support a people and a country that has gone through so much harrowing violence over its recent past is an honor. We've listened to Fidèle, joined in his work to form the Rwanda Men's Center, and, though there's much yet to be done, we join in his pride of the accomplishments so far.

    You can follow our progress in Rwanda by visiting this blog during the time that we are there. We invite you to share in the exhilarating development of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre.

    Steven, James, and Adin with Colleagues
    from Zambia and Nigeria

    Adin Thayer, MRI Associate Trainer

    Posted by Jorge at 07:07 PM | Comments (0)

    July 25, 2007

    A Phone Call from James in Liberia

    We received a wonderful phone call this afternoon from James who is still in Liberia. He has just returned to Monrovia from travels to the villages of Karnplay, Saclepea, and Ganta in rural Nimba county. In each community he met with representatives from the mens' and women's action groups, training IRC staff to conduct interviews to assess the impacts of the Male Involvement Project.

    The ride to Karnplay, which was supposed to take an hour and a half, actually took twice that long due to washed out roads full of mud and craters. This allowed the IRS staff time to practice their interviewing skills with feedback from James. They worked on adapting the questions to be more easily understood in "Liberian English." They also practiced asking questions in a way that would not be interpreted as threatening or judgmental.

    Women and men from groups in all areas gave remarkably consistent and resoundingly positive feedback:

    • Women are feeling safer in their communities
    • Women are feeling more empowered to take actions
    • A number of men have stopped beating their wives and children
    • More girls are going to school
    • Group and community members are refraining from assigning heavy labor to children

    A number of men from different communities openly spoke about their past violent behavior -- both verbal and physical -- and their efforts to change. Both women and men said they have witnessed profound changes in their own lives, in their peers, and in their communities.

    A number of men spoke about how they had begun sharing domestic duties and responsibilities with their wives that they would not have ever considered in the past:

    • Carrying water
    • Preparing meals
    • Sharing information and decisions about finances

    One man in his 60's told about how he was always the king of his household. When he first heard about women's issues, he dismissed it. There is no issue! Slowly he began to listen. Slowly he began to wonder if his wife actually respected and cared about him -- or if she just feared him. While they were walking, he noticed that she was both carrying their child in her arms, and their water on her head. Like always, he carried nothing. The next day, his wife was astounded to see him carrying the water for his own bath. He has also begun to help with preparing food, and helping with other household duties.

    Posted by Jorge at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

    July 20, 2007

    Liberian Stakeholders Gather

    Recognizing that the Male Involvement Project has made tremendous progress, and committed to creating a broad based social change process, today IRC has organized a "Key Stakeholders Male Involvement Strategy Planning Workshop." Representatives from the Ministry of Gender, police, youth services, and men's and women's action groups as well as IRC staff attend.

    The meeting begins with presentations about the background and history of the GBV program and male involvement project from Gertrude (IRC national GBV coordinator), Navanita ad Ballah. WAG and MAG representatives then give stirring testimonies about the profound impacts the male involvement initiative has already had on their communities, confirming the stories we have already heard over the past two days from IRC staff.

    James and I then facilitate the group in a discussion about their ideas for how to continue to expand the involvement of men as allies with women for ending violence against women, and how they can work together to make this happen. It is a unique and exciting opportunity for diverse community sectors to talk and listen to each other, and many promising ideas are discussed, including fostering community leadership and community-based organizations, advocating for stronger enforcement of government employee policy on violence against women, and outreach to religious and educational institutions.

    As we met, IRC submitted their Year Two funding request for the Male Involvement Project to Irish Aid, with high hopes that many of the ideas generated by the IRC staff and this stakeholders workshop will be carried forward in the years to come. Gertrude concluded the workshop by expressing IRC's commitment to continuing to bring together these stakeholders in a participatory, community empowerment process. And James distributed MRI "Courage = Compassion" t-shirts to all participants.

    Posted by Jorge at 02:17 PM | Comments (0)

    July 19, 2007

    Chicken Soup Factory Redux

    The drive from the IRC office passes through Red Light (named, like many places in Liberia, after landmarks that no longer exist -- destroyed in the war). This bustling market place and transportation hub for the ubiquitous taxis and small vans could certainly use that red light. Honking vehicles seem to be driving in every direction at once, weaving through throngs of people carrying all sorts of bowls, baskets, and packages on their heads, and moving products and lumber in wheelbarrows. Everyone is dodging huge potholes. Because it is rainy season, puddles like small lakes and deep mud are everywhere.

    Our morning session focuses on raising awareness about gender dynamics within the staff team, and practicing cross-gender communication skills so they can educators and role models for the women's and men's action groups with whom they work. In separate gender groups they identify appreciations and concerns about how they are interacting. The dialogue that ensues when they come together to share these observations with each other demonstrates how far they have come in listening to and trusting each other. Subtle issues of male control are able to be sensitively addressed, and strategies for sharing food preparation and serving responsibilities are developed (and immediately put into practice).

    In the afternoon we reviewed a number of topics from the February MRI training handbook that staff requested to increase their competency in teaching to others. This was followed by generating ideas for the next steps with the men's action groups.

    We end the day with several hours of debriefing at the IRC office, and dinner at our hotel celebrating James' birthday.

    Posted by Jorge at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

    July 18, 2007

    Chicken Soup Factory

    This morning we packed 18 people into a small van (not an unusual experience here) and traveled from the IRC office to the community of Chicken Soup Factory (named after the business that was there before the war). We are conducting two days of staff training in the Chicken Soup Factory women's center for the women and men who attended our introductory training in February.

    In our previous visits to this women's center it was constructed primarily of grass mats on a cement foundation of a demolished single room structure. Now, a whole new meeting room with a metal roof and plaster walls painted a beautiful blue had been constructed out of what had previously been a front courtyard.

    Most of our first day was spent giving staff a variety of opportunities to explore their assessment of the successes and challenges of the Male Involvement Project since its inception eight month age. This staff group, social workers and trainers based in three different Liberian counties separated by 5-9 hours of rough roads, has few opportunities to be together as a team. The discussion, punctuated by pounding rain creating an almost deafening drumming on the roof, was very important to them.

    They shared many stories of men and women making real changes in the lives of the women, men and families of their communities. Men are now referring cases of domestic violence and sexual assault to the IRC social workers. Men and women's action groups in collaboration with community leaders are working together to develop and enforce community rules and regulations about family violence. Men are directly approaching men who have been abusive to challenge them on their behaviors, and support them in developing respectful attitudes and behaviors towards women. Women are more confident in their outreach activities, knowing they have male allies in the community.

    In June, the Men As Partners to End Violence Against Women (MAPEVAW) campaign mobilized more than 4000 men and women in nine communities using street parades, sports programs, speakers, skits, songs, chants, dancing, posters and stickers. Over 1700 people in Monrovia marched, chanting and singing, several miles to a rally in City Hall. And one of the major cell phone companies in Liberia, Lonestar, sent a text message to 150,000 subscribers reading "Real Men Do Not Abuse Women- Please join the IRC in supporting its campaign on Men AS Partners in Ending Violence Against Women- June 25-29, 2007."

