UUSC Guest at Your Table

Here are two stories about the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and how its Guest at Your Table program is raising support and awareness of its work to advance human rights.

1

Bulelwa Panda

“Through my journey I’ve found out that God loves me the way that I am and that being LGBTI isn’t a curse but a gift from God.”

Bulelwa Panda knows the devastating power of hate.

Hate directed at her from strangers and lifelong neighbors alike. From her family. Even perhaps from her God.

Bulelwa was 18 when she first felt attracted to other women — in South Africa, a country where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identity remains a deeply taboo subject.

At first she tried to hide her sexuality by dating men, but in 2003, when the deceit became overwhelming, she decided to tell her parents. “They believed it was a sin and tried fixing me with traditional rituals of slaughtering animals.”

Although her parents slowly grew to accept her before they passed away, she remains completely estranged from her sister, the sole remaining member of her family.

And when this former Sunday school teacher was first struggling with her sexual identity, she turned to her church — but found no comfort, no solace, no acceptance.

As difficult as those days were, Bulelwa knew they paled in comparison to what other members of the LGBTI community suffered. Beatings. Rapes. Killings.

Which is why, as Bulelwa became more comfortable with her identity during the early years of this century, she also opened up her modest, two-room home to vulnerable and ostracized LGBTI individuals in desperate need of shelter and a kind word.

Today, that same compassionate spirit gives Bulelwa a crucial role in UUSC’s new Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Rights in Africa initiative. Just a few streets over from where she used to welcome people into her small home, Bulelwa now manages the iThemba Lam (“my hope”) LGBTI safe house.

Under Bulelwa’s guidance, iThemba Lam offers health, legal, and psychosocial counseling to LGBTI individuals from across Africa. Most have been disowned by their families. Many have been beaten or suffered so-called “corrective rapes.” All are deeply grateful for the comfort and security they find under Bulelwa’s roof. Bulelwa manages iThemba Lam under the auspices of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM), one of UUSC’s grassroots partners in our SOGI Rights in Africa initiative. IAM works across southern Africa to confront religious-based homophobia by building faith communities that welcome LGBTI individuals.

UUSC launched this initiative because sexual minorities in Africa are among the most marginalized communities in the world. Our work is particularly important because much of the rising persecution of LGBTI groups in Africa is driven by right-wing religious extremists in the United States who actively aggravate homophobic sentiment that already exists across most of the continent.

Shifting deep cultural traditions is not a quick project. Victory comes one step at a time, one year at a time, even one generation at a time.

But Bulelwa, who learned early in her life about the devastating power of hate, has great confidence today in the transcendent power of love and acceptance.

 

2

Mathurin Azma

It was because Mathurin Azma wouldn’t stop crying that the soldiers used an electric taser on him.

But what else would you expect a 13-year-old boy to do when a military truck screeches to a halt in front of his home and soldiers leap out and race toward him? When they grab him off his front porch and muscle him into the back of the truck?

And when they drive him across the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti and abandon him, a stranger in a strange land?

That was the afternoon Mathurin became one of los afectados— residents of the Dominican Republic who were born to undocumented Haitian parents and are now being forcibly deported “back” to Haiti in a dragnet as brutal as it is heartless:

“The soldiers beat everyone. They take us anywhere and anyhow. They prevent us from grabbing any item or stuff we have in our house. They force us to leave behind everything, including money, clothes, tools, and foods. In one afternoon, I lost all my friends in the D.R. I don’t even know where my family is in Haiti.”

That’s because Mathurin had spent all but the first two years of his life in the

Dominican Republic. He lived there with his adoptive mother, who spent long, hard hours working as a cleaning lady to earn enough money to take care of Mathurin and pay his school fees. After school, Mathurin would sometimes meet his mother at her workplace to help her finish her work.

But on the day he was abducted by the soldiers, he was home alone. His mother was given no information about what had happened to him. Like most afectados, he had no one waiting for him in Haiti. No home, no known family, no friends. Many can’t even speak the language.

And children, many of them younger than Mathurin, are especially vulnerable. They arrive traumatized and hungry but are met with — at best — indifference by the Haitian government.

