Finding peace through the storm

By Nadeshiko Nakaya. Nadeshiko a member of the Nagasaki Peace messengers recently visited the World YWCA office and shares her story. 

My name is Nadeshiko Nakaya. I live in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture, and I am a second year student at Miyako High School. Our city has a national park with a beautiful coastline. It was however, hit by tsunami after a great earthquake on March 11th, 2011.IMG_1171

I was participating in an after school activity when the earthquake struck. I escaped to a shrine on a hilltop with other students and teachers. Then I moved to another place of refuge, where I was fortunate to meet my family. A series of aftershocks continued all day long. We were not allowed to go out and couldn’t get any information about what was going on. I spent that night with many people shivering from the cold and in fear.

The next day we were allowed to go out. I was deeply shocked by the dreadful sight. The central part of the city was covered with mud and rubble. Cars were piled up or crushed into houses. On the streets, many ships and boats were over turned here and there. There were also houses which had been burned down by fires the night before.

Everyone was just standing there in silence, staring at the sights. I heard many people sobbing helplessly. We were forced to live without water and electricity in the crowded refugee camps for weeks. There were people who had lost beloved family members and their homes. Seeing all these things with my own eyes, I realized, for the first time in my life, that peace is to be found within our daily lives, and when we were deprived of that peace by the power of nature, I felt uneasy and restless. I even felt frustrated from my helplessness.

Now, after three years, our town is rebuilt. However, many of my friends still go to school from temporary homes or their relatives’ houses. Some students even take a long time to come to school because the railways have not been completely restored yet. Some areas still remain deserted.

I had never imagined that the peace of our daily life would be threatened until the disaster struck. Such disasters could happen to any of us. We cannot predict when they will happen or prevent them from happening. But, nuclear weapons are not the same. They are created and possessed by human beings, and the decisions to use them are made by human beings. I think that nuclear weapons can be abolished by our own efforts because they have been made by human beings. I believe that possessing atomic bombs is wrong because they could deprive us of our own future. We must not create future tragedies by using atomic bombs.

I think that the first steps to realize world peace is to make more people interested in the problems of peace. We will be able to come closer to world peace only when each of us thinks about the meaning of peace and eventually enhances public awareness about peace. I believe the realisation of a peaceful world is not an impossible dream.

From a young Palestinian woman: A Bad Dream

By Lara Nassar, YWCA of Ramallah-Palestine. Lara who is a second-year student at Birzeit University, majoring in History and minoring in Political Science.

“Relative calm”, “death toll”, “airstrikes”, “bombing and shelling”, “war crimes”, and “humanitarian truce” , seem to be the only things that I’ve been hearing lately, the only things anyone’s been talking about. I personally think the most irritating of them all are both “relative calm” and “humanitarian truce”, it makes it feel like the heinous attack on Gaza has a shred of humanity integrated into it, which is utter nonsense. “Relative calm”, commonly used as a term to describe a temporary state of ceasefire, the reality is, relative calm only happens when the opposing party wants to take a five-minute break from shelling babies. Whereas “humanitarian truce” is a term used to fool the international community into believing that Israel is less barbaric than it actually is.lara

100 down, 200 down, 300 down, and the blood bath continues, as Israel keeps on targeting unarmed civilians. The death toll has reached over 1840 in Gaza alone, 40% of them have been identified as women and children, more than 9400 injuries; 17 hospitals have been bombed and are running out of medical supplies. Why do we keep mentioning numbers? Because that’s what the international community wants to hear, it’s the only thing it’s willing to hear when it comes to Palestine, and we just became so used to it that it’s become a natural thing for us to speak in numbers. On the other hand, from the local front, each of these “numbers” has a name, a story, a dream; we call them martyrs. For us, they are Palestinian heroes, even though they were only kids playing on the beach, only a family breaking fast during the holy month of Ramadan, only a young woman expecting her first child, dreaming about raising her in a peaceful world. They weren’t really in on this war, they weren’t out there fist fighting the enemy, they were merely trying to stay alive, but we still call them martyrs, why? Because in Palestine, even the will to keep on living is resistance and even the strength to keep on smiling is a threat to Israel’s security.