    We also heard about a recent regional meeting of IRC GBV staff from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D'Ivoire where the Male Involvement Project was highlighted. Representatives from several of the men's and women's action groups conducted several of the awareness-raising activities they learned from Men's Resources International to demonstrate strategies for male involvement.

    Even as we were meeting with the IRC staff, a Regional Interagency Meeting on GBV, including government officials from Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as NGO representatives from IRC, UNICEF, Save the Children Alliance, CVT, CCF, Oxfam, UNFPA, UNHCR and others were sharing strategies for GBV response, intervention and prevention. In radio and newspaper interviews, the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development publicly acknowledged IRC's leadership in involved men in working with women to end gender-based violence.

    We ended the day taking Navanita out to dinner at our favorite restaurant with tables literally on the beach, just yards from the surf. We sat under a round thatch roof to protect us from the intermittent rain, learned more about Navanita's previous work in India and Papua New Guinea, and further developed a shared vision for strategic GBV program development in Liberia.

    Posted by Jorge at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

    July 17, 2007

    The Men's Group Monitoring Guide

    Our goal today was to field test the Men's Group Monitoring Guide developed by MRI marketing and communications director, Daniel Coyne, and revised in consultation with Navanita, Getrude, and other GBV management staff. After checking in at the IRC office we left for the ELWA community outside of Monrovia.

    Sitting in the shade of a large burned out cinderblock building we met with members of the ELWA men's action group. They were delighted to respond to our questions about how the Male Involvement Project has affected themselves and others in their community. As sounds of drumming and singing emerged from the building, and children played noisily nearby, we listened to the men talk earnestly about how their lives had changed as a result of their involvement in the men's action group. A community leader described how he is now hosting gatherings at his home where he is "preaching" about the Men As Partners approach and helping to men to change their behavior towards women.

    We then moved to another corner of the building to sit with members of the women's action group to hear their perspectives on the men's action group (MAG). They described the significant changes that the men's action group has inspired in their community and the increased their feeling of safety for women and girls that has resulted. They described how the men's action group contributed their time and money to get t-shirts printed for the women's action group, and is helping them build a women's center. And, even though there are times when the men fall back into patterns of dominating the joint meetings of both groups, the women are able to express this to the men, and the men readily change this behavior.

    After ELWA we drove to Chocolate Factory (yes, there was a chocolate factory there before the war) to meet with men's and women's action group members in that community where we heard very similar feedback about the Male Involvement Project. In both places we heard stories of men's increasing involvement in the traditionally women's housework activities (such as cooking and cleaning).

    The biggest challenge that was consistently described was how to make involvement in gender-based violence prevention activities economically sustainability. With unemployment at 80-90% the first priority for these men and women is to find ways to feed their families. While there is no doubt about their commitment to violence prevention and their eagerness to engage in outreach and awareness-raising in their communities, their availability for these activities is limited by this basic need.

    Posted by Jorge at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

    July 16, 2007

    Video, Photos, and a Regional Meeting

    It is unbelievably great being back here in Liberia in a familiar place and faces. Our day began the way it usually does, with very little sleep and much enthusiasm. Steven and I looked at each other faces and smiled that mischievous look of "can you believe it," we are really here for the second and third time, and acknowledge our blessings.

    When we got to the office, big smiles and hugs welcomed us from Ballah, Edwin, Musu and the others. Meeting Navanita Bhattacharya, the new GBV Program Coordinator, for the first time after communicating by email and phone so many times, gave us a great sense of camaraderie. We quickly dove into a discussion about the latest developments in the GBV program, and the goals for our visit -- staff training, developing and testing monitoring and evaluation systems, and facilitating a strategic planning meeting of key constituencies. We also heard news about recent developments in Liberia (such as the shutting down of the University after a student strike).

    We then joined the GBV staff meeting, reconnecting names with faces, and beginning to learn how they perceive the successes and challenges of the Male Involvement Project since its inception in November 2006. The 15 people (all but two of whom are women) remembered the many questions and concerns they raised in our first meeting that November. They reported that these questions and concerns had been addressed, men were willingly engaging as partners with women and women were very happy to have them involved. Listening to the current challenges and goals of this amazing staff group, we were impressed with how much has been accomplished over the last eight months using the training and technical support we have provided. It is obvious to us that there are few, if any, similar projects in the world right now.

    We spent the rest of the day in additional planning and strategizing meetings with GBV/MIP leaders. Their readiness to move the program to its next stage of development, and receptiveness to our insights and recommendations is inspiring and exciting.

    Posted by Jorge at 01:47 PM | Comments (0)

    July 14, 2007

    Newark Airport en route to Liberia

    Greetings from the Newark, New Jersey airport. James and I have a five hour layover en route to Liberia (after another change of planes in Brussels, Belgium). We are returning to Liberia for a third consultation to the International Rescue Committee's Gender-Based Violence (GBV) program.

    The relationship between Men's Resources International (MRI) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) began last fall. IRC had decided to expand their GBV program to include men, and received a grant from the Irish government to create a Male Involvement Project (MIP). Recognizing that they were in relatively uncharted territory, IRC hired MRI to provide training and technical assistance for this project.

    Over the past nine months IRC-Liberia, with support from MRI, has quickly and effectively developed their vision for this project into a unique and exciting initiative that is spreading throughout the country. During the first MRI visit in November 2006 we provided orientation and training for the newly hired MIP officer, Joseph Ballah, assisted the GBV staff in understanding the goals for male involvement, and met with the Ministry of Gender and Development and other key constituencies. The second visit in February 2007 included a three-day staff training, supervision for MIP staff as they conducted similar trainings for newly forming Men's Action Groups (MAGs), a training for community leaders sponsored by the Ministry of Gender and Development, and an interagency workshop for members of the national GBV task group.

    Men's Action Groups (MAGs) have now formed in nine communities throughout Liberia, in collaboration with the Women's Action Groups (WAGs) that IRC had already been supporting. Leaders from the MAGs and WAGs began planning a one-week community awareness raising campaign -- Men As Partners in Ending Violence Against Women (MAPEVAW) -- which launched June 25-29 in all three counties (Lofa, Nimba Montserrado). In July, IRC-Liberia hosted a regional exchange visit of IRC/GBV Staff from Sierra Leone & Ivory Coast to see the MIP Project activities to learned new promising practices to be taken back to their respective programs.

    James and I are now returning to Liberia to provide follow-up training for GBV staff involved with the Male Involvement Project, to support GBV staff in conducting a monitoring exercise in each of the 9 communities, and to provide consultation for the new GBV Program Coordinator, Navanita Bhattacharya, national GBV Coordinator, Gertrude Garway, and other key constituencies on the development of a longer term prevention strategy.

    This is a remarkable opportunity for both Men's Resources International and the International Rescue Committee. Together we are pioneering a model for engaging men in community-based initiatives throughout Liberia for ending gender-based violence. With the vision, leadership and staff support of IRC the men and women involved in this project are developing their awareness, skills and collaborative power to influence the norms and behaviors in a country that is emerging from a devastating history of violence.

    We will do our best to keep you updated on this journey with regularly posts (and sometimes photos) on this blog. Thanks for your interest and support!

