How Moving my Life to New Zealand for 3 years Changed Me

I came to change New Zealand. After 3 years, New Zealand changed me. Cliche I know, but this ended up being the truth.

This post has been written over the past 18 months. My thoughts, my observations, and my feelings have obviously morphed along the way, but let’s just start at the beginning.

With 50lbs of luggage, a working knowledge of left hand driving, and one solid contact, I packed up what I owned and moved my life to New Zealand. I kissed my parents, hugged my niece, wished my siblings well, and flew. In my luggage was an optimistic, slightly naive, monstrously unrealistic idea that I was going to get a job, in my field, in the first few months. With…one…solid…contact. Yeah. Right. Continue reading “How Moving my Life to New Zealand for 3 years Changed Me”

Advertisements

What I’ve Been Doing for the Past 6 Months

Convicted murderer, high gang affiliations, addiction, domestic violence charges, and theft. I have to admit, I was quite nervous. Still, Te Whakaora Tangata wanted me to interview some people who attend their organization. I had never conducted interviews before, let alone talked for an hour at length with Maori people. What could I say? What couldn’t I say? What would be taboo for me to bring up? Will I insult them? What do I need to know before going into this? These questions and about thirty more were cycling through my head.

images

For those who didn’t know, for the past 6 months I have been living in New Zealand, working with Maxim Institute. Maxim Institute is not the think tank where they come up with a bunch of ideas for a dirty magazine (sorry if that joke flew over your head), but rather a political think tank where we discuss policy and inform the leaders of the nation about issues that matter. Yeah, it’s been an interesting time. And for those who know me and are like, “Eric? You? Working at a political think tank? Yeah, okay. So what are you actually doing in NZ, common, you can tell me.” Ummm, I don’t know what to tell you. I have been.

photo

I graduate on Thursday and reflecting on what I’ve done here has been bitter/sweet. The beginning of this post was describing the project that I have been working on for the past 4 months. Basically Maxim and Te Whakaora Tangata (an organization that works on the Marae (a sacred meeting place for Maori (the native people of NZ))) have partnered to bring their first placement together in the internships history. Mainly to best take advantage of my specific skills as a Social Worker. What can I say? I’m kindof a big deal.

The day that I applied to the Maxim Institute, they asked me what I was passionate about. I told them that I loved being on the ground floor, helping people in their place of need. TW saw this as an opportunity to do something that they have been meaning to do for some time. They asked me if I could go to the Marae and interview people who have used their services. The object was to hear them out. The opportunity to be heard is a very powerful thing. To be noticed, to feel loved, cared for, and heard…can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, as an organization, it is important to know that you are serving the people in the most effective and efficient way possible. This is done by the very popular and arduous process of research. I was to ask specific, and yet representative people questions about their past, present, and projected future through the work that TW has been doing in their lives. I was beyond excited. This was an opportunity for me to do what I have always wanted to do.

With my mentor Luke helping me through the process, I felt much more confident, as he has done this very thing in Germany 4 years ago. I knew from the start that the interviews would be incredibly helpful for the organization and for myself. I would gain knowledge and understanding about the people and culture, and TW would understand what they are doing well and maybe not so well.

Looking back on the experience now, I could not have been set up with a more perfect fit for my placement. This is Social Work. Helping people where they are at. Not in a cold office with a fluorescent light beating down on you, but on the streets, in their meeting places, in their homes, with their families, seeing the problems they’re facing, understanding their stories, and doing something about it. Social Work requires action, and I feel that my placement allowed me to know more about what that looks like. Now I am left with the question: “So what? What will you do about it?” Honestly, I can’t wait to answer that call, and this placement has given me the confidence to act.

This project was my baby, and tomorrow I present it to the organization, Maxim as well as the Lion Trust. I am excited and hopeful that the results will spur further action to aid the people in the Manurewa area. From here, I go on to bigger and more challenging opportunities in Social Work.

I will continue to live in the Maxim Intern Residence that I’ve been living in, until November, when the new batch of interns move in. There I will be living with the guys that I will be flatting with for the coming years in NZ. I have to say that I am excited for the changes ahead. Change, historically for me, Eric Peterson, doesn’t usually hit me until about 1-2 weeks later. At least not the sad things. So whatever comes, let it come. I’m ready for you.

BADALA: An Encouraging Difference

Chances are good that you have never heard of BADALA, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have. BADALA could very well be the most refreshing and encouraging difference being made in the lives of Africans that I have ever had the pleasure to discover.

BADALA is a company started by the highly motivated and driven Joelle McNamara. She started BADALA when she was only 17 years old, and by the time she graduated high school, the mere idea of BADALA was already a non-for-profit working to create change in the lives of children and widows across Nairobi, Kenya, and Rwanda. To quote the BADALA website:

“In Africa, when a woman is divorced or widowed and left with children, she has few options. Her avenues for income are often insufficient and socially unacceptable. Many women are forced to re-marry quickly, steal, prostitute themselves, or become beggars. Our microeconomic program seeks to provide an alternative to these methods of income to single mothers in impoverished communities by training and hiring them to make fair trade items.”