Living in the West Bank makes me feel like I’m just another bystander, Gaza is two steps away from me, yet it feels like another country altogether, separated geographically by an abusive apartheid state called Israel. I wake up every morning, have my coffee, sit on my laptop and read what has happened within the last 5 hours since I’ve last checked. This is not the best way to start your every morning I’m sure, but being a Palestinian, it just becomes part of your daily life, you get used to the images of gruesome crimes committed by Israel, which is actually really pathetic if you think about it. After catching up on the news I get myself ready for University, I don’t forget to pack ear plugs because I know that all I’m about to hear is more of what I already know. It’s exhausting; actually the most exhausting part is being so close, yet so far away from my people suffering in Gaza. You know you want to be safe, but at the same time you’re thinking “They shouldn’t be alone in this, we’re all the same people; we should suffer with them”, as masochistic as it may sound. However it’s very true, we constantly claim that we love dying as martyrs, we love dying for the cause, not because we have suicidal tendencies, just because growing up we were taught that dying for the cause is the most honorable death in the world.

I’ve been having this dream lately, I’m in Gaza city, there’s an airstrike happening, three little girls are all alone in the street, they’re not afraid, they’re not crying, the loud sounds of war aren’t scaring them as much as they are scaring me. I head towards the girls and tell them that we should run for a safe place, they reply “there is no safe place”, I’m struck with reality, they’ve bombed schools, hospitals, homes, mosques, and just about everything else, there really is no safe place in Gaza. Even though this is my dream, the truth is, it’s also reality; children really are that realistic, because they face circumstances that take away their right of rainbows and butterflies. No child should have to go through that; a child’s life shouldn’t be about finding shelter from shellings, or having to worry about surviving another day. Our children do. My only wish is for them to fall asleep today and wake up tomorrow morning to realize that this was all just a bad dream, and that it’s still safe for them to go to the park and play.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and are in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical care. Over 200,000 people urgently need food aid; 1.5 million people have no or very limited access to water or sanitation; and over 65,000 people are now homeless after their homes were severely damaged or destroyed. To donate, please visit the Disasters Emergency Committee website.

In September the YWCA of Palestine will be hosting an international conference to discuss women’s, including young women’s, role in ending violence and promoting human rights and dignity for all Palestinian women, men, youth and children, through the framework of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). More information can be found here.

Source: YWCA of Great Britain

Malala Yousafzai: Bringing Hope

By Constance Anderson Tate, World Service Council Chair and World YWCA UN Volunteer.

Today was a beautiful end-of-summer day in New York and yet not really a normal day at all over at the United Nations – more of a totally inspiring one! Some five hundred young people had lined up in a block-long queue at the gate by ten o’clock and later filled every seat in the large Trusteeship Council room to hear Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon share their strong thoughts about educational goals for women and hopes for the world’s future. For those of us who accompanied five young Afghan women students to the event, the session was also a reminder of the dangerous conditions facing girls in many countries and the harsh or challenging road that lies ahead for so many.

The two speakers didn’t disappoint at all. Ban Ki Moon spoke of calling Malala two years ago when she was recovering from the Taliban’s attempt to assassinate her in a bus and of her words then – how she said, “I’ve been shot but I can still walk and I can still talk and I can do anything to help, especially women and girls.” He also spoke of all the crises facing the world today, saying that war stops all kinds of progress, but that we have to “put out the fires” and “keep the flame of hope alive,” working for major millennium goals such as women’s education and an end to poverty along with desperately needed sustainable development – the “defining issue of our times!”