    Posted by Jorge at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

    February 16, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Saying Goodbye

    This morning, with mixed feelings, I packed my bags and checked out of the hotel. James and I spent most of the morning with Kelly, debriefing the past two weeks, sharing our recommendations, and planning for the additional week of James’ stay. We all agreed the consultation and trainings have been tremendously successful, and see great value in continuing to build on the IRC/MRI partnership.

    James and I took Ballah out for lunch in appreciation of his dedication and hard work in launching the Male Involvement Project and taking care of us during this visit. He expressed deep gratitude for the key role that MRI has played in his professional development and in establishing a strong foundation for the project.

    Before departing for the airport, we helped Ballah and Kelly draft monitoring forms for the men’s action groups, and a form for gathering feedback about the men’s groups from the women’s action groups. We were also treated with a visit from Gertrude (GBV National Program Coordinator) and her 2-month-old baby, Berit.

    After heartfelt goodbyes, James accompanied me on the 45-minute drive to Roberts International Airport for the long journey home. We were both sad to be separating, but grateful that he will have another week for additional consultation and training. He will be supervising the Monrovia based MIP trainers in their two day practicum. Then, the IRC trainers from Lofa, Nimba and Montserrado will come together and he will provide additional feedback and group facilitation training. If possible, a follow-up meeting with Ministry of Gender and Development staff will also be arranged.

    There is no doubt that our time together with the IRC team in Liberia has been used effectively and produced great value for many different groups (IRC staff, men’s action groups, women’s action groups, Ministry of Gender and Development, international NGOs, community organizations, and MRI). We are grateful to IRC for the vision, commitment and courage to launch a Male Involvement Project. We know we have also learned as much as anyone.

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

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

    February 15, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: GBV Task Force of the Ministry of Gender and Development

    Today’s training was presented to members of the GBV Task Force of the Ministry of Gender and Development. Participants included representatives from UNICEF, UNFP, Christian Children’s Fund, Save the Children, the Ministry of Gender, and community-based organizations. They were all eager to learn about our approach to engaging men, and we were excited by the conversations about the personal, cultural and organizational implications. The idea of a coordinated national awareness campaign was introduced by Kelly, and strongly endorsed by the group. A sub-committee was formed to further develop a proposal to be brought to the full task force. Everyone left with a copy of our training handbook, a Voice Male magazine, a new consciousness about involving men in the work of ending violence, and stronger connections with each other. Bringing MRI back for additional training was a topic of post-workshop conversation among a number of the participants.

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

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

    February 14, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Reunited with James

    After a night in Ghanta, Kelly, Edwin and I drove two hours to meet James and Ballah returning from their practicum training with a men’s group in Kolahun in Lofa. The ride back to Monrovia was filled with the excited sharing and comparing of our experiences, and drinking in the Liberian landscapes and villages.

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

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

    February 13, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Gifts and Gratitude in Karnplay

    Early this morning, I walked to the IRC-sponsored health clinic in Karnplay. There was already a large group of women and children waiting outside. Since I did not have time to wait, I discussed the situation with the IRC staff. Their social worker, Alice, took Josephine to the clinic, where she received a shot and pills. Alice will personally take her to the clinic for the next two days for follow-up treatment. It was impressive to see the coordinated system of IRC services mobilize to respond to this situation. I shudder to think of what might have happened to this girl if these services had not been available.

    During the second day of training, more and more men stood up to talk about their own experiences of violence, as perpetrators, survivors and witnesses. More and more women stood up to speak, often in their native language, about the violence and disrespect they experienced from men. The men, as a group, asked the women how they could support them, and responded with words of commitment to serve as allies, role models, and change agents in their community.

    The training ended with the signature Men’s Resources International pole ceremony. Each person tied a length of fiber (brought from home) to the pole. As they stepped back, holding one end, we created a large circle of connection. Turning the pole, we wound the ribbons together into a symbol for their community. By the time James and I leave, there will be four communities with poles like this one. Upcoming trainings from the IRC Male Involvement staff will produce an additional six, created by men’s and women’s groups throughout Liberia. And they all know they share this symbol with communities in Zambia and Nigeria and the United States. The web of connection is growing.

    To my surprise, another ceremony followed. The community presented me with a bowl of kola nuts, two huge stalks of banana, several pineapples, and a live chicken, with remarks of gratitude from the leaders of the men’s and women’s groups. As I climbed into the van to begin the return journey, my tears flowed, knowing that the bonds of connection will remain even as we are separated by vast physical and cultural distances.

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

    To see a photo of Josephine and to read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 04:51 PM | Comments (0)

    February 12, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Male Involvement Training in Karnplay

    An early morning drive in the van took us further in to the "bush." For more than two hours we traveled over an increasingly small and rutted road, past rubber plantations and villages with one- or two-room homes constructed with blocks of packed earth. As everywhere in Liberia, most of the children and many of the adults waved and smiled when they spotted me.

    I am told that Liberians have a special relationship with the United States, because many ex-slaves who returned to Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century settled in this country. The U.S. has been seen as a cultural and economic "big brother." Unfortunately, as far as I can see, we have not lived up to our family responsibilities.

    When we arrived at our destination, the women's center in the small town of Karnplay, women and men came pouring out of the building singing and drumming, greeting us with big smiles and the characteristic handshake that includes snapping of the middle fingers. For the next two days, forty-five people (the 25 members of the men's action group, 15 representatives from the women's action group, and 5 community leaders) packed into the women's center to sit on wooden benches in the sweltering heat, to participate in our "male involvement training." Other adults and children frequently stood at the open windows listening and watching with great curiosity.

    Ernest and Edwin lead most of the program, based on the training and the handbook that James and I had given the IRC staff last week. I provided them coaching and feedback, and conducted selected presentations and activities. They did an excellent job of translating the ideas into colloquial English, and using stories and experiences relevant to the lives of Liberians to make the concepts meaningful.

    Once again we saw the power and effectiveness of a popular education approach, as we invited participants to share their personal experiences with violence and abuse. Ironically, staff and participants alike have become accustomed to a lecture style approach to education. The training themes included men listening to women, subtle forms of abuse, men and women breaking the silence about experiences with violence, male socialization to "be in the box," the relationship between powerlessness and violence, and men and women as allies.

    Once again, the women's circle activity provided men the opportunity to hear the voices and experiences of women, without interrupting or reacting. When they are invited to really listen in this way, the men's response is filled with compassion, and a collective statement of "we are sorry."

    Over and over we heard heartbreaking stories about surviving during the war, family violence, abandonment, sexual assault and child labor. More and more men stood up to tell about their own experiences of violence, as perpetrators, survivors and witnesses. More and more women stood up to speak, often in their native language, about the violence and disrespect experienced from men. As the gathered community received these stories, a palpable healing process connected our hearts together in the courage and strength of our collective compassion. And, once again, we ended the day with the ceremony of planting the pole into a pot supported by the rocks of individual's commitment to ending violence in their families and community.

    As we prepared to go to the IRC house in Karnplay for the night, a young woman (perhaps 14 years old) approached me and showed me her hand, extremely swollen with a very large, pus-filled sore. She was very shy, but told me "it hurts." Josephine had only used "country medicine," and said she did not have the money to get other medicine. I told her I would try to find help for her, and asked her to meet me tomorrow. Edwin later explained to me that she was not from this town, and that a folk belief says a swollen hand of a visitor means you are not welcomed by the community (while swollen feet means that you are). I am challenged to figure out how I can be helpful...