UUSC rapidly responded to this emerging crisis by partnering with Zanmi Timoun (“Friends of Children”), a grassroots organization in Haiti, to help provide forcibly removed children like Mathurin with everything from hygiene kits and clothes to psychosocial support, recreational activities, and assistance locating possible family members in Haiti.

That’s why, when Mathurin was released, “there was already a young lady waiting there. She talked to me and asked about the trip. She guided me to an office where I got water to shower and clean clothes and food. I needed to talk to my mother in the D.R., so they gave me a phone. I called … and let her know that I was deported to Haiti.”

A few days later, Zanmi Timoun was able to locate family members in Haiti and eventually reunite Mathurin with them. Although he still misses his adoptive mother in the Dominican Republic, he is regaining hope for his future.

He wants to complete his education, but he hopes above all that if he ever has children they will not have to go through the ordeal he has survived — because “we all are human … like everyone else in the world.”

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Holiday Crafting

A good time was had by all at the holiday craft and cookie decorating event. Here are just a few of the folks who came. Many thanks to Carolyn, Austin, and Katherine for staffing the tables.
Click on any picture to start a slideshow.

Jocelyn

Jocelyn and her snowman

Everyone ponders a project

Everyone ponders a project

William

William

Lea

Lea

Austin

Austin

Robert, Sally, and Zoe

Robert, Sally, and Zoe

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Michael Servetus Academy

Here are the details which the 7th grade and Up class discussed (and discussed some more and discussed some more) about the forming of the Michael Servetus Academy. OPTIONAL was a huge theme in our discussions with students wanting to offer choice in most situations. Choice in activity participation, choice in electives, choice in dining, choice in lodging. But there was a lot of agreement regarding that the basic structure a school should take. In the end we agreed that nothing we’d planned should conflict with the seven principles and much supported them! (Talk to your kids about these details and how our discussions went.) If desired, you can download the details as a PDF michael-servetus-academy-1
– Molly

Michael Servetus Academy
A Unitarian Universalist School

General administration
Boarding school with many room options (dormitory, private, pets, no pets, etc.) – 12-month boarding will be offered particularly for students in need, summer enrichment camps will be offered for these students with others welcome to attend
Parents allowed to visit once or twice per semester
Classes will be mandatory and will be offered on a traditional academic calendar
Classes will open each day with the pledge of allegiance (sans 1954 “under God” addition and optional if students do not wish to participate)
Athletics will be offered and teams will participate in local leagues
An array of dining options will be available which include options for vegetarian and vegan diets
Teachers will be professionals with credentials
School administrators will be elected from the teaching ranks by fellow teachers, student government and the school governing board
The student government will have significant input in decision-making
Evenings and weekends will be filled with enrichment opportunities and physical activity

Core classes
Time will be allowed each day for prayer/meditation.
Time will be allowed each day for work on interpersonal communication/discussion skills.
Subject area core classes:

  • Social studies
  • Health/Our Whole Lives
  • Math
  • Science
  • Language arts

At the junior high level core classes will cover basics. At the senior high level core classes will be more specific and class selection will be offered.
The Servetus Academy does not track students as college preparatory or offer themed instruction.

Electives
Many electives will be offered and will change based on student interest. Examples include:
Band, Choir, Orchestra, Design, Architectural design, Art, Sculpture, Photography, Drama, Creative writing, Modern languages, Video production, Film, Debate, Technology, Coding, Culinary, Business, Martial arts, Dance, Gymnastics, etc.

Student Assessment
Students will be assessed on meeting learning outcomes for courses.
Grades will be based on graded assignments, exams, and teacher perceptions of reaching learning objectives.
The Servetus Academy will participate in state testing but it will not be a focus at the school nor will it relate results directly to individual students. Results will be used only as one element of measure for overall learning.

