What's private must be public
Below is a letter I sent my closest friends and family. Sean asked me to post it on the blog- this isn’t easy for me (I’m challenging my comfort level here); but, these days, nothing is. I apologize if the formatting is off- our (politely stolen) internet has been shut off and my phone wasn’t built for blogging. Thank you for reading. Please post and repost and forward to everyone you know.
Please know that I am sending this to you because you have had a large impact on my life, as I hope I have had on yours. Now, I understand if it’s hard to take me seriously when I talk about fighting for peace. I realize that much of what I say is typically loaded with cynicism and sarcasm. But please believe me when I say that I need your attention, at least for a few minutes. As you know, I don’t ask for much. I don’t like handouts, I’m uncomfortable when all eyes are on me, and I’d rather do the job myself instead of asking someone for help. So keep that in mind.
I’ve been working for Falling Whistles for two full months now. That means I’ve spent forty 9-hour work days in a poorly insulated garage;I’ve spent somewhere around 62 hours sitting in traffic as I commute from my unpaid job to my paid job four days a week, which totals to about 77 hours a week dedicated to work related activities; I’ve had 3 days off from work out of the past 58; I sleep on a bottom bunk four nights a week, on a sofa the other three. My only complaint is that my iPod is out of memory, so I can’t update my play lists. Also, there’s a little extra guilt that goes along with stealing soy milk as opposed to regular milk, so I have to choose which roommate I sneak a sip from in the morning to avoid awkward eye contact in the office.
In the past eight weeks, I have forged such amazing bonds with the Falling Whistles staff and interns. I’ve been reminded of how to laugh in the face of misfortune but how to act with urgency in the event of emergency. We are a group of young people, few in number but grand in ambition; fighting for peace in Congo to end a war that has claimed almost 7 million lives over the past decade. We don’t have the answers, but we are taking strides to rehabilitate war-affected children with the hope that a new generation can halt the cycle of militia warfare and resource exploitation. When I become numb from monotony, or zombified from staring at a computer screen for hours on end, Nikki or Mallory or Chelsea or Brittany or Ashlee or Sloan or Capers or David or Sean or a total stranger that I will never meet again but is so thankful for our work, reminds me why I’m here. I can’t NOT be here.
I have an imaginary friend, a girl about my age. I realize that may sound strange, but my mother will tell you that I had many imaginary friends while I was growing up. One in particular was an ogre- looking fellow named Skong that carried a hammer and bashed down houses of all of the bad guys in the neighborhood. Because that’s what ogres do. Duh. I haven’t heard from Skong for a while- might have something to do with recent foreclosures, but who knows. Anyhow, I have a new one, but I still have a lot to learn about her. As you may have guessed, she lives in Congo, in the heart of conflict. She doesn’t ask me for help, but only because she doesn’t know how. She’s accustomed to soldiers raiding her home, raping her and her sisters; violating her, mutilating her, with their weapons. She alludes to how they find joy in her suffering and pride in her vulnerability, but she’s too frightened to assert her self-worth. She works more hours a week than I, for less pay and in more harsh conditions than I will ever comprehend. When she returns home from work and is confident that she will be left alone for the evening, we spend some time together. I wish you could see the way her eyes twinkle when I whisper to her that this isn’t how things have to be; she trusts me. I have nothing tangible to offer her, but she trusts me. I tell her that I’m doing all I can from a garage in California to help her. She closes her eyes, smiles, and tries to imagine what that means. But how can she? Likewise, how can I possibly imagine her peril, her strife?
It’s not easy to talk to people about what we’re fighting for. As soon as “war” and “Africa” are in the same sentence, there’s a propensity to shut down, to turn a deaf ear to a seemingly-unsolvable conflict and desolate situation. We are so very fortunate, you and I,whether or not we recognize it. To acknowledge another’s misfortune can be uncomfortable for many, but in reality it ought to be humbling. This isn’t a matter of assigning guilt to the well-to-do. Quite the contrary. It’s a matter of showing how great our influence can be if we all act together. I’m a fan of teamwork. And trust falls, but that’s a different conversation.
Today we started a new fundraising campaign for the interns- if we raise $2,000.00 for FW by Thursday, our boss will help us plan a trip to Oklahoma City for the weekend to help out Invisible Children in peaceful protest. They’re currently camped outside of OK Senator Tom Coburn’s office, adamant that they will stay until he votes ‘yes’ to pass legislation that could effectively end a war in Central Africa. Literally, the whole bill rests on him, yet he is wary to delegate money to help victims of a foreign war. This isn’t about Falling Whistles. This isn’t about Invisible Children. This isn’t about my internship or how many hours a week I work, what kind of bed I sleep in, or what songs are on my iPod. It’s about helping our neighbors. These ones just live a bit further away.
I kindly ask that you consider helping me and the FW team travel to Oklahoma City this weekend. Again, I hope you realize how hard it is for me to ask for aid (I’m more stubborn than you may realize). When asked how much money we thought we could raise this week as an intern class, I was certain we couldn’t do any more than $500 in four days. In the first 8 hours, we raised $660. When we work together, we hold more influence than I can fathom. This is the power of the masses. The power of us. And this is why I want to go to Oklahoma City. To add my voice to a collective call for a more peaceful world. It might be a pipedream - but can you imagine a better one to work towards?
Our ambition is to travel 1,400 miles in peaceful protest. Please help us get there.
To find out more about what Invisible Children is doing, check out their livestream from Oklahoma City here: www.coburnsayyes.com
To help the interns meet IC in Oklahoma City, please send your donations to: http://fallingwhistles.chipin.com/falling-whistles
In the end, more than your money, we want your mind. We are working to create whistleblowers - people that won’t shut up about how fantastic it is to be free; people that won’t stop until all are free. If nothing else, I hope you’ll join us.
Love love love,