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

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 03:31 AM | Comments (0)

    February 11, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Getting to Ghanta

    After checking out of our hotel, we climbed into an IRC van, picked up Edwin (Male Involvement Project trainer), Kelly (GBV Program Coordinator) and Ballah (MIP officer) and left Monrovia for the north of Liberia. The journey took us through the rain forest, past villages of thatched huts, UNMIL (United Nations Mission In Liberia) military checkpoints, large rubber plantations (the Firestone plantation is the largest in the world), and constant small groups of people walking along the road. After two hours we reached the "swap" point where James and Ballah boarded another IRC van for the four-hour trip to Lofa County, near the border with Sierra Leone. The rest of us continued for another two hours on seriously potholed roads to the town of Ghanta in Nimba County, near the border with Guinea.

    Ghanta is a lively town with a central business district of small shops and a college of health sciences. The IRC office in Ghanta is surrounded by a large bamboo fence and a corrugated metal gate (very different from the cement walls and razor wire in Monrovia). I stayed in one of their IRC staff houses with Bernard, who I had lived with when I was in Liberia in November, and two others who also work for the IRC health program. Bernard and Moses are from Kenya, and Peterson is from Uganda.

    That evening, Edwin and Ernerst (the Male Involvement Project staff for Nimba County) and I walked through town. The footpath took us past girls playing kickball (the ball was broken open and had no air), women preparing dinner, a man ironing clothes (the iron heated by hot coals in a central chamber), and children eagerly pointing and waving to me.

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

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 03:29 AM | Comments (1)

    February 10, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: A Painstakingly Slow Road to Recovery

    We ended this day at a restaurant with tables literally on the beach sand. Sitting just yards away from the thundering surf, the offshore night breeze sending waves of mist over us, the sky awash with stars, drinking beer and eating a mountain of food, we were painfully aware of the realities of extreme poverty that surrounded us.

    Chatting with the security guards at the entrance of the restaurant, I was told that they are paid 1,500 Liberian dollars per month (with the exchange rate at 60:1, this is the equivalent of $25 USD/month). He further explained that a sack of rice costs $1,400 Liberian. The weight of this reality is hard to fathom, and it is frightening to think what happens to people when they feel hopeless about anything changing this situation. The cynicism of the security guards about the government's ability to make any changes was reflected in a CNN report on Liberia later that night that said unemployment is at 85%, international economic aid is inadequate, and there are thousands of recently disarmed ex-combatants in the country.

    The war is over, and the country is on a painstakingly slow road to recovery, but the desperation and frustration of these young men multiplied by an ever expanding urban population of repatriated refugees and internally displaced people leaves the peace on fragile ground.

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

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 03:26 AM | Comments (0)

    MRI in Liberia: Ministry of Gender & Development

    Training at the Ministry of Gender & Development

    It's a day off today, and we spent the morning getting a driving tour of the city and surrounding communities. The combined traumas of poverty and 14 years of war are hard to fathom. And yet, life goes on. The streets are teeming with people, who are coming out and back from hiding in their houses or refugee camps. Burned-out buildings are everywhere. So much has been destroyed. The harsh realities of day-to-day life are against a backdrop of powerful and poignant rebuilding of lives and the country.

    Yesterday's day of training at the Ministry of Gender and Development was very exciting. (The working air conditioning system definitely made our work easier.) The participants were engaged and inspired by our popular education approach to engaging men as allies with women in ending gender-based violence (GBV). While the concept of men's involvement is increasingly being recognized as important in this work, everyone is hungry for effective strategies and skills for actually doing it. By the end of the day, the 70 men and women had a personal and emotional experience of how men can be powerful allies with women, and were now a network ready for collective action. Next week we will be meeting with the Ministry's Inter-Agency GBV Task to begin planning a national campaign that can mobilize these networks of individuals, organizations and men's and women's actions groups.

    Tomorrow we leave Monrovia (the capital) for more rural regions, and will support the IRC staff that participated in our training of trainers in conducting similar trainings with the men and women from these communities.

    Our work in Liberia is touching many sectors, from the Ministry of Gender and Development to grassroots men's and women's action groups. We are deeply honored to be part of a growing movement in Liberia of healing and accountability for the legacies of violence. And we are grateful to the International Rescue Committee for providing the support to bring us here and the staff to work with the men and women throughout the country.

    Steven Botkin
    Executive Director
    Men's Resources International

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

    February 08, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Heat and Hope

    The heat here is brutal, and there is less air conditioning than in any of my other trips to Africa. The last day of the training went very well, and everyone was very satisfied. James and I are a great team for this work, and able to cover a wide range of content and process issues, providing participants a very personal and emotional experience.

    Today we were at the Ministry of Gender and Development for the first day of a two day workshop on engaging men for community members from the Monrovia region. There were about 70 participants, 2/3 men. The city power was out, so there was no air conditioning, and the room was stifling. Lunch was delayed by road blockage until after 2:30 pm, and the workshop process was challenging, with many different levels of experience with the issues.

    And yet, it was great to be there and witness the process of a country struggling to address and end violence. The brutal reality of these people's lives, both currently and historically, far outweighs the heat and challenges of the day, and their commitment to the issue and their communities is monumental. James and I facilitate tomorrow's session, and we are looking forward to the challenge of helping the group move forward.

    We have had the luxury of ending our work days around 5 pm each day, and have been able to take walks on the street each evening. The sense of safety here is significantly greater than in Nigeria, and even more than when I was here in November. Some street lights are now powered by the government, and the streets are teeming with life. It is mind blowing to imagine the years of violence that terrorized this country, keeping people in hiding and fearful of being out on the street.

    The days are passing quickly, each one filled with great challenges and adventures that I relish and feel very lucky to have. Imagining the cold in New England is quite delightful right now. And for those of you who are living with that, we are happy to share some of this heat with you.

    With love,

    Steven Botkin
    Executive Director
    Men's Resources International

    To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

    February 06, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: Second Day of Training of Trainers

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    We have just completed the second training of trainers day with the IRC staff of the Male Involvement Project and senior social workers in the GBV (Gender-Based Violence) Program. As in Zambia and Nigeria our approach to engaging men is striking a powerful chord for this group of 14 men and women. However, unlike these other trainings, in Liberia the participants are staff of an established organization who are paid to carry out the ideas and activities developed from the training. The skills and strategies they are learning in this training will be immediately implemented through women's and men's group in nine very different communities throughout Liberia.

    We began the day with a focus on the causes and effects of silence about violence. Because our emphasis is on being role models for a social change process, the work being done in the training is very deep and personal. The men practiced listening to women, a remarkably simple, but profoundly moving experience for everyone. A brainstorm and group discussion about being a man revealed the advantages and disadvantages for fitting in and stepping out of the "box" of masculinity. And the story of male socialization from the point of view of the little boy helped the group develop deeper insights into the root of male violence. The men then practiced telling stories about their own experiences with violence, further breaking the silence and contradicting the shame and isolation. The emotions tapped were moving for everyone. We ended the day with our bamboo ritual, planting the pole into a pot with each person adding a stone representing their commitment to the vision of non-violence and gender equality.