Malala spoke just as strongly about her dream of seeing every child in the world able to go to school but also of the bad conditions that she has seen in her recent months of travel and trying to help with the Malala Fund that has been created in her honor. She spoke of seeing many of the 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan with 60,000 of them being children who now have no school. Also of her own country Pakistan, where so many girls are stuck in domestic child labour and never have a chance at education or a life before they are married off at age 13 or 14. As a contrast, she then held up the country of Trinidad and Tobago where oil and gas revenues have been used so that every person in the country gets a FREE education. As she concluded to great applause, this should truly be the goal for every country. gal-land-Malala-600x400

As Ban Ki Moon and Malala spoke, the youth audience of all nationalities responded with many of their own questions and goals, asking how to take first steps and how to protect girls and women? When the moderator asked for one-word suggestions of how Malala has helped the causes of youth and progress, one of our Afghan girls who is only 14 years old gave a cheering reply with the word “hope”, saying that Malala with her courage has given girls the world over some hope that they matter and can have real lives of contribution instead of just being property and trapped in early marriage. Others mentioned such words as “drive” and “change,” and one of the leaders encouraged the audience to chant the words ”momentum” and “time for action” to help get the United Nations moving on these goals.

While the programme ended after only an hour, it was an impressive show of youth interest in the work of the United Nations and the impact that both Malala and Ban Ki Moon are having in such forums as courageous and outspoken leaders. Also, while Malala was obviously speaking about women’s rights and equality, the audience held a large number of boys and young men, several promoting causes such as the curbing of sexual violence. So the outlook was unusually positive – even while many who attended know that the UN’s Millennium goals will expire in 2015 and urgently need reenactment; also that the UN is facing a heavy dose of acute political problems that can sidetrack or slow down such humanitarian concerns and efforts.

As for our Afghan girls, they were thrilled to meet with Malala, both formally and also outside for some cherished pictures. One or two even spoke to her in Pashtun, a language shared by neighboring sections of both their countries. Since all five of our students attended a special school in Kabul called SOLA and have made remarkable progress in learning English and in being accepted in the United States for either high school or college, they are walking examples of the goals that Malala and Mr. Ban Ki Moon were both promoting. And it was thrilling to be part of such a scene here in New York, seeing the challenges for world cooperation and education as well as a sample of how it really can work and offer hope for us all.


Girls must be central to the POST 2015 AGENDA

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Communications Officer. 

The health and status of women and girls are inextricably linked to the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and economies. Yet today, nearly 15 years on from the launch of the MDGs, progress on reproductive health lags seriously behind. Approximately 800 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these occur in developing countries. marcia

Additionally, over 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception. Investing in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls has never been more critical. The largest-ever cohort of young people is entering their reproductive years, and their access to sexual and reproductive health information and services will have enormous implications for the trajectories of their lives. Advancing the reproductive health of women and girls also pays enormous dividends for development – poverty rates go down, education rates go up and greater prosperity follows.

At the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, USA discussions and negotiations took place to shape the post-2015 development agenda. Hence, now is the time to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights is a priority in the post-2015 agenda. I think it is essential that we realise that when we talk about sexual reproductive health and rights we are talking about young women and girls.

As a young woman and youth advocate, I am committed to ensuring that young women and girls are central to the Post 2015 agenda. I say this as the Post 2015 agenda must address the most marginalised populations and as girls and young women are two of these key populations they need to be part of the decision making process. In order to do this young women and girls must be empowered and engaged in meaningful participation. Meaningful engagement of young women can be understood as a series of empowering moments that move in the direction of the ‘decision-making table.’ She can advise, share, sing or cry her opinions on political reforms, policies, programmes and development initiatives that directly affect her and will allow for effective use of resources, both human and natural.

In a world where ‘one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime,’ successful and sustainable change will require transformative leadership. This means leadership that will challenge and change the status quo and the systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination, inequality and denial of human dignity. In order for this to happen young women and girls need safe spaces to be themselves, share experiences, access information and discuss ‘taboo’ subjects without fear or judgement.

At the World YWCA (where I am lucky enough to work), we have developed a model of safe spaces which has emerged from our programming on sexual reproductive health and rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally there is a frightening unmet need for family planning and as the world’s population saws we must ask ourselves what are we doing to address this? Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, with girls under the age of 16 years of age facing four times the risk of maternal mortality than women over the age of 20. In Mexico 42% of young men and 26% of young women between 15 and 19 years have had a sexual relationship; only 47% of these young men and 15% of young women had used a condom during their first sexual intercourse. The HIV and AIDS rates are increasing in Eastern Europe. In Nepal 86% of married adolescents aged 15-19 are not using a modern contraceptives, every 4 hours one girl died from pregnancy relation complications. This is a global issue! The lack of adequate, accessible and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services not only affect the educational and economic opportunities of present and future generations, but threaten their very survival.

