I’m not going to copy and paste everything I wrote here because I think it’s important for you to see the rest of Stahili’s website and have the opportunity to donate, but if you would so kindly please visit http://www.stahili.org/know-better-better/ to read a post I wrote about the pitfalls of voluntourism.
On a cold day in February, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when I saw an ad from Amnesty International inviting people to a lobbying day in Washington, D.C. to help support human rights worldwide. If you don’t already know about Amnesty International, it is a nonpartisan global movement of over seven million people who, “take injustice personally.” Through their detailed research and determined campaigning, they help fight abuses of human rights, bring torturers to justice, change oppressive laws, and free people jailed for voicing their opinions. Knowing all of that about Amnesty International, I was eager to join. I entered my information and received a phone call the very next day telling me that Amnesty International would pay for my flights and pay for a hotel room on Sunday night. This was my chance to help vulnerable families without ever even leaving the country.
On Monday, February 26, 2018, 350 lobbyists took the capitol by storm and spoke to our representatives about maintaining a robust budget for humanitarian aid, refugees, and displaced persons, the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and Human Rights Defenders worldwide who have become Prisoners of Conscience. There were so many of us from North Carolina (50!) that we couldn’t all meet with the staffers for Senators Tillis and Burr and instead had to break into two groups of 25. My group met with Cole, a staffer for Senator Burr. I didn’t speak in this meeting because our group was so large and there were a lot of people who felt passionately about making their voices heard, but it was very interesting to sit in on.
A smaller group of six of us met with one of Congressman McHenry’s staffers. The staffer we were supposed to meet with was out sick for the day, so we met with a woman named Lauren. In this meeting, I spoke about my time in Kenya and my time in South Africa in the Peace Corps. I spoke about how the orphanage I was a voluntourist at exploited families and recruited children in order to attract volunteers and donations, which were ultimately pocketed by the man running the orphanage. I spoke about how women and children were treated less than favorably in my villages in South Africa. Lauren was kind, but she wasn’t the staffer responsible for being knowledgeable about the issues we were discussing.
Even if just some of the representatives the 350 of us spoke to are determined to help with the issues we brought up, it could make a huge difference. For example, one of the funds we lobbied on behalf of was the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) fund. It provides funds to people displaced by natural disaster, conflict, and war. Funding supports efforts to eradicate famine in countries including South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia and addresses long-standing humanitarian crises that have caused significant internal displacement in other countries.
Here are the things we were asking of our representatives:
Ask #1: I request that Congressman McHenry/Senator Tillis/ Senator Burr do whatever he can to maintain robust funding for Humanitarian Assistance for Refugees and Displaced People worldwide.
The appropriations process provides a critical opportunity for Congress to support displaced persons and refugees by funding the MRA, IDA, and ERMA accounts that provide life-saving and life-sustaining humanitarian assistance worldwide.
The world hasn’t seen this level of displacement since World War II. 65.6 million people have had to flee their homes to escape persecution, torture, and violence. Among them are about 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are children. President Trump’s proposed budget would slash Federal funding for Humanitarian Aid by over 1/3. We cannot allow this to happen.
When the United States stands up for the protection of vulnerable people worldwide, other nations take notice and follow suit. When the United States retreats in cowardice away from protecting the most vulnerable people, other nations take notice and follow suit. If we don’t maintain robust funding for Humanitarian Aid, millions will suffer even more than they already are. It adds insult to injury when people fleeing war, violence, torture, and persecution are cared for so little by the world’s Power House. We must show refugees, displaced persons, and the rest of the world that we care about human dignity.
Ask #2: I request that Congressman McHenry co-sponsor and commit to passing H.R. 4223, The BURMA Act of 2017, and that Senators Tillis and Burr support S. 2060 (The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017).
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that ethnic cleansing is still an issue faced in 2018, but for over 688,000 Rohingya people, systematic murder, rape, and mass burnings are their reality. After the world has witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Turkey, Albania, Macedonia, northern Iraq, China, Libya, Soviet Ukraine, and many others, you would think our government would know better than to stand by and watch while doing nothing
Thousands more Rohingya are displaced internally in Myanmar. As documented by Amnesty International and other credible organizations, this crisis is a direct result of Myanmar military’s campaign of violence marked by murder, deportation and forcible displacement, torture, rape, village burnings, apartheid, and other inhumane acts like the denial of life-saving provisions.