    We are excited by the impacts this training will have on men, women and communities in Liberia. And the Male Involvement Project in Liberia has the potential to be a powerful model of what can be accomplished when Men's Resources International is able to partner with an existing program with the staff and resources for widespread dissemination and institutional support.

    In commitment and faith,

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

    Note: For a compilation of all blog entries with photos from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

    February 05, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: First Day of Training

    Monday morning I got up with the beautiful sound of a bird whistling and I felt blessed to wake with such a gift of sound. I got ready for the day ahead. Steven and I met for breakfast and then were picked up and brought to the training site: the YWCA of Liberia. It was good to feel the connection with this women’s organization — supporting us, and the men in the training — on this journey to healthy and positive masculinity.

    There were about 20 participants from around the country and they were eager to get on with the training. The introductions gave us insight about where each person came from and what is their connection to this work.

    The first part of the day went so quickly that we had to double check to see how much we had accomplished. The feedback we got to our questions helps us to guide them and to challenge their thinking and comfort zone. They know how valuable they are in this. Challenging their countrymen to look at this process of manhood without violence, oppression or coercion will not be easy.

    I continue to feel the blessing.

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

    Note: For a compilation of all blog entries with photos from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

    February 03, 2007

    MRI in Liberia: 1776 miles left to Brussels

    1776 miles left to Brussels.

    9:47 pm
    Our day started at 12 noon to catch planes from Bradley to DC to Brussels. Even though we flew from Bradley to DC we ended up flying over Hartford again towards Halifax and then across the Atlantic. This is our third trip to the motherland, and if this is not a blessing, I don’t know what is.

    The past few weeks of prepping for this trip tells us how fast we have grown, how much we are learning, and how much more we need to learn and grow to enhance our development.

    So, we began this trip the way we usually do, giving thanks for all the strength, guidance, courage and humbleness, and evoking the spirits of our ancestors to continue to guide us in all we do. We know this experience of our third trip to the motherland, to the cradle of civility and civilization is a gift and a blessing and we honor that. Like all our trips, this one is unique, and we continue to blaze new trails.

    The years of civil war in Liberia, and the suffering of the Liberian people make it especially important to us to invoke these blessings. I am overjoyed and honored to be with my brothers and sisters who have gone through so much in the past few years, and to join with them at this great moment in time to work together to help support a healthy community.

    As I ask for the wisdom to be present to this journey, I stand still, relax, and breathe deeply, using every cell in my body, and my third eye to listen quietly. I open myself to feel the pain, and relish in the hope of the coming generations of my brothers and sisters who will carry on the vision. Together we will work tirelessly to see that men in all their communities will be vigilant in their support of women and children in a safer world.

    I thank the Supreme Creator for the opportunity to be a part of the vision.

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

    Note: For a compilation of all blog entries from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

    Posted by Daniel at 09:47 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

    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)

    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)

    October 31, 2006

    Thoughts from Liberia

    Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2006 18:02:37

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    I've made it to Liberia. The country is completely amazing. Bombed buildings and UN peacekeepers everywhere. Hordes of yellow taxis honking their way through streets crowded with colorful people. A country in post-war jubiliation and trauma, reminds me of traveling to Israel one month after the 1967 war.

    The International Rescue Committee is one among many major international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) with high visibility. This is a world I am quickly learning to understand and navigate.

    The people in the GBV (gender-based violence) program are a wonderful mix of internationals (from the U.S., Kenya, Ethiopia among other), and Liberians, many of whom have been involved during the war. The new male involvement coordinator, Joseph Bala, is very intelligent and compassionate and has a smile that is even bigger than mine. Today we met with a number of the male and female staff of IRC. They now have a very good feeling for the MRI strategy and style, and I can say confidently that there is a feeling of alliance that is already very strong.

    Tomorrow we meet with people from the Ministry of Gender and Development, another important constituency to build relationship with.

    I am thrilled about these challenges, and miss having my colleague James with me to share them. I am sending my love out to him as he travels today to Nigeria.

    With love to you all from Africa,

    Steven Botkin
    Executive Director
    Men's Resources International

    Posted by Daniel at 01:56 PM | Comments (0)

    October 28, 2006

    Steven Botkin: Leaving for Liberia

    Today I’m getting on a plane to Liberia. Six days later I fly to Nigeria. In both places Men’s Resources International will be working with women and men who are committed to ending violence in their communities.

    In Liberia MRI has been contracted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to help develop and launch a “Men’s Involvement Project.” The IRC already has gender-based violence programs providing services to women in many of the countries where they work. When I land in Monrovia on Sunday night, I will begin five days of consultation with IRC staff and the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development with whom they are working closely. We will be preparing for a return visit in early 2007 when MRI will conduct an extensive MRI training of Liberian men to be outreach workers and facilitators of men’s involvement in gender-based violence prevention.

    Next Friday, a short flight will take me to Lagos, Nigeria. At the airport, if all goes well, I will meet up with Fidele from Rwanda (who just started the Rwanda Men’s Centre), Stephen and Stanislaus from Zambia (leaders of the Zambian Men’s Network). Together, we will travel via air and car to the Nigerian city, Abakaliki. MRI Associate Director, James Arana, (who will have already been in Abakaliki for two days), and I will then conduct an MRI training for the Ebonyi Men’s Resource Centre, where the MRI training will take place.

    We return together to Massachusetts on November 14.

    As you can imagine, I am filled with excitement by the many challenges and opportunities of this journey. We will do our best to send regular journal updates and photographs to Daniel Coyne, at MRI headquarters in Springfield, who will post them on our website weblog, where you can also post your comments and questions.

    Our mission, “mobilizing networks of men, in alliance with women, to act as role models for violence prevention and positive masculinity,” is guiding us in the journey. Your love and support is welcome and deeply appreciated. We know we do not travel alone.

    Posted by Daniel at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

    August 09, 2006

    New comments now posted

    My apologies to everyone who has commented on blog entries in the last month or so. You comments were quietly piling up in a hidden corner of the admin site, waiting for my approval. Meanwhile, I was wondering why everyone was so quiet!

    With Russell's help, I finally got into the admin section, deleted the avalanche of spam and published the legit comments that were pending.

    So -- keep them coming and I'll try to stay on top of posting them in a timely manner.


    Posted by Daniel at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

    June 27, 2006

    New blogger in town

    Hey folks – Daniel Coyne here. This is my first official post on Uncommon Man. I joined the MRI team as director of marketing and communications this spring, and have found this blog to be a great help in learning about gender sensitivity and male violence and the many different voices contributing to the discussion of these issues. Russell has done an amazing job at selecting thought-provoking articles framed with his sensitive and astute comments.

    I have nothing profound to say in this inaugural post, nor do I have radical changes to announce for this blog. Initially, I will do my best to continue the work that Russell has done so well. One change that I would like to facilitate is to bring additional voices to this forum. MRI is fortunate to have an incredibly diverse family of supporters and allies with unique voices and perspectives. I would like to invite a handful of them to use this forum regularly to share their ideas.

    I would also like to encourage all of our regular (and occasional) readers to contribute by submitting your comments. Discussion threads can really bring the nuances of issues and ideas to life. I look forward to hearing from you!