Young people, particularly young women, must be educated and empowered on their own sexual reproductive health and rights. Without access to non-judgmental, confidential and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information and services, young women remain vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Many young women are confronted with the consequences of early and forced marriage and child bearing.

If we are to achieve a world of peace, equality and justice, we must be accountable to the world’s 860 million young women. We are more than a statistic – we are a valuable asset to nations, a critical population group for achieving sustainable human development and our voices must count in shaping the future of humanity. It is essential gender equality is retained as a stand-alone goal and that gender is mainstreamed across all the targets.

Original Source:


By Sonia Odek, YWCA of Kenya.
Every morning before we set off for the day we always have a meeting in one of the spacious rooms which also happened to be the apartment I AM IN. It is usually an opportunity for us as YWCA delegates and our leader Hendrica Okondo to get together and forge a way forward on what we are to do for the day. In these meetings we first start by one of us praysharing a bible verse and expand on it by reflecting on its relevance for today. Then someone with a song would also share and then we would pray together.

After prayer it is usually followed by each delegate sharing with the rest of the group what they had learnt and how it encouraged, inspired or even educated them, they would then tells us how that experience applied to their own countries and their own YWCA and how they would use that experience to make a difference. The morning devotion is also used to address issues that may have come up among the members as they went through their day. Is it the place where grievances and differences are solved. It is the place where highlights of the do’s and don’ts are clearly highlighted. We get to ask questions on different matters including those we consider silly. Here we remind ourselves of both of the really funny moments we had and the out rightly blond moments we had.

I particularly like these sessions since they set the tone for the rest of the day for me. It is the place where I have to constantly remind myself each morning that am not on a Holiday trip but am here to work and make a difference. I realise that in the midst of the joy and laughter that we share, there is also a lot that we learn. The week begins and how I hope to learn from my fellow peers at the morning devotions.

Opening 20th international AIDs 2014 Conference

By Dr. Victoria Nnensa, YWCA of Malawi.

With over 15,000 delegates from over 75 countries worldwide, the opening ceremony of the 20th international AIDS conference was a kaleidoscope of faith, love, unity and most of all hope.victoria

From the different accents to the colorful displays in the booths, the encouraging powerful stories to the sad moving stories, one could just not get enough. The opening started with a cold reminder of the fallen MH17, with a constant reminder now again by the different speakers. In each address, we were told of the great works of the delegates we had lost in the crash and their vision for the future. “We must end HIV/AIDS by 2030, VCT should reach everyone, everywhere, no one should be born with HIV, and people living with HIV should be treated with dignity and respect.” – Michele Sidibe, UNAIDS secretary general sharing Joep Lange vision, whose life was claimed by the crash.

Despite the obvious sadness that covered the room when the topic was brought up, and the cold weather, the speakers warmly welcomed the delegation to Melbourne and commonly stressed on the need to work together in the bid to combat HIV/AIDS.

One particular story, shared by an Indonesian girl living with HIV stressed the need to disseminate the right information to the public and the need to involve those living with HIV in the cause, policy making and decision making. She urged young women living with HIV to join the fight and take an active role.

Other speakers stressed the need of not leaving anyone behind especially the vulnerable minority groups of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual (LGBT), sex workers, prisoners, migrants and people with disability.

However enough was not stressed on the involvement of young women. Young women play a key role in advocating for sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV awareness as such it is important to empower them.

On an ending note, Michele Sidibe walked in with a banner, ‘AIDS WILL ONLY END WHEN…?’ what are your thoughts and suggestions.

Behind the Scenes : Socio-economic drivers of AIDS

By Zoya Patel, YWCA of Australia. Zoya recently attended the 20th International AIDs Conference, in Melborne, Australia

On the first full day of AIDS 2014, Marcie, Victoria and I made our way to one of the huge plenary theatres to hear from a group of leading researchers on the topic of ‘Behind the Scenes : Socio-economic drivers’.