The BURMA Act of 2017 and the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017 would sanction Myanmar officials responsible for the persecution of the Rohingya, prohibit military to military cooperation with Myanmar’s security forces, facilitate access to a U.N. fact-finding mission to Rakhine State, call on officials in Myanmar to permit aid distribution by international humanitarian organizations, urge the Myanmar government to extend civil and political rights, including citizenship, to the Rohingya, and protect Rohingya refugees from being subjected to unsafe, involuntary, or uninformed repatriation.
Ask #3: I request that Congressman McHenry protect Human Rights Defenders Worldwide by co-sponsoring and passing the Prisoners of Conscience resolution to encourage human rights advocacy on behalf of prisoners of conscience worldwide/ I ask that Senators Burr and Tillis co-sponsor and pass the Human Rights Defender Resolution.
Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) play a key role in defending the principles of freedom, justice, and dignity. When they are attacked, the human rights of everyone, including you, me, and Congressman McHenry, are undermined. Over 3500 HRDs have been killed worldwide, with at least 312 HRDs murdered in 2017. Attacks on HRDs and prisoners of conscience have a devastating impact on human rights in wider society, creating a cycle of fear and impunity, eroding the rule of law, and depriving the countries or communities of the progress toward freedom and justice that would have been achieved by the brave work of these individuals.
The Human Rights Defender Resolution provides vital public recognition and support for the important work of HRDs, supports and promotes the protection of threatened HRDs from arbitrary arrest, intimidation, defamation campaigns, judicial harassment, threats, torture, enforced disappearances, and assassination, and encourages accountability for those who are responsible for human rights violations against HRDs.
Even if you don’t have lobbying training provided to you and even if you can’t afford to travel to Washington, D.C. to talk to them in person, it’s easy to write letters to and call your representatives and senators to let them know what is important to you. Most of them also have local offices where you could arrange a face-to-face meeting. Contact your representatives and let them know how you feel about issues like voluntourism, orphanages, and the exploitation of families.
Not everyone has time to read through a 138 page document produced by The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, but fortunately/unfortunately, I do. The Commission gave 56 recommendations for what to do to help with the crisis, but the President just can’t seem to get a grip on any of them. Instead of listening to his own Commission, he has decided to focus on enforcing opioid laws instead of providing opioid treatment. Here’s a rundown of what the commission had to say.
Roster of Commissioners
Governor Chris Christie, Chairman
Governor Charlie Baker
Governor Roy Cooper
Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy
Professor Bertha Madras, Ph.D.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
“Our people are dying. More than 175 lives lost every day. If a terrorist organization was killing 175 Americans a day on American soil, what would we do to stop them? We would do anything and everything. We must do the same to stop the dying caused from within.”
“Without comprehensive action, including your national public health emergency, the death count will continue to rise.”
“It is time we all say what we know is true: addiction is a disease. However, we do not treat addiction in this country like we treat other diseases. Neither government nor the private sector has committed the support necessary for research, prevention, and treatment like we do for other diseases.”
“The recommendations herein, and the interim recommendations submitted by the Commission in July, are designed to address this national priority. These recommendations will help doctors, addiction treatment providers, parents, schools, patients, faith-based leaders, law enforcement, insurers, the medical industry, and researchers fight opioid abuse and misuse by reducing federal barriers and increasing support to effective programs and innovation.”
“We recommended that all law enforcement officers across the country be equipped with life saving naloxone.”
“We recommended full enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to ensure that health plans cannot provide less favorable benefits for mental health and substance use diagnoses than physical health ailments.”
“Today, only 10.6% of youth and adults who need treatment for a substance use disorder receive that treatment. This is unacceptable. Too many people who could be helped are falling through the cracks and losing their lives as a result.”
“One of the most important recommendations…is getting federal funding support more quickly and effectively to state governments, who are on the front lines of fighting this addiction battle every day. Bureaucracy, departmental silos, and red tape must not be accepted as the norm when dealing with funding to combat this epidemic. Saving time and resources, in this instance, will literally save lives.”
“Accordingly, we are urging Congress and the Administration to block grant federal funding for opioid-related and SUD-related activities to the states. . This was a request to the Commission by nearly every Governor, regardless of party, across the country.
“The Commission also identifies the need to focus on, deploy, and assess evidence-based programs that can be funded through these proposed block grants.”