    Posted by Daniel at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

    June 26, 2006

    Stepping Back...

    This is my last week as the "web-master" of The Uncommon Man. It has been a fun year. I've loved bringing this site into fruition. I am turning the "web-master-thing" over to the very capable hands of Daniel Coyne. We've spent some time talking about The Uncommon Man - my vision and his. I feel very confident that he will take this blog in a great direction. In the meantime, you may still see me pop in for some guest blogging. Also, if you are interested I have a website featuring some of my creative endeavors - not particularly male-centric or feminist in focus. I call it All My Shoes and Glasses.

    Both Daniel and I will be posting this week.

    Posted by Russell at 06:33 AM | Comments (0)

    June 22, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 11


    Saturday, June 17 – Lusaka to London

    Simuyi, Stephen and his wife, Lucy, drove us to the airport for our early morning plane flight from Lusaka. After heartfelt goodbyes, invitations to the U.S., and promises to return to Zambia, we boarded the plane. After an extended delay, we began our 10 hour flight back to London, where we discovered we had missed our connecting flight to Brussels. The disappointment was softened by overnight and meal vouchers at the Hilton Hotel. We enjoyed the luxuries, while being struck by the dramatic contrast with life in Zambia.

    Sunday, June 18 – London to Brussels

    Back in the air again, we marveled at how quickly we are moving from country to country. Soon we were pulling our bags through the busy streets of Brussels, clattering over cobblestones and weaving through Sunday tourists, in search of our hotel. After settling in we began and extended stroll through the city.

    James writes: So much has happen in such a short time, and all with blessings. Where am I today? Oh yah, Brussels. I am amazed at the architecture and history that is around me. Buildings full of history, fountains, palaces, and new design and use of space and shapes. The temperature and people are marvelous. The opportunity to be where I am continues to be just overwhelming and inspiring. I am looking forward to the next two days to making connections that will help to bring the work we’ve been doing to share with others who are working for the same cause. I’m looking forward to bring back all my experiences from the past two weeks back home, and make this world a little smaller by helping to bring people from around the world closer together to share their love, passions and hope with each other.

    Monday, June 19 – Violence Prevention Alliance meeting

    The day was spent in a hotel meeting room (basement with no windows), with 30 other people from around the world. It was a fascinating experience hearing about other violence prevention initiatives in Jamaica, Uganda, England, Germany, Scotland, etc. We even met two people who had lived in Northampton, Massachusetts. As a group, we worked on defining the structure and activities of the Violence Prevention Alliance, a difficult challenge given the great diversity of experience and focus (from governmental to grass-roots organizations addressing everything from torture to gun violence to domestic violence). The formal meeting will continue tomorrow morning. However, tonight all the members are being treated to dinner by the Belgium Health Department at a restaurant on Le Grand Place, and the informal networking has been very productive, with a number of people expressing interest in our work.

    Update - Photos from Brussels

    Posted by Russell at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

    June 19, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 10

    Victoria Falls to Lusaka – Friday, June 16

    We rose early today, each taking walks to experience morning in Livingstone. In a small touring car with two guides from the guest house, we drove to the Great Falls. First stop was the Sun Hotel which sits at the top of the falls. Monkeys scampered around the grounds while guest sat eating and drinking on verandas. Affluence and privilege abounded.

    Further down the road were the main trails to the falls where James saved us money by (proudly) passing for a Zambian, who have a significantly lower entrance fee. In rented raincoats we traveled along the embankment across from the massive falls. The experience was grand on every level. Vision, sound, and touch combined into an awesome soul shaking. Powerful downpours of water from the mist alternated with sunshine and rainbows. We were cleansed with libations from the gods. The spectacular bridge to Zimbabwe kept appearing and disappearing at different angles.

    Because we were leaving Zambia early the next morning, and wanting to avoid another eight hours bus ride for our return trip, we booked the last plane flight back to Lusaka, and had to leave the Falls all too soon. As we drove toward the airport a family of baboons jumped through trees and followed us alongside the road.

    The one hour flight brought us back to Lusaka with enough time to meet Simuyi and take him out to lunch in gratitude for all of his hospitality. We then went shopping at a “cultural village,” where local crafts people and merchants were eagerly selling us their products, At a final meeting with YWCA executive director, Mrs. Kaumba, we all affirmed our desire to continue the relationship and the importance of follow up to the MRI training with the Men’s Network. After a final dinner at Simuyi’s, we packed our bags in preparation for next day’s early departure.

    Posted by Russell at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

    Zambia Trip - Entry 9

    Lusaka to Livingstone

    This morning we sang happy birthday (51st) to Patrick, before we drove him to the Lusaka airport for his return trip to Nigeria (via an overnight in Nairobi). We have found another deeply committed brother of the heart, and vowed to meet again in Nigeria as soon as we find sponsors for a training there. He was deeply moved by what we were able to accomplish in the Zambia training, and brings home lots of ideas about how to organize something similar in Abakaliki.

    Our videographer captured images of Lusaka from the car as we drove to the YWCA. (He taped the entire training, and was so moved by what he saw, that he declared with gusto in the closing circle, “I am joining you!”) At the YWCA we met several training participants for debriefing and good-byes. They were obviously hungry for as much contact as they could get. We toured the YWCA ceramics shop where beautiful pottery and electric company insulators are produced, and fantasized about finding ways to bring some of their products to a world market.

    In a last minute decision, we drove to the bus station to board a bus to Livingstone for an overnight visit to Victoria Falls. As we stepped out of the YWCA car, we left the relatively protected world of the training venue and our host family, and entered the life of Zambia in a new way. We sat in the small bus for an hour until it was packed with more people than we thought was possible. The journey to the southernmost city of Zambia, on the border with Zimbabwe, was twice as long as we expected, stopping at many of the small towns on the way. We were amazed that many passengers were wearing coats and wanted the windows closed, while we were sweating and breathing gas fumes for the entire trip. We arrived in Livingstone at midnight, and were quickly surrounded by aggressive cab drivers looking for our business. Thankfully, we were met by Stephen Mbati’s brother-in-law, who helped us find a comfortable guest house, and the first western style shower with substantial hot water we have had since arriving in Zambia.

    Most recent patch of photos

    Lusaka day three - the village 040[3].jpg

    Posted by Russell at 06:15 AM | Comments (2)

    June 15, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 8

    Training Day One

    This day has been an amazing experience. The room was filled with over 20 people, mostly young men. (In Zambia they refer to “youth” as people ages 18 to 35.) They were eager and very intelligent. We opened the day using a large bamboo pole cut from the YWCA executive director’s farm as a talking stick for each person to introduce themselves with their name, where they are from and expectations for the day. We explained that we would be joining together for a ritual of healing as well as a training. The power of the day continued to build, as the women shared their experiences to a circle of men who were supportive and caring. The men then began to share their experiences of violence, abuse and abandonment. We practiced saying to each other “I hear you. I understand you. I am with you.”

    We were very impressed with how well informed these men are about violence against women, and how deep their commitment is. Everyone left the day filled with a greater recognition of their potential for supporting each other and healing violence.

    We’re off to a great start. We have been able to hire a videographer for the training, and know that we have documented many powerful moments to share with others.