We heard from five researchers about economic factors that impact on the vulnerability towards HIV infection amongst particular groups in South Africa, Malawi, Haiti, Greece and Australia.zoya

Franzeska Mienck started the session by outlining her research into the correlation between child abuse and lower social outcomes for children living in households affected by AIDS, and how those factors interact with poverty and disability. The study found that children from families with someone living with HIV are at a higher risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and that these factors were further exacerbated by poverty.

P. E. Stevens discussed the SAGE4Health pilot project that trialled methods of building economic resilience in local communities, to help reduce the impact of emergency situations on a family’s financial status, which can in turn lead to systemic poverty in community groups. People living in poverty have lower health outcomes as compared to the general population, and the programme by SAGE4Health was successful in terms of financial empowerment for the communities who participated.

Stevens’ findings correlated somewhat with Carmen Logie’s research from Haiti, which emphasised the impact of economic instability and poverty on the contraction of HIV, as people are more willing to take risks with their health through unprotected sex, or drug use when in situations of poverty and homelessness.

George Nikolopoulos shared his findings from Greece, where the rates of HIV contracted by injecting drug users rose significantly in correlation with what he labelled ‘Big Events’, such as massive economic and political crises.

Finally, Lance Feeney discussed the importance of reducing or eliminating ‘co-payments’ for Antiretroviral drugs (ARTs) in Australia, to reduce the economic impact of treatment on clients who may not be able to afford the medication.

From this session, it is clear that reducing rates of HIV is not limited to medical and scientific research only, but that broader social and economic policies impact on the contraction of HIV in communities already struggling with poverty.

When individuals are driven to unprotected transactional sex in return for food, or money their risk of contracting HIV is greatly enhanced. All of the researchers present emphasised the need for a holistic approach to ending the pandemic, with a joint focus on physical health, medical solutions, social outcomes and empowering people from lower socio-economic demographics to enhance their financial resilience.

We left the session with a strong sense of the impact of poverty on people living with HIV, and a renewed interest in building capacity and strength in communities to end poverty, and with it, reduce rates of HIV in communities that are most affected.

Stigma and Discrimination

By Krist Angela Zicishti, YWCA of Albania. Krist recently attended the 20th International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, Australia.

Krist Angela Zicishti and Kgothatso Mokoena

We are young and we are protecting our rights.

I had the opportunity to participate in the International AIDS Youth Pre-Conference and attended a session on stigma and discrimination.

What are the causes of stigma and discrimination? Why do so many people have to suffer?
One answer is Silence…If we are silent we will never achieve things. It’s from silence that every other bad thing comes. Another factor is lack of information and it is a slow killer. When we don’t learn about vital information we become uninformed and ignorant. This follows fear. Fear not only of stigma but self-discrimination too and low self-esteem.

Through the group discussion we identified 4 problems related to HIV/AIDS
1. Lack of knowledge,
2. Behaviour,
3. Poor healthcare and knowledge of sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR),
4. Social cultural norms.

Our smaller group choose to discuss social and cultural norms.
We were trying to find the reasons in our country that lead to stigma and discrimination.

In Pakistan one person said that it is a lot to do with generational gap for example you can’t even talk with your parents about SRHR. Another person shared that they felt that stigma and discrimination in Azerbaijan is related to religion as it is a Muslim country. It’s the tradition that comes to be dominating in a negative way. I shared that in Albania, stigma comes from people. People are prejudice towards others; it is the fault of the society. Gregory Gabbert, AIDS Alabama (USA) a fellow youth participant summed it up best when he said “Our human nature puts people in boxes and we label those boxes.” This I think is a sad truth!

Following this discussion we were asked to think about how we can change it! The discussion that followed was very positive and focused very much on changing minds and engaging in advocacy. Here are some of the things recommended as vehicles for change: social media, awareness campaigns, lobbying governments, empowering those who are stigmatised and at risk as marginalised groups.

We have to do as much as we can! Sonia Odek from the YWCA of Kenya represented our group and SHE DID GREAT! “There’s nothing for us without us” she said.