BADALA, which stands for “instead” in Swahili, is creating opportunities for these women to release themselves from the prisons of their circumstance. To quote Joelle McNamara, “BADALA is giving these women opportunities ‘instead’ of prostitution, begging, abuse, etc.” At only 24 years young, Joelle and her team are doing much more than your average philanthropist. They are acting on all the thoughts that have run through our minds:

“People are dying by the millions just because they don’t have enough to eat. Half the world’s children are sick because they don’t have access to clean water.”

The difference between us and Joelle is that Joelle knew that even one person is capable of changing lives half-way across the world. Joelle is truly a one of a kind visionary that doesn’t come around every day. With the BADALA team working towards real change in Africa, and the results being clearly seen with updates and increased inventory for the website, Joelle and the BADALA team give real motivation for other dreamers who hope to create real change in the world, but feel that they are just one person.

Joelle travels to Africa with her husband Corey, more frequently than most, to exercise her devotion and true passion for the cause. This month she traveled to Nairobi & Tanzania and will be there, working with the women of BADALA.

You can join BADALA and make a true difference by donating to the cause here: https://www.stayclassy.org/checkout/donation?eid=19955. You can also learn more about BADALA’s cause and what they are about at their website: http://www.badala.org/ also check out the merchandise that the women in Africa are making here: http://www.badala.org/collections/frontpage

KONY 2012 Explained: An Unbiased Summary

[DISCLAIMER: every blue, underlined text is a link that is an example or reference of what is being discussed]

It was about time to write about this phenomenon that everyone is posting about. You can’t be on facebook without seeing the 30 min. video about Joseph Kony that has gotten 32 million views as traffic in the past THREE days. Not bad.

In the past few days, I have been hearing about KONY from some friends in New Zealand. The discussion was made, but I didn’t know what a KONY was. I asked my friend and he told me that KONY was a name, the last name in fact of a very evil warlord in Africa. My friend’s status on facebook said, “I support KONY 2012.” Naturally I was a bit confused. All of a sudden, I began to get a wave of questions on if I’d seen the KONY video. I then saw the dozens of shares. First it started with one person sharing the video. Then it was three people. Pretty soon it was hard to get away from.

I didn’t watch the film for a while, mainly because I couldn’t spare 30 minutes to watch it. Whether that was true or not is not important. Eventually, I gave in and watched it. I have to admit, the makers did a great job of making the video appealing and informative. I was sold on finding this guy and bringing him to justice. If you want the short version, Joseph Kony is the Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA, formerly in Uganda. He kidnaps children from their families, taking the girls to become sex slaves and giving the boys a gun with which to shoot their parents/become child soldiers. The organization Invisible Children, (IC), is trying everything they can to find this man and arrest him. Their goal is to make him famous, “not to celebrate him, but to bring his crimes to the light” (KONY2012 video).

Naturally I wanted this to come about, so I did my part and shared the video, thus lowering the amount of people who didn’t know about him. THEN, I began to hear the other side of the argument…an argument I didn’t even know existed.

People reacted both hot and cold to this video. Critics criticized it’s “one-demential” perspective on the facts and questioned the Invisible Children’s true motives behind the video, bringing their financial records into the open and questionable past. The effort was to create transparency and to inform those that would blindly join a cause without taking the time to research it, to “Think twice“. And boy, there were plenty of people on BOTH sides of this argument.

The issue began to get heated. Either you were: uninformed and sharing the video because sharing the video had now become a meme, or you were being critical of a cause that is trying to promote justice for children being kidnapped, abused, and killed. There didn’t seem to be a middle ground. This went on for about a day or so, until IC issued a statement to the backlash of criticism on behalf of their “movement.” In the statement, the organization touched on many of the issues that people had with the video and IC as a whole. Did they address everything? That is to be determined. I’m sure there will be yet another surge of criticism on the statement given. And one has to ask themselves, “Is this what we should be fighting over? Was this IC’s intention when they made the video?”

It is in my opinion that a controversial issue will get the people talking, no matter where everyone stands. A controversial issue has that kind of unique power. People who have STRONG opinions either way will make their way to the top of the discussion and buzz is created. If getting many people to talk about Joseph Kony was one of IC’s goals, then goal accomplished. But what does talk get us? Will talk change anything? IC believes that it can. Talk plus the advocacy to “culture makers” and “policy makers.” They make it easy to get the voice out there by going to this link to sign a pledge, and to contact those “culture makers” and “policy makers.”

To conclude, it can be just as easy to get excited about a cause as it can be to criticize it. But we should be doing both…just not in that order. We need to be critical and ask questions, research and dig deep. If at the end of it all, you decide this is something you want to get behind, then go do it. You have that right. But in this current age, sharing things is like second nature. They make it so easy…just click the button. Before you click the button, ASK. QUESTION. DECIDE. In the end, don’t be caught standing on the fence.

UPDATES: A video response from a Ugandan towards KONY 2012

Viral video focuses debate on Uganda rebels

The first 7 minutes of this video