    Now we are eager to head back to our temporary home, collapse, and watch some soccer.


    Training Day Two

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    We have spent another remarkable day with the Zambia Men’s Network and the leadership of the Zambia YWCA. This training is clearly making a tremendous difference, and the appreciation being expressed from everyone is heartfelt and enthusiastic.

    The day began with remarks from the President of the YWCA board of directors, a representative of the Zambia Men’s Network, our colleague from Nigeria, and Steven. The President was clearly moved by our opening activities and hearing from participants about the impacts of our first day. The YWCA executive director has been very pleased by our approach and the learning and inspiration that is obviously happening for the members of the ZMN.

    As we began working on developing action plans, the creativity and talents of the ZMN members continued to shine. They have developed plans for a Zambian men’s pledge against violence, community outreach, educational performances, outreach to men in prison, and a national membership campaign.

    We ended the day with a ritual (of course) of “planting” the bamboo pole into a large flower pot with each person placing a stone into the base while saying what they are giving to the growth of the men’s network. (Those of you who attended our open house in Springfield will recognize the format.)

    What is happening here in Zambia is truly pioneering work, and a model for the rest of the world. We have expressed the support of people from the United States for their efforts, and we feel your support for us.


    Posted by Russell at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

    Zambia Update

    Sorry that there has been some "radio silence" from Zambia. As you will see below, the issue of electricity and internet availability has been a problem. Here is an update from James:

    Sorry for being out of touch, but as you know it was out of our hands. The power we take for granted goes on and off at will. The running water come and goes at will and of course things just seem to not happen on our time frame. Such is the nature of things out here. I am home. Okay, Steven and I for the past two days have been trying to email out but just have not been able to do it. The internet cafe had to close down early because the network went down with no explanation. The best yet is that last night we had our graduation ceremony real Africa style with no electricity in the whole complex and again, no explanation. Our workshops went extremely well. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I know you'll be getting more updates from Steven soon. Well, if all goes as planned... James

    Posted by Russell at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

    June 11, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 7

    From Steven Botkin, sent Saturday, June 10, 2006 8:01 AM

    Lusaka Day Three

    Last night we took our first bus ride in Lusaka, squeezing into a VW sized bus with many others returning home from work.

    In the morning we went back to the University to meet several professors, the director of the gender studies department and a professor of sociology. We happened to be there at the dedication of a new HIV testing clinic, donated by a group from southern India, so we got to meet the vice-chancellor and assistant dean. Everyone expressed great interest in our work and the possibility of having us come back to work with undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty. They will also help us begin to make connections with some of the other international NGOs in Zambia.

    We then met up with our friend and colleague Reverend Abednego Mambwe who we had met a few months ago when he was visiting the U.S. He is founder and director of New Vision For Africa, bringing donated computers to Zambian schools. We had a delightful visit at his home, meeting his family and seeing his office and warehouse. Our connection with him holds great prospects for the future.

    This afternoon our the host of the home where we are staying is driving us out of Lusaka to his village. We are looking forward to seeing more of Zambia.

    Message from Abednego:
    Having met the two friends in the US has been a great delight and joy to my heart, and that now that they are with me in Zambia I want to participate even though I have a sister on her deathbed. Please continue to think about them, and also assistance in any way while they are with me in Zambia. Thank you very much.

    Message from Abel, young brother to Abednego:
    It is great to meet brother Steven and Brother James from America. Their brotherhood and smiles pleases my heart. I felt very glad to have met the two brothers. May the Lord be with them as they visit Zambia. It is my hope and prayer that this is the beginning of our great brotherhood. Thank you.

    Here are the Zambia Day 7 photos

    Posted by Russell at 07:45 PM | Comments (0)

    Zambia Trip - Entry 6

    From Steven Botkin, sent Friday, June 9, 2006 1:50 PM


    We’re sitting in one of the two shopping malls in Lusaka at the end of a long day. We began the day, after a round of tai chi and breakfast provided by our host family, at the Zambia Immigration Office, finalizing the visa for Patrick from Nigeria to join us in the training next week. Then we drove to the YWCA of Zambia, which has its own extensive compound of buildings. (We’ve been amazed at how frequently buildings and private homes are surrounded by high cement walls topped with barbed wire or electric fences, with large metal entrance gates, often staffed by a security person.) We spent time getting to know eight young men who were members of the Zambia Men’s Network. We were all excited to finally be sitting together. They described how effective the survey (see below) we had sent them was in reaching out to and starting conversions with their friends and family. They are all volunteer peer educators and have done presentations in schools, as well as going door to door. One of the many questions they asked of us was how to sustain their passion for this work and make it financially viable for themselves and their families.

    Today was graduation at the University of Zambia. We were surrounded by proud families, bright smiles, and colorful clothes as we stopped to pick up our training handbooks from the printer. (See our photos)

    The day was filled with driving through Lusaka traffic arranging logistics for the training. (One of our board members who has done international work warned us that many logistics would require last minute revisions, and he was correct.) We have great respect for Stephen Mbati, the Zambia Men’s Network director, for his patience and persistence in addressing all of these challenges.

    We’re tired from the day, but very grateful for each experience, and each person we are meeting. After sending off this report, we hope to return to our “home” in Zambia in time to catch the end of the first game of the World Cup.

    Here are the Zambia Day 6 photos


    Posted by Russell at 07:34 PM | Comments (0)

    June 09, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 5

    Blog entry from Steven, sent Thursday, June 8, 2006 18:29

    We arrived in Zambia early this morning, safe and sound.

    It's been a day of driving around Lusaka, trying to figure out how to deal with phone, money, accommodations, printing. The logistics were a pain, but the experience of driving around an African city has been amazing. Check out our photos on Snapfish (I'll send the link soon). The people have been warm and friendly. Humanity is so similar, and so different, around the world. Definitely lots of views of people literally scratching out a living - breaking stones on the side of the road, selling things to cars at intersections.

    One stop in our travels today was particularly poignant. We visited Stephen Mbati's father in a small hospital. He is very sick with prostate cancer. His mother maintains a constant vigil at his bedside, along with other family members who come and go. The conversation turned to U.S. politics, of which they are very knowledgeable. The feelings are clearly frustration and confusion about the role of our country on the world stage. We empathized and agreed.


    Posted by Russell at 07:58 PM | Comments (1)

    Zambia Trip - Entry 4

    Blog Entries from James and Steven, sent: Thursday, June 8, 2006 1:54 PM
    Photos at Snapfish

    From James Arana
    As we board the plane for Zambia, I pointed to Steven the beam of lights shooting from the sky in anticipation of our arrival. (Look for that picture.)

    After taking a well overdue nap, I got up right on time as our plane found land, mother Africa called me with open arms and welcome. I gave my praise to the supreme creator and my ancestors for carrying me on their backs, and on their wings. I gave thanks to my mother, for I know it is through her guidance that I am here. I gave thanks and praise to my family, for they are with me. Upon getting off the plane, I stumbled and it felt good to catch myself, because I had to be present to this profound experience. I stood, looked around me, and took in the sights, sounds and textures of Zambia, and my soul felt good. Again, I gave thanks for everyone who is present in my life.

