I recently read the last chapter of a book for my leadership class. While I was reading this chapter I had an overwhelming sensation of how much it related to this class and issues with genocide and refugees. I haven’t read the entire book but I would definitely recommend reading this chapter. The book is called Global Citizen by Mark Gerzon and the chapter we read is called Global Intelligence: Twenty Ways to Raise Our GI. As indicated in the chapter title, Gerzon lists twenty steps to increase global intelligence. He does so in list form, describing each item as he moves through the list. A few of these items really resonated with me.

Speak more than one language

I cannot tell you how embarrassed I am that I do not speak more than one language. Most US citizens have a very egocentric view in the sense that English is the only language we need to know. I feel that being multi-lingual is under valued because so much of the world knows English. It is so surprising to me that a country with so much access to education is so limited in it’s desire to be a global citizen.

“’You can train people in cross-cultural communication,’ says Cabrera, ‘but it is harder to get them to understand what cross-cultural relations are if those people have never struggled with learning a foreign language’” (Gerzon, 2010, p. 191).

While a lot of US citizens will claim, I took four years of –insert language here-, in all honestly, it’s just a half-assed attempt. I know because I fall into this category of people. While we do learn language in high school and even college, most of us never reach the level of fluency required to actually know another language. When we were in Phoenix on our alternative spring break, it really made me wish I were fluent in another language. While I have taken Spanish classes and could form a few poorly structured sentences, it does not compare. Honestly, I felt embarrassed, as I feel most of my classmates did, that we never pushed ourselves or truly saw the value in being bilingual when so much of the world does. As Gerzon quotes above, there is value in struggling to learn a language because it gives individuals a perspective on how to communicate cross-culturally, an understanding which is lacked without that experience. I cannot imagine what some refugees in the United States must go through, I have never had the experience of being placed into a country where I do not speak the language and then having to figure out how to live. I knew this class would give me a new experience but it has only made me desire more experiences to help me gain a better understanding. I want to live in a country where I don’t speak the language and struggle with learning the language. I feel that everyone should have this experience because it helps create an understanding for different cultures and how people who come to the United States must feel.

Seek common ground

This reminded me of our trip to Phoenix. Throughout our trip we attempted to be global citizens by seeking a common ground with the refugee families that we visited. Jen mentioned in one of her earlier blog posts that laughter has no language. At the family’s houses we visited where there was a language barrier, we took the kids outside to play. Even though we were not able to verbally communicate, we communicated through playing games and laughing with one another. On the second to last day of the trip we visited a family that consisted of a mother and her son and daughter. The daughter was a pre-teen and the entire group was able to connect with her in her taste in music and books, and even able to recommend books that she may not have heard of. Doing so created happiness and a connection between her and us, it broke down the barrier of us versus them.

Ask questions that stretch your mind

To me, this entire class has been about asking questions that stretch my mind. If this is happening, why is it happening? Why can’t we stop it from happening? Why has no one done anything? How can we fix it? All of these questions seem so simple but when you are just one person, they can be hard to undertake. It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that the world isn’t all butterflies and playgrounds, like you thought when you were a child. It can be hard not to get caught up in your own life. It can be hard to find the time to care. This class has taught me that it is not possible to do it all. I’m still struggling with finding my place in helping and figuring out how I can be an advocate. All of these topics and issues we learn about in class lead me to questions that I am not able to answer. In asking these questions it is hard not to become discouraged. This class has made me realize that although I am just one person that does not mean I am not able to make a change. Being a realist, I know that you can’t take on the world and expect to fix it all, but this class is teaching me that my voice can make a difference, no matter how small.

Know your enemy—inside and out

Gerzon says know your enemy. Not in the sense that I view refugees or countries suffering from violence or genocide as our enemies but in the sense that I feel many US citizens have the view of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There is a misnomer among some Americans that if we help other countries we won’t be able to help our own, which is not the case. Helping other countries and helping your own country does not have to be mutually exclusive. Helping other countries should not be seen as an enemy or a threat to our ability to help our own country. I think to break down this idea we need to publicize the stories of victims of the hatred that occurs around the world. In the sense that we, not just the US but the world, need to witness the violence that some areas of the world face in the idea of humans helping humans. As the human race we need to unite in the idea that innocent humans do not deserve to suffer. In my opinion this is where advocacy comes into play. Our class needs to share the stories we have heard. We need to put faces to these stories. We need to prove that these people are humans just like us. The world shouldn’t be a place where people are too concerned with succeeding themselves that they ignore suffering that others may face with the defense that it is an issue that does not concern them. Or simply because they think someone else will take care of it.


When I signed up for this class I wanted to learn about genocide and refugees, I had no clue that this class would enhance my worldview so much. While I may not be there yet, I truly believe this class is helping me become a global citizen and motivating me to be part of the changes that need to happen in the world. In the words of Gandhi (and quoted by Gerzon), BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.