School Assessment
The Servetus Academy will be assessed on:

  • Sanitation/Hygiene and Facilities Maintenance
  • Comfort/Climate for Students
  • Teacher Satisfaction
  • Breadth of Curriculum
  • Quality of Instruction
  • Graduation Rates

Traditional measures of student outcomes pre- and post-graduation will be used with caution. While ACT/SAT standardized test scores and entrance into college are one indication of success, other measures should be employed. Students will be surveyed before graduation. Graduates will be surveyed annually after graduation. Graduates will be asked about their happiness, their connections with others, and their contributions to their communities.

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Trunk or Treat

Many thanks to everyone for participating in Trunk or Treat. We had tons of fun.
If you’ve got your own pictures to share, please send them to Sandy to post.
Click on any picture to start a slideshow.

 

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Tour of the Florida Keys

Many thanks to Deirdre Greeley (and Carrie and Lauren) for taking us on a tour of the Florida Keys – our final tour of the summer.
We were introduced to buried treasure, unique animals, and delicious food. The Key Lime pie was quite tasty and many of us wanted seconds. (Recipe available).
Click on an image to start the slideshow.

Globe

Rose and Griffin find the Keys on the globe

 Florida Keys

Lots of pictures were shared

Lots of pictures were shared

treasurer

Treasure!

Pie?

Who likes pie?

 

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Tour of the Galapagos Islands

Many thanks to Diane Barker for taking us on a tour of the Galapagos.
Among other things, we learned about the many animals living on the islands. Some birds communicated by mimicking each other.  Later, we got to draw pictures of any animal we wanted.

Click on an image to start the slideshow.

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Diane and Darian

Diane and Darian prepare to mimic as Arthur looks on.

Lily and Zac

Lily and Zac

Ryan and Darian

Ryan and Darian

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Tour of Finland

Many thanks to Ellen Meyer and Ari Jumpponen for taking us on a tour of Finland.
We read stories about the Moomins (mischievous trolls), saw beautiful pictures, and ate delicious treats. Nick especially enjoyed the troll lore and that they could fly through vacuums!

Click on an image to start the slideshow.

Flag of Finland

Flag of Finland

Griffin and Ellen share treats with the whole congregation.

Griffin and Ellen share treats with the whole congregation.

Ari feeds Lumi after the long trip.

Ari feeds Lumi after the long trip.

 

 

 

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Tour of Italy

Italy is beautiful! The scenery and architecture is truly spectacular. Many thanks to Christopher Renner for taking us on a tour via pictures – and pastry!
We talked of Romulus and Remus again and learned a little Italian, too: ciao and bella. We even learned a catchy song using our new words.
And the yummy pastry that Christopher baked was delicious! Worth a trip to Italy any day.

Click on an image to start the slideshow.

Finding Italy on the map

Finding Italy on the map

Beautiful coastline

Beautiful coastline

Serving up pastry

Serving up pastry

Darian and Nick approve

Darian and Nick approve

flag of Italy

Flag of Italy

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Toga Party! (Tour of Ancient Rome)

Toga! Toga! Toga! We all dressed the part for our tour to ancient Rome. Many thanks to Brice and Shirley Hobrock as our tour guides. We heard the story of Romulus and Remus and learned a little Latin: cane canem (beware of the dog). Heard an orator or two: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears… Did you know that ancient Romans cooked mice, dipped them in honey and rolled them in sesame seeds as a delicacy? Yum. Brutus (aka Brice) fixed us several delicacies and we feasted like gods.

Click on an image to start the slideshow.

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Brutus Hortensis aka Brice Hobrock

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Shirley adjusts Nick’s toga.

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Lea, Arthur, and Nick prepare for the feast – lounge style.

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Lily feeds Lea.

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Brutus serves up delicacies to Ana, Lily, and Gavin.

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Bottoms up!

 

 

 

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Tour of Maps

Many thanks to Eli Martinson (and Kim Martinson) for taking us on a tour of maps! Among other things, we learned how maps can help us solve problems. We even got to make our own map of the UUFM property. No two were the same!

Click on an image to start the slideshow.

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Eli posted a few things to remember when mapping the property.

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Ethan adds a touch of green space.

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Gavin, Alaina, Ruby, and Holden add to their maps.

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Kim shows samples of maps.

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Holden is ready to compare his map to the property.

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Everyone heads up the hill to compare maps.

 

 

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