“From its review of the federal budget aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic, the Commission identified a disturbing trend in federal health care reimbursement policies that incentivizes the wide-spread prescribing of opioids and limits access to other non-addictive treatments for pain, as well as addiction treatment and medication-assisted treatment.”
“The Department of Labor must be given the real authority to regulate the health insurance industry. The health insurers are not following the federal law requiring parity in the reimbursement for mental health and addiction. They must be held responsible.”
“We are recommending that a drug court be established in every one of the 93 federal district courts in America. It is working in our states and can work in our federal system to help treat those who need it and lower the federal prison population. For many people, being arrested and sent to a drug court is what saved their lives, allowed them to get treatment, and gave them a second chance.”
“Drug Courts are known to be significantly more effective than incarceration, but 44% of U.S. Counties do not have an adult drug court.”
“The Commission recommends enhanced penalties for trafficking of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues and calls for additional technologies and drug detections to expand efforts to intercept fentanyl before entering the country.”
“The time to wait is over. The time for talk is passed. 175 deaths a day can no longer be tolerated. We know that you will not stand by; we believe you will force action.”
What This Administration Has Already Done:
- Announced the launch of a new policy to overcome a rule that prevents states from providing more access to care at treatment facilities with more than 16 beds.
- Directed all federally employed prescribers to receive special training to fight this epidemic.
- The DOJ has continued its efforts to stop the flow of illicit synthetic drugs into this country through the U.S. Postal Service
- NIH DIrector Dr. Francis COllins has been partnering with pharmaceutical companies to develop non-addictive painkillers and new treatments for addiction and overdose. THe Commission worked with Dr. Collins to convene a meeting with industry leadership to discuss innovative ways to combat the opioid crisis.
If you identify as white and you are reading this, chances are it’s going to make you a little uncomfortable. But discomfort isn’t always a bad thing. Discomfort can be a place where learning and enlightenment happen. It has been for me in the past and continues to be for me in the present. Anyways, today I want to talk about white privilege.
Yesterday, I posted a graphic on Facebook. It said:
It got a few likes, but what really stood out was the person I have known for over eighteen years commenting on it and claiming that white privilege isn’t real but that people are racist against this person all the time for being white. I tried to be patient. I tried to be kind. I tried to explain that white privilege doesn’t make you a bad person or mean that you don’t have difficulties or that no one is prejudiced against you, it just means that you started your life (and live your life) with several advantages over people of color.
I tried to explain that reverse racism isn’t real because we, as white people, have not been oppressed on an institutional level for hundreds and hundreds of years. We have not been enslaved in the millions because of our skin color. We didn’t have to suffer through the indignities of Jim Crow. We haven’t been lynched because of our skin color in the thousands (though some white people have been lynched for siding with and helping people of color). We are statistically less likely to be incarcerated. We have representation in all forms of media that look like us. It’s easy to go into a store and find a barbie or doll that looks like us. Most of our favorite tv shows and movies have main characters that look just like us. The vast vast majority of “heroes” are white. We get to learn about many many people of our own race in school.
Our parents don’t have to give us “the talk” about police safety because we are less likely to be shot and killed by police officers. According to Vox, “An analysis of the available FBI data by Vox’s Dara Lind found that US police kill black people at disproportionate rates: Black people accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population. Although the data is incomplete because it’s based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country, it highlights the vast disparities in how police use force.”
Someone may have biases or prejudices against you because you are white, but that is not racism. (Please see video #2 if you are having a hard time with this concept). I tried to put it in simple terms that could be easily understood, but this person continued to argue with me, at which point I ran out of spoons and had to end the conversation. I just didn’t have the energy to continue at that time. I unfriended the person for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that we aren’t that close to begin with and I really have no desire to be friends with someone who won’t even entertain the idea that white privilege exists even though it has been explained and pointed out to them. I wish that I hadn’t unfriended them. I wish I had said, “this is emotionally exhausting work for me and I need to take a break and come back to it.” But that isn’t what I did and, as a result, I had an even harder than usual time falling asleep last night, wondering if I had just been able to come up with the right sentence, if maybe I could have changed this person’s mind.