Global Citizen by Mark Gerzon; chapter: Global Intelligence: Twenty Ways to Raise Our GI (pages 166-194)

Harrisonburg, VA: Home of the Dukes?

To most, Harrisonburg, Virginia is a rural college town (home of James Madison University) seated in the Shenandoah Valley. While that may be an accurate descriptor, Harrisonburg is also a highly populated refugee community; nearly 44 different languages are represented in the Harrisonburg City Schools.

According to figures published by The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, nearly 9 percent of the Harrisonburg population was born in another country. The Virginia Department of Social Services cites a total of 1,636 refugees resettling within the city limits of Harrisonburg over the past decade.

Countries not shown: Afghanistan, Sudan, Rwanda, China, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Serbia, DR Congo, Djibouti, Guatemala and Kazakhstan

Now, don’t get me wrong; I bleed purple and gold and I root for the Dukes ALWAYS. However, I think that it is important to recognize that Harrisonburg is so much more than the home of the Dukes. Harrisonburg is a diversity-rich community–did you know that 36 percent of students enrolled in Harrisonburg public schools are classified as English Language learners?

Harrisonburg is a place with agricultural appeals, an affordable cost of living, plenty of blue collar jobs and a big refugee resettlement agency. All which, make Harrisonburg an ideal place for resettlement. Yes, Harrisonburg is the home of the great James Madison Dukes, but lets talk about something else. Lets create discourse about our very own refugee community, in hopes that we can foster a welcoming environment that celebrates diversity.


Put a face to the problem.

I hear about conflicts in other countries through the news, I read articles from numerous sources and yet I don’t do anything about it. I shake it off and move on with my day whatever I see happening over there, isn’t happening over here. I know I’m guilty of ignoring because I feel there is nothing I can do for a conflict so far from home. The only real eye-opening thing that makes me pay attention is putting a face to or with the conflict. When I hear a person tell me their story, I empathize and care more about what is happening across seas. Children are usually a soft spot for a lot of people, one hears something happening to a child and suddenly he or she is more willing to help or research what is happening, once again I am guilty of being one of those people. Today, I saw an article that had a picture of a little Syrian girl holding her hands up in the air with a scared face surrendering to a photographer, thinking the camera was a weapon. The photographer told BCC that normally kids hide their faces, runaway, or smile for the camera, they don’t think it’s a weapon. It’s hard to imagine what the little four year old refugee has seen if she is automatically surrendering to anything that looks like a possible threat. The article also said that the little girl, Hudea, lost her dad in the bombing of Hama, Syria. Hudea, and her mom and two siblings went to Atme Camp at the Turkish border and took refuge. Other people are sympathizing with the little girl too, because her photo has gone viral.


The crisis in Syria started in March 2011, part of the Arab spring. Peaceful protests escalated and rebels begin fighting back against the government. The conflict has made “Syria’s civil war the worst humanitarian disaster of our time,” says Mercy Corps. There are more than none million people displaces thus far and little four year old, Hudea, is one of those people. The civil war has killed over 190,000 people and over half are innocent civilians, one of which was Hudea’s father. After their homes and families are ripped apart people are fleeing to refugee camps in neighboring countries, resulting in over three million Syrian refugees.

I may not be able to help little Hudea, but I can help the people that are here. I don’t have many resources, but I can starting listening, spreading stories, and volunteering my time. What can you do?


The Big Wide World of Advocacy

Upon beginning this class, I had a much narrower focus concerning the global issues that meant something to me. Each week, however, I have found myself becoming more aware of the massive amounts of problems that exist. My difficulty has been trying to figure out how I can support them all, but it had become increasingly challenging to keep up with it. Among classwork and job searching, it is easy to say that I just don’t have time to read another article on an emerging conflict. I know I need to though, because I want to be the best active citizen that I can be. Another struggle that I’ve faced, and I know it’s something my classmates are struggling with too, is how to get people who have no connection to the issues that matter to me to pay attention?

So this is the big wide world of advocacy. You’re working to promote awareness and change for your issue but you are competing with so many others. I know that my post about raising money for our friend Jany to speak at JMU was lost amongst other philanthropy and charity posts on Facebook. It becomes overwhelming to think about all the things people want money for, so we often just shut down. We assume someone else will do something about it, so we take comfort in our own inaction. Well that’s the last thing raising awareness needs, so how do we get people to pay attention at all?

We care through connection. I know people often care the most about issues that have affected them personally, and if it is something outside of their social sphere, they usually care because someone they know told them they should. What we have learned in our class so far is the importance of making the issue personal. Whether that is by showing people pictures of the refugees we met on spring break or by posting a YouTube link in our blog, we know that people pay attention when we show them their fellow humans suffering.