    Oh, how time stands still when you don’t know where you are going. We stood at the airport entrance for two hours, waiting to be met by our host, who, like me, continues to experience car trouble. And, it was good, giving up the immediate access to control that we have grown so accustomed to in the U.S. And, it was good, to wait and watch the flow of people coming and going. Looking at the facial features that are so familiar to me is like looking in the mirror and finding my long lost brothers and sisters.

    The question I am being asked as we meet people throughout our day is, “Is this my first time to Zambia or Africa?” And yes is my answer. And I continue to be welcomed and informed about how glad they are that I was able to make it. They know that many more of our Black brothers and sisters from the Caribbean and the U.S. would like to, but can’t.

    After being picked up by Stephen Mbati, we got to experience the pace of Zambia, and it reminds me of being back home in Belize. As we drove towards the city of Lusaka, I am pointing out to both Stephens and Steven the trees I recognize fondly. Yes, in so many ways, I am back home.

    Long Lost Son – James


    From Steven Botkin
    Waiting in the London airport, we struck up a conversation with a young man from Kenya. He was returning home for the summer after spending two years in college in the U.S. He told us about his goal of writing a book about how to improve Kenyan secondary education to better prepare students for college in other countries. When told him about our work with the Zambian Men’s Network, his eyes lit up. He proudly explained how his friends call him a feminist, because he supports women’s equality. And he eagerly listened as we described how there are many men around the world, like himself, who are connecting with each other and learning how to have a stronger voice for equality.

    It is in these simple connections that we plant the seeds of inspiration and build the long-term relationships upon which a movement is built.

    —Steven Botkin

    Posted by Russell at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

    Zambia Trip - Entry 3

    Blog entry from James Arana, Program Director, Men’s Resources International

    Coming Full Circle

    Today from yesterday so long ago, I come back to you who never lost track and carried me across the sea and put me in the hands of your people who held me and nurtured me, who guided me.

    Never lost or abandoned for you paved the way for me to be safe, to survive for nothing, no man could interrupt your direction, your intention.

    I am living proof that your child has come back home.

    You watch over me and put me in the hands of native people when I was taken away from my native land.

    You show the world that the spirit of thru Native and natural is strong, unalterable relevant and strong.

    I go back home under the continual protection and guidance of you, my ancestors.

    Going Back Home

    This opportunity of a life time to go back home to a place I left five hundred years with no opportunity to know, or to say good by to my loved ones because of the greed from the new world, across the sea.

    I go back home with dignity, pride, love, desperation, and depredation of the soul of my people who are lost in the inner city of the concrete jungle of inequity.

    I am going back home for all my brothers and sisters who don’t remember they have a home.

    I go back home to share the universal connection that years of injustice could not extinguish hope.

    My going back home was by no means a smooth road for I am still run into slave traders on my way home, slavers who continue to round up my brothers and sisters in a system of incarceration of destruction
    I feel and see slave traders reaching out for me and those who look like me, and at times I barely make it out of their grip, their smear
    Hyper vigilant I must be for their traps are everywhere, speed traps for those who look like we, me. Trappings that entangle every time I move and give me no room to breath.

    Continually I climb up hill like in quick sand, barely being able to keep my head above water ands feeling the seaweed entangling my leg pulling me down.

    I reach out for home and feeling it just outside my grasp, slipping like sand through my hands.

    Barely making it here for my hands always seems to be tied behind my back.

    Posted by Russell at 07:04 AM | Comments (1)

    June 08, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 2

    Blog Entry 2: Sent from Steven Botkin on Wed 6/7/2006 7:27 AM

    We made it the first leg of our journey - London. It is becoming more tangible that in a few hours we will be meeting in person with people we have been communicating with by phone and email. To say that we are excited in anticipating this meeting is an understatement;

    The journey began with an auspicious meeting in the Boston airport. One of our long-term MRC colleagues in men's work, who has become a leader in the field through his work at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Juan Carlos Arean, was arriving at the airport at the same time that we were preparing to depart. We had a wonderful send-off and blessings on our travels. The synchronicity of this experience affirmed for us the power of relationship and how the forces of connection will continue to support our efforts.

    Right now, we are enjoying a few hours in London, taking in the sights and feelings of being in a new city, and beginning to get used to the new time zones. In a few hours we head back to Heathrow Airport for the 10 hour flight to Lusaka.

    Snap fish photo album

    London 022.jpg

    Posted by Russell at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

    June 07, 2006

    Zambia Trip - Entry 1

    Blog Entry 1: Sent from Steven Botkin on Tue 6/6/2006 2:06 PM

    This evening, James Arana and I will get on a plane in Boston and travel to Zambia. The journey will take us 8000 miles, over 27 hours (with an 11 hour layover in London). James, Daniel and I (the MRI staff) have been working very hard over the past several weeks to prepare for this trip, but it is also a journey across an ocean of unknowns...

    Even though we have known Stephen Mbati, Zambia Men’s Network founder, for more than a year, spending almost two weeks together in March 2005 hosting his U.S. study tour, we do not know the realities of life in Zambia for men and women. Although we know Stephen and others from the YWCA of Zambia are committed to engaging men in positive masculinity and violence prevention, we do not know how our approach to men’s work will be received in this cultural context.

    What we do know is that there are many men and women in Zambia who are eager to participate in the four days of leadership training we will be facilitating. We know that, together with the training participants, we will be delivering computers and making presentations to local schools. And we know that many men and women in the United States have supported us in making this journey happen.

    As we prepare to leave for the airport, I have been realizing that this is more than a business trip to present a training to colleagues in Africa. We are also working to create the opportunity for a powerful ritual of healing. This paradigm of healing ritual, which has always been central to my approach to men’s work, helps me to remember that we are in this together, and that there are sources of support and guidance that can be invoked to increase the power and effectiveness of our efforts. From this perspective, I welcome the unknowns as a source of guidance, I feel comforted by the presence of human and spiritual companions on this journey, and I know that I am not doing this alone. Every step in the journey becomes part of the ritual, another opportunity for invocation and connection.

    Thank you for your presence on this great journey. I will take you with me, and, through the wonders of technology, will be sending regular reflections and reports (and hopefully photos) via the weblog.

    May we all know peace,



    Posted by Russell at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

    Introduction to Zambia Trip

    Men's Resources International, the main sponsor of this site is involved in a great project. We thought that readers of The Uncommon Man would be interested in it...

    At this writing, MRI Executive Director, Steven Botkin, and Program Director, James Arana are on route to Zambia, Africa to conduct a 4-day leadership for the Zambia Men’s Network, hosted by the YWCA of Zambia. Additionally, in cooperation with New Vision for Africa, MRI will facilitate the delivery of computers to local schools by the MRI training participants.

    For some background on the Zambia training, click here.

    For the duration of their trip, we will post updates from the field on The Uncommon Man Weblog. Entries may be in the form of e-mails from Steven or James, or may be a recap of a phone call we receive. We’ll post any photos we receive, and include any relevant links. We expect to distribute a more comprehensive report of the training upon Steven and James’ return. In the meantime, we hope these informal updates provide an interesting glimpse into the process of this exciting work.

    Here is a photo of the Men's Resources International staff:

    MRI office 003.jpg

    Posted by Russell at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

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