I know it’s possible, because I, too, once didn’t believe in white privilege and was very defensive the first time someone tried to explain it to me. I know it’s hard to believe now, but I was actually in the College Republicans my freshman year at WCU and used to call Feminists “Feminazis.” I’m not proud of the person I was, but I’m proud of the person that my college professors (Dr. Pete and Dr. Herzog), graduate school friends (Monica, Hanna, Jen, and Shyra), and graduate school professors (Lisen, Russ, Heather, Phyllis, Melody, and Valerie) helped shape me to be. I care about others, I’m empathetic, and I understand that my ability to even type this up on a computer and post it to the internet with my name on it reeks of privilege. I could tell you of so so many instances where white privilege has benefited me, but I find myself again running out of spoons. Perhaps I’ll revisit this post later. Just in case I don’t, please do me a favor and watch these three videos:
I realized recently that I’ve talked a lot about service dogs, service dog etiquette, and River being a service dog in general but that I’ve never actually acknowledged what specific tasks she does for me, which people may (or may not) be curious about. Though I have Bipolar I, River’s tasks are all related to my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks.
But first, a little background. According to the ADA, “a service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.” Providing comfort is not considered a task under the ADA.
“Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.”
In addition to being task trained, service dogs should also be completely potty trained, have a lot of public access practice hours logged, and have basic obedience down. River is a full blown service dog (As opposed to a Service Dog in Training or SDiT), but she will always be in training as she will always continue to learn new things. Although all online registries for service dogs are fraudulent and DO NOT make your dog a service dog, some states, including NC, have a voluntary registry. Ours is through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and River has a special tag on her collar acknowledging her status as a trained service animal. You may hang out with me a lot and never see her task or you may hang out with me a little and see her task a lot. It really depends on how I am doing on a given day. Here are some of the tasks River is currently trained to do:
DPT (Deep Pressure Therapy): When I am sitting or lying down and River senses me getting anxious OR when I say “Alert” to her, she climbs up and puts the front half of her body across my lap. It’s like having a really heavy weighted blanket for anxiety and helps to calm me down.
Grounding: When I am standing up and River either senses me getting anxious or I give her the command “ground” she lays her body across my feet to provide grounding for anxiety.
Tactile Stimulation: When I become anxious or give the command “kisses”, River licks the tops of my feet or my hands (depending on what she can reach) to provide tactile stimulation and grounding. When I have a panic attack, River will lick my face until it stops.
Blocking: When I am in a crowded area, River will lay down in front of, next to, or behind me to keep people from getting too close. I am in the process of teaching her to lay down behind me every time I stop walking.
She has recently shown a few behaviors that I would like to shape into tasks, but she hasn’t been formally trained to do them yet. For example, I’ve been struggling with depression for a few months now and this week there have been a few times when I did not want to get out of bed and she licked me until I finally got up. She also got her leash off the ground and went to the front door and waited for me to take her out on a walk. By themselves, these behaviors are not tasks, but they could be shaped to become tasks.
If you have questions, please feel free to comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
I haven’t written in a long time. I just haven’t felt like writing. I’ve been a bit on the depressed side of things, which actually isn’t that terrible because it’s mild and at least it isn’t mania.
Yesterday I had an encounter that left me shaking and with my heart pounding. Despite what everyone may think and in spite of how outspoken I am, I do not relish confrontation.
If you are reading this, you likely know that I have Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and panic attacks and you likely already know that I have a psychiatric service dog, River, who helps with my anxiety and panic attacks. She goes pretty much everywhere with me and our partnership has been enormously helpful to my mental health.
Last night, we had dinner and went to a movie with a dear friend of mine. While my friend was in line for concessions at the movie theater, I sat down on a bench to wait. A woman with her two children walked past and said something along the lines of “Oh doggie, you’re so pretty!” at which point I said “Leave it, River” to get River to refocus back onto me.
The woman said “Oh. Excuse me….is that a guard dog?” I said “No, she is a service animal.” She said, “Oh my friend has one of those, she takes her to the hospital to help people.” I said “That actually sounds more like a therapy dog,” and she asked “What’s the difference?” I replied “Well, a therapy dog goes to places like hospitals and nursing homes and serves many people. A service dog serves one person who has a disability.” Everything was fine up until this point. I usually don’t mind answering questions about River, but the next question she asked and the way she reacted when I responded left me deeply uncomfortable.
Her: “What’s your disability?”
Me: “I’m sorry, but that’s actually pretty rude to ask.” (At this point, people usually say, “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize” and I say “That’s okay. Thank you for understanding.”)
Her: “No it isn’t. I have a disability. I had a brain tumor.”
Me: “I’m sorry but that’s still pretty rude.”
Her: “No, it’s rude of you to say that.”