For our assignment this week we read an article written by out very own professor, Aaron Noland, and his colleague Matthew Brigham concerning the importance of and agent-centered approach when advocating for a particular issue. Aaron has always said that he places the readings for our class in a purposeful order, and each week I always immediately understand why. As I mentioned earlier, our class is currently working on bring Jany Deng to visit and talk with the JMU community. We have planned to place the focus of the event on Jany and the other Lost Boys instead of looking at just their issue. It is our hope that we can use this human interaction to get people to pay attention to the issues of genocide, refugees, and refugee resettlement.

If you would like to donate and help fund Jany’s trip here’s the link!


We were once immigrants too


On March 19th Benito Vasquez-Hernandez was released from his 905-day stay at the Washington County Jail. Vasquez-Hernandez had recently immigrated to the US and was being held, not for a crime that he committed himself, but because he is the father of Eloy Vasquez-Santiago who is being convicted for the murder of Maria Bolanos-Rivera in 2012. Vasquez-Hernandez was originally picked up in California and taken to Oregon for questioning by the police team handling the case when he shared information about his son that could be used in court, therefore making the 58-year-old “evidence” in the case.

The federal law that has kept him in jail states, “if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena” the state has permission to detain an innocent individual who happens to have information regarding the crime. Some states have taken action to prevent injustices such as this by adding their own stipulations to the law to keep detainment within reason (if there is such a thing) but Oregon has yet to do so. When considering the detainment of Vasquez-Hernandez, police officials did not want lose subpoena privileges by their “evidence” being deported, which, would have been inevitable seeing that he had been picked up by state officials.

When it was time for trial, Vasquez-Hernandez’s lack of understanding of the American court system complicated his time on the stand. During questioning, his only response was denial of all previous statements incriminating his son and stating that he, himself, was not involved. He was so persistent in his responses that the judge took time to try and explain to him that it was clear he was innocent and was not a suspect in the case. His denial and fear still persisted.

This man had already been in jail for two years and had no interest in returning. If he had known that complying with the court system was not going to send him back to prison, he may have been more open to sharing information. His fear and lack of trust in American state officials drove his decision-making that ultimately killed their star testimony.

In case this story could not get any worse, Vasquez-Hernandez was released after his day in court with $5,982 given to him by the police for his time served behind bars. Oregon law states that detainees in this situation will get $7.50 per day spent in custody. Apparently to the state of Oregon, a day of this innocent man’s life isn’t even worth that because the sum he received was $805 short.

I am all for complying with U.S. laws and have faith in the idea that most are in place to keep us safe and keep certain institutions we depend on up and running but we cannot stand by and let this injustice happen. Whether here legally or illegally, I would hope that all Americans would agree that anyone in jail deserves to know and fully understand their rights. This case to me epitomizes indifference at work. This man needed help and yet no one even knew it. America began as a group of immigrants that wrote the laws for this land after all and I think we need to remember that.


International Crisis Group: High Level Advocacy


By definition, nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental organizations emerge when governments and other groups fail to perform properly and meet the needs of the public. In the 1990’s, the world was experiencing some of the worst tragedies in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia with no response from the international community. In Somalia, where civil war is still being fought, upwards of 500,000 lives have been lost. In only 100 days, an estimated 500,000-100,000 people were killed in the genocide against the Tutsis of Rwanda. The Bosnian War claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and soldiers. During this decade, when war and genocide were reoccurring themes, the international community failed to anticipate these wars and subsequently take action. The Crisis Group was formed to address this situation by former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and Thailand Morton Abramowitz, former head of U.N. Development Programme Mark Malloch-Brown, and Senator George Mitchell. Their goal: to act as the world’s eyes and ears, looking out for impending conflicts with the help of a high profile Board of Directors that could mobilize action from the world’s policymakers. Operating under the tagline “working to prevent conflict worldwide”, the International Crisis Group works in both the political and social realms to create advocacy.

Mission: “Crisis Group decides which situations to cover based on a number of factors. These include: the seriousness of a situation, whether we can add value to international understanding and response, whether we have or can raise the necessary resources to ensure high-quality reporting and effective follow-through, and whether we can safely operate in the field.”

The Crisis Group writes reports and briefing papers that go to tens of thousands of targeted recipients. They have a huge scope, and they use mainstream media and a large social media presense to deliver commentary government ministers, heads of international agencies, diplomats, officials in key roles, journalists, and over 200,000 people worldwide. By also publishing this commentary in multiple languages, the Crisis Groups bridges gaps and makes their key information accessible to everyone.

The Crisis Group’s website also highlights three important elements of their approach to building advocacy on such a large scale. The first is through expert field research and analysis. Many of their journalists are stationed in the middle of many of the world’s hotspots for conflict. Their main task is to figure out what is happening and why. What people are involved? Why do they matter? Who influences them? What is the state of the area? What are the underlying political, social, and economic factors contributing to conflict? I find this element of their organization to be so crucial, especially as I view lack of knowledge and understanding a huge barrier for me against activism. The second element is practical, imaginative policy prescriptions. What good is understanding a conflict if nothing is done to address or prevent it? The Crisis Group has the reach to influence key policy makers and start to enact change at a governmental level, a level that is often out of reach for the everyday advocate. The last element is effective, high level advocacy. This final element is crucial, as it is the action piece of advocacy. The problem and appropriate responses have been identified, but know it is important to include the political will to actually make the changes. This involves persuading policymakers, media, and other influential figures. Their arguments must be crafted carefully. They must speak to a specific area: political, legal, moral, or financial. Because of their high level of credibility and capacity, the Crisis Group can make these lofty expectations a reality. The Crisis Group receives money from governments, individuals and larger corporations, and institutional foundations to do its work.

The International Crisis Groups writes reports on all areas of the world that are experiencing significant conflict. These reports are very useful in helping understanding current developments along with historical factors that have created the issues in the first place. This link is to the most recent report about South Sudan and the prospects for a “National Dialogue” that President Omar al Bashir had promised early 2014. The only issue in utilizing these reports is that they are often not geared to the Average Joe with minimal understanding of the current political landscape of war torn areas. But because the reports are so extensive, they offer a more transparent view at the issues at hand. If someone really invests, reports by the Crisis Groups bring a much better understanding and a clearer prescription for necessary steps to take for advocacy.

Here is a link to their blog, In Pursuit of Peace, for up to date commentary:

[All information has been gathered from the International Crisis Group’s website: ]


We Must Unite to End Genocide


United to End Genocide is a nonprofit organization that is a large combined advocacy effort that started with the Save Darfur Coalition, the Genocide Intervention Network, and the Sudan Divestment Task Force.  All of these organizations were formed in response to the genocide in Darfur.  To date, more than 300,000 Darufri men, women, and children have lost their lives and many are still vulnerable.

  • The Save Darfur Coalition was founded at the Darfur Emergency Summit in New York City in July, 2004. The organization quickly grew into a network of more that 190 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations with more than 1 million activists and hundreds of community groups committed to ending the genocide in Darfur.
  • The Genocide Intervention Network was founded in October 2004 with the intention to empower people with the tools to advance initiatives able to directly protect people from the atrocities in Darfur. In addition to its original mission, in 2005, the organization broadened its reach to include programs aimed at educating and mobilizing support for U.S. policies that could help protect people in Darfur.
  • The Sudan Divestment Task Force was founded in 2005 and has launched many successful divestment campaigns around the world. They have targeted university endowments, investment policies, and have worked closely with the Genocide Intervention Network and in 2006, became a part of the organization.  In 2009, the SDTF became known as the Conflict Risk Network (CRN).
  • STAND: Students Taking Action Now: Darfur was another organization formed in 2004 that recruits, trains, organizes, and mobilizes students. Around 2006, STAND became a part of United to End Genocide and in 2013 it transitioned to an independent, self-sustaining organization.

United to End Genocide is a broad merger that came about in 2011 when these organizations mentioned came together to form the new advocacy organization, led by President Tom Andrews.


United to End Genocide is dedicated to preventing and ending genocide and mass atrocities worldwide by building a powerful, lasting movement of community activists, faith leaders, students, artists, investors and genocide survivors, and all those who believe we must fulfill the promise the world made following the Holocaust: “Never Again!”


End Genocide Network: The organization is built on the belief that in order to prevent mass atrocities and end genocide for good, we must build a large and powerful activist movement.  A movement that will first, sound the alarm, then shine a spotlight on those who cause or enable genocide, and finally demand action from our elected leaders and anyone with the power to protect.  This is a global movement with the idea that the end to genocide can come from all corners of the globe.  The End Genocide Network program works to help connect and support hundreds of community leaders in the U.S. as well as work to reach out and identify new leaders in communities across the nation.  The program and organization provides an online forum to share stories and experience, strategize, build capacity, and create effective advocacy.

End Genocide Survivors: No one in this class can deny the power held in the stories of those who have faced genocide and horrible atrocities.  United to End’s ‘Survivors’ program understands this and works to help these survivors make their voices heard.  They help them build connections and put them in touch with student and community activists.  The program also puts survivors in touch with other survivors to help strengthen the network of voices speaking out against genocide and mass atrocities.

United to End Genocide stands in solidarity of those affected by genocide and mass atrocities and they work to try to make the information about these horrible crimes known, and then they help provide tools and information about how to begin making a difference as a united community.

For more information go to