Me: “It isn’t my responsibility to educate you and I don’t owe you an explanation about my health.”
Her: “Well it isn’t my responsibility to educate you on how to be polite!”
At which point I walked away.
Let me say this really loud for the people in the back: YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO SOMEONE ELSE’S PRIVATE HEALTH INFORMATION. If they want to share it with you, that’s fine. If they don’t, it’s really none of your business in the first place. It is incredibly rude to ask someone “what’s your disability” as it implies that a)the person asking is entitled to know, b) you owe them some type of explanation, and c)your privacy doesn’t matter. A business is only allowed to ask two questions about a service dog to the handler: 1) Is that a service dog required because of a disability? 2) What tasks does he/she perform? Unfortunately, uneducated people everywhere think they are entitled to ask any question they want, regardless of how invasive or personal it is.
I’m usually very open about my mental illness. If people ask things like “why do you have [River]” I usually respond “she’s a psychiatric service dog.” If they ask what she does I sometimes will tell them “she helps with my anxiety” depending on how my anxiety is in that current moment and how my day is going. Sometimes I will even explain how she does Deep Pressure Therapy, grounding, and blocking for me. I’m fine with volunteering information when I feel safe doing so. I am NOT fine with someone acting as though she is entitled to my private health information.
So here’s a Pro Tip: Don’t ask questions like “what’s your disability?” , “why do you have a service dog?” , “what’s wrong with you?”, or say things like “I wish I could take my dog everywhere with me.” The first three are just rude and the last one is incredibly insensitive. I always want to say, “Really? You wish that you were so disabled that medication and therapy weren’t enough and you had to take your dog everywhere with you just to function?” So far I’ve never actually said that because I genuinely don’t want to be rude to people, but I think it every single time someone tells me they wish they had a service dog.
If you need a refresher on service dog etiquette, check out this article I wrote by clicking here.
When in doubt, be kind and don’t ask invasive questions.
In true Catherine fashion, this is possibly a bit too honest and probably uncomfortably personal for some people.
Yesterday, I sat in my OBGYN’s office and expressed that because of my Bipolar disorder and my clotting disorder, I probably don’t want to have biological children. “More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component (National Institute of Mental Health).” The clotting disorder, Factor V Leiden, is a genetic disorder, and would likely be passed down to any of my future potential offspring. Though the clotting disorder is not a mental health disorder, it has direct effects on my mental health as it causes anxiety and panic attacks and even required the use of EMDR, a type of trauma therapy, as suggested by a therapist in my IOP because of my “PTSD like symptoms” surrounding my Pulmonary Embolism.
My doctor agreed that the clotting disorder would make any future pregnancy incredibly high risk but told me that since she loves me so much, she wouldn’t mind too much if I passed on the bipolar disorder. I smiled and said thank you (and I was honestly somewhat flattered that my doctor thinks so highly of me), but what I wanted to say and perhaps should have said was, “spoken like someone who doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder.” “Bipolar Disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year (National Institute of Mental Health).” It, “results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide (National Institute of Mental Health).” I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, let alone an unsuspecting child.
Growing up, I always thought I would be a mother someday and there is the chance that I’ll eventually become someone’s step-mother or adoptive-mother, but I feel that it would be irresponsible, selfish, and somewhat cruel to insist on having my own children. Population problems aside, how heartless would I have to be to knowingly put someone else through the hell that I have been through? To subject them not only to a horribly debilitating mental illness that results in over 9 years reduced lifespan and possibly ends in suicide, but a genetic disease that can cause clots, Pulmonary Embolisms, Strokes, or even death.
The prospect of not having children of my own is a sad and difficult one, but it seems like the right choice for me, given all of my health problems. Today, on World Mental Health Day 2017, I urge you to think about the far reach mental illness has. It not only affects how people function, but also important choices they must make about their lives and the lives of loved ones. Mental illness is no joke and, honestly, I’m sick and tired of hearing it treated as one. I’m tired of ableist language and of people referring to people or things as “crazy” when they really mean things like “unbelievable”, “surprising,” “angry”, “scary”, or “bad.” I myself am guilty of using this type of language and am working on it, making an effort not to use it anymore.
If you think you or someone you know has Bipolar Disorder, I urge you to utilize the Mood Disorder Questionnaire and talk about it with your primary care physician or another health care professional. You can find tests for Bipolar Disorder and other types of mental health disorders here.
If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .