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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

Frederick Nadbaramiyeby Kendra Hovey

I read Frederick Ndabaramiye’s new memoir so that I could write about it for Follow This. I didn’t have to think about whether I wanted to read it. But you will. And because Frederick is Rwandan, and was just 11 years old when genocide swept through his country, you might wonder if this book will be too hard to read, or you might decide, no matter, it is still a book that you ought to read.

Frederick and Hanna

But while the reality of humanity’s capacity for cruelty is extremely hard, this book is not, and while bearing witness to the suffering of others is noble, don’t let it cloud your understanding of what this book is really about. It’s right there on the cover: Frederick. As Jack Hanna tells us in the foreword, “Today, you become one of the privileged. Today, you meet Frederick.”

Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope,  written with Nashville author Amy Parker, was published this fall. In 2012, Frederick was a speaker at TEDxColumbus. In an onstage conversation with Nancy Kramer, he shared his story, including what he experienced at age 15, while traveling by bus in northeastern Rwanda. The 100-day genocide that left one million dead  had officially ended, but the Interahamwe genocidaires that had managed to escape capture, were again leading attacks from hideaways within the mountains of neighboring Congo. It was this group that intercepted Frederick’s bus and singling out Frederick, ordered him to kill everyone. He refused: “My God won’t let me do that.”

The Interahamwe massacred his bus companions and then severed Frederick’s arms below the elbow. While his book confronts the full force of this trauma—and shares it with equanimity and respect for the reader’s emotions—this memoir is not so much about what happened to Frederick; it’s about what Frederick makes happen.

The story opens with Frederick in Columbus, Ohio and absolutely reeling from so many firsts—his first experience with cities, planes, trains, thousands of white faces, the taste of ice cream and, ironically, gorillas. Frederick had never seen the mountain gorillas on the other side of his country—something “it seemed only wealthy Rwandans and international tourists were privy to”—yet gorillas are why he is here. It was through the Columbus Zoo’s conservation efforts in Rwanda that Frederick came to meet and eventually befriend Jack Hanna, Charlene Jendry and others, and from this, came the flight to Columbus and the appointment at Hanger Prosthetics where he was to be fit with mechanical fingers.

hanger prosthetics

Frederick’s story then takes us to Rwanda, to his village and family, the beginning of the genocide and to the fateful bus trip, and his unlikely escape. The blood streaming from what it left of his arms, he was forced to his feet and to walk. Frederick heard the order “Finish him off,” yet he kept walking “down the hill and into the trees and no one followed.” But escape did not mean survival, to survive would take something else: good fortune. There were the two sisters who first saved him and the truck full of men who found a surgeon; even the electrical cords the Interahamwe used to bind him saved his life. They acted as a tourniquet so that, as Frederick writes, “what those men had meant to harm me, God had used for good.”

I Am AbleThe gratitude expressed in these words from Frederick was hard won. Initially, there was only despair, an attempt to end his life and despair that, even at this, he was a failure. He was a burden, worth nothing, he thought, in a family and a country that demanded self-reliance. From the words in psalms and hymns he began to understand he was not alone in his suffering, and had the seed of a thought that would only grow: So sure of his uselessness, yet maybe there is another perspective he had not considered.

From this epiphany and all that he has made happen since—from a painting to a new educational center for people with disabilities to a movement “I Am Able”—there is a rich story, including surprising interactions with his perpetrator, with his savior and with his mother, that stun, yet reveal the quality of equanimity so impressive in him. There are unexpected details, like that, because rebels would cut the arms off of their own soldiers, Frederick could be mistakenly identified as the very people that did this to him, or that the Center he built and that now educates 500 from preschoolers to master’s students began with a volleyball game. Frederick was the coach.

Ubumwe Community Center

Wherever Frederick shares his story, people often respond with a kind of awed incomprehension. How has he not only healed from this, but thrived? And how did he find the magnanimity to forgive? His book answers these questions, but also asks us to see that his trauma is not so unique, nor is it so worse than others:

“When you, get down to it, I think we all have our handicaps. People everywhere struggle with forgiveness, and everyone is hungry for hope . . . By wearing my handicap on the outside, I’ve learned to speak about the trauma and the struggles that go along with it. People are more likely to show compassion to me. But what about those with hidden handicaps? Disability of the spirit is so much more debilitating than a physical disability. Yet we tend to be less sensitive to those hidden handicaps.”

“We are all broken,” he says. From everything he has experienced, the truth of this statement is clear to him. But, says Frederick, “the good thing is this: although we are all broken, we all have the same offer to be made whole again.”

Frederick at TEDxCbus

 

Kendra Hovey is editor at TEDxColumbus: Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

sharing supplies

by Kendra Hovey

The shipment came down the Nile by boat, where it was transferred onto small makeshift watercrafts, ferried to the riverbank, and then all 6,000 pounds of it carried by hand for a mile up to the village of Piol. This was the Buckeye Clinic’s third shipment of food and supplies since war broke out in South Sudan, and the most challenging; it’s the rainy season and Piol is accessible only by foot or canoe.

 

Makeshift boat

Last December, just days after we posted a story about past-speaker Bol Aweng and the Buckeye Health Clinic, the situation in South Sudan changed drastically. When we shared the story, the Clinic, supported almost exclusively by the Columbus community, was up and running and close to completing its final goals. Both Aweng and fellow “Lost Boy” Jok Dau had good news to share, including the unexpected and happy discovery that Aweng’s sister, missing since 1991, was indeed alive and soon would be reunited with the Aweng family in Piol.

But on December 15th, violence broke out between warring political factions, the Buckeye Clinic shifted their efforts to provide needed food and humanitarian aid, and the reunion, of course, did not happen.

Today, the region is under its third cease-fire, this one includes a 45-day period to build a coalition government. Since the fighting began, over 10,000 have been killed, almost 2,000,000 have been displaced and the region is now facing a potential famine, one that is entirely human-made. Most South Sudanese live in rural areas (and with violence turning some cities into ghost towns this percentage has likely increased) where the main source of food is family crops. But because of insecurity and displacement many fields remain fallow.

delivering suppliesThe Clinic is still providing needed medical care. Luckily, it has not been damaged or looted and has been able to remain open since the crisis began. The first shipment of food and supplies were sent in April. It had an unexpected ripple effect. Most of the community had fled to the marshlands of the Nile. While safer from violence, food is limited (people lived on water lilies and what fish they could catch). And without medicine, clean water and adequate shelter, there is risk of waterborne disease, especially vulnerable are children under five. When the first shipment arrived it was assumed that people would take the food and return to the Nile, but instead a number of them stayed and began to rebuild their homes and plant crops. The support network for the Buckeye Clinic sent two additional shipments over the summer, and is preparing a fourth (all with no administrative costs—receipts, distribution lists, photos and videos are posted on their website, as well as opportunities to donate).  

After decades of war, a period of rebuilding and then independence, the people of South Sudan are again threatened—this time by internal strife. So how do we understand this conflict?

There are the factual events. At independence in 2011, Salva Kiir, who is Dinka, became the first President of South Sudan. Riek Machar, who is Nuer, became Vice President. For both, these mirror the leadership roles they held since the end of the civil war in 2005. In July of 2013, Kiir dismissed his cabinet and VP. Machar, interpreting this as a power grab, convenes a December press conference, which Kiir interprets as a coup. Violence erupts.

There is recent history, which tragically can be traced through the traumas experienced by Bol Aweng’s family (and many others). The second civil war between the north and south began in 1983. The village of Piol was attacked in 1987 and Bol Aweng, running for his life at age six, became one of over 36,000 Lost Boys of Sudan. While this conflict still raged, internal strife developed within the South Sudan Resistance. Citing different political goals, Riek Machar (the VP mentioned above) challenged the leadership of John Garang. In 1991, his largely Nuer forces attacked Garang’s home territory—Dinka lands, including Piol. Bol’s mother and sister were abducted. The mother returned, but the daughter was not heard from again, until just last year when she was found living in Nuer lands.

Machar, who received support from the Sudan government in Khartoum, signed an agreement with them in 1997, but in 2002, he rejoined Garang’s Resistance Movement (Garang was killed in a crash in 2005; Kiir was his second in command) and, in 2012, Machar publicly apologized for the massacre of 1991.

And there are the consequences of decades of war. The health delivery system was destroyed and has not been adequately re-developed. One out of five children do not live to age five. South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates, and their literacy rate is the lowest in the world—these are just some of the realities of generation after generation having to live in survival mode.

Is this an inevitable tribal conflict? A battle for political power? For economic control? [After all, oil-rich regions are continually a loci of conflict.] Or a consequence of war’s neglect and stagnation?

And perhaps a more important question: Is there a way forward politically? This remains to be seen. But it’s important to understand that even as the map divides regions and tribes, those lines crisscross everywhere—Nuer helping Dinka, Dinka helping Nuer (and for a less heartwarming example, some Dinka were part of Machar’s group in the 1990s), and those of other tribal affiliations helping both. A Dinka man, for instance, is protecting his two Nuer nieces, even as the girls’ relatives in another area are fighting, albeit reluctantly, against Dinka. “I would save those girls again,” he says, “even if my people are killed, I would rather save a life, any life, rather than take one.” There are many stories like this. No matter how cruel the politics and the violence, there always are.

Seemingly pointless political machinations and mass killings make it difficult for those in the west to watch and, eventually, to care. Bol Aweng understands this. The last year has returned him, quite painfully, to his own trauma and the awful knowledge that it is happening again to others. Though it is hard to witness, he is grateful to those who do. As a child he remembers feeling as if his misery was “imperceptible” to the rest of the world. Now he is here in Columbus, he is raising a family, he is making art, he is improving healthcare, he is reducing infant mortality. “In the world, a lot of bad things happen,” he says, “but if we save the life of one person, this is a big difference we can make in the lives of human beings.”

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

 

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Events, Follow This, Speakers, TEDxYouth@Columbus

Austin Channell at TEDxCbus

by Kendra Hovey

If you didn’t see it, you might have heard about it: First standing O of the day . . . 80,290 views online . . . featured on WOSU TV’s TEDxColumbus special . . . The talk, Austin Channell’s A Culture of Obsession: Why taking choir kept me from being valedictorian, was even retweeted by preeminent chorale composer Eric Whitacre—making Channell, for one hot moment, a hero among Central Ohio choir directors.

It all made for an interesting senior year of high school for Austin Channell, who never expected to be juggling his class schedule with an appearance on All Sides with Ann Fisher or piggybacking a college visit onto a speaking engagement in Virginia.

Now a high school graduate, Channell finished third in his class, but was not a valedictorian. As he says, “that would have been awkward.” In the fall, he’ll attend Vanderbilt University, where he plans to study civil engineering.

Austin Channell on all sides with Ann FisherHis TEDx talk, to quickly refresh, grew out of a real life quandary: He could take choir in high school, get an A and, as a result, lower his GPA. Or he could sign up for study hall and end up with a higher GPA. As absurd as this sounds, it’s also built into the educational grading system. As Channell deftly points out, it is possible for a student to “succeed in more areas and be penalized for it.”

It’s not that he had some great ambition to be a valedictorian, as he says, “It was the principle of the thing.” And the problem is bigger than just some nonsensical grade point system. At issue, is the larger and more complicated matter of how we choose to define and measure success, and the resulting effects on college-entrance, and the self-esteem, health and well-being of our youth.

For students, it can lead to some silly scheduling maneuvers—going to art class while officially signed up for study hall. But if college is going to be in the picture, GPA is vital, and even as current business-speak extols the virtues of failure while the social sciences send out alerts about the dangers of perfectionism, students know exactly the fine line they have to walk.

If an A in a non-AP class can reduce GPA or just one B can plummet a class rank from one to one hundred and something, an example Channell shares, why take a risk? Or follow an interest? Maybe the student truly is that much less smart or less studious than before the B, either way, at many colleges, her application’s gone from the top of the pile to the slush pile. Grading—how it varies between districts, schools and teachers and what exactly it measures—is not just a complicated puzzle for administrators. Channell is telling us it’s having real effects, adverse effects, on real lives.

Yet not every high schooler with something important to say, says it on the TEDx stage. In fact, in the history of TEDxColumbus there’ve been exactly two: Austin Channell and Meagan Jones. Channell’s journey began courtesy of his public school, where a posted flyer and a nudge from a teacher led to an internship with TEDxYouth. Working with Andy Aichele for two years, he helped plan, coach and stage manage the event. “We spent a lot of time at a lot of Paneras,” he says. As can happen when working with TED, the question pops up: “What would be your talk?” When Achiele would pose it, Channell, took it as idle musing, at least until the day he began “ranting” about his situation. As he recalls, “Andy said, ‘This is your talk,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah…it is.’ ”

Austin Channell interviewed by CBS News Pittsburg

Once he left the TEDxColumbus stage, it didn’t take long for the tweeting and sharing to start, as well as the dialogue and invitations to speak. He’s been interviewed on various news programs, shared versions of the talk at a school board meeting, at the Ohio Department of Education (twice) and, by invitation of a PTA, as far away as Falls Church, Virginia. The small city, essentially a suburb of DC, is in the wealthiest county in the U.S. and home to supposedly the best high school in the country (though public, admission is selective). In Falls Church, says Channell, “even the middle school librarian has an ivy league degree.” It was there, during the Q&A, that Channell was asked maybe the most heart-breaking question. It came from an 8th grader. To paraphrase, she asked, “What if I don’t feel so driven to succeed, but my parents want it and I don’t want to make them unhappy?”

This child’s question helps explain the strong response to Channell’s talk. Education is not just about student and teacher, but administrators, communities, society, says Channell, and the core relationship between parent and child. “We know education is a hot button issue,” he says, “some relate to what they see as an unfair system, some question how we assess learning, some defend the system, but for parents in particular, the effects on their children are really concerning—I know how hard it was on my own parents to witness the physical toll of my class schedule and academic stress.”

Another reason for the overwhelming response may just be that Austin Channell did a really good job. And were I to add “for his age” it’s not to put a qualifier on his abilities, but to acknowledge age is a factor. Though he doesn’t attempt to offer a solution, and while people are listening and talking no changes have yet been made (though his school board just announced it will be reviewing the valedictorian system), still in Channell’s TEDx talk there is hope. Because despite everything we have left the next generation to grapple with, if they still come out smart, articulate, principled and mature, there’s definitely hope.

Whether Channell agrees with this or not, he can’t deny that people are impressed with his public speaking abilities, because the reality is he gets asked about it all the time. He actually loves this question. He knows exactly where he learned stage presence and how to engage an audience, and he’s happy to share: “It’s theater,” he says, “It’s what the arts can do for you.”

Another question catches him more off-guard. The details vary each time, but it goes something like this: “Would you mind if we drove three hours from Pittsburg to interview you?” Or, “We can pay to fly you and your mom to Virginia, put you up in a hotel, give you a rental car, pay for your food and a travel stipend…would that be okay?” Recounting these today, he still sounds bemused: “It’s one of those questions people would ask, but I’m still not sure . . . who says no to this?”

If this whole experience has been a bit disorienting for Channell, it’s also been humbling and motivating. Amazed by how far and wide the talk has spread, he also wonders if maybe he should have put more into it—more than writing it during an 11th period study hall, he confesses. This concern comes from the perfectionist in him, but also from a real sense of responsibility.

He has no obligation but to go off and be a college student and pursue his interest in civil engineering. But that’s not how he’s feeling. “I don’t know what form it will take or what point in my life it will happen,” he says, but the issue is not behind him. By sheer coincidence, Vanderbilt is home to Peabody College, the best graduate school of education in the nation. He’s already made contact, though just out of curiosity. He does say that, in his mind, from civil engineering to education is not a huge leap. “Civil engineering is about creating and maintaining systems. Though more infrastructure related, it’s borderline policy,” he says. Plus, he’s never been one for purely technical pursuits, being more macro- than micro-focused.

The system of education is one of many things he’s looking forward to potentially exploring in college. But for the moment, he’s got his graveyard shift at a truck parts warehouse. Spending his summer laboring alongside mostly fulltime union workers, ”I put parts in boxes,” he says, “I close the box and put a shipping label on it.” He’s in it for the money—“I know I’ll be poor in college, but my goal is to be less poor in college”—but as a side benefit, he’s listened to a lot of audio books.

One night that audiobook was The Ghost Map about a cholera epidemic in 1854. “If you want to get strange looks from people, just listen to a description of someone suffering from cholera,” he says. When the guys around him asked what he was listening to, it blossomed into a group discussion about medical issues and the scientific process. “Turn it up,” someone suggested, and at 10:00 on a summer night instead of a muffled din of rap, metal and various podcasts, blaring inside this truck parts warehouse was a story about disease and sanitation in mid-19th century London, England. Yet another unexpected and interesting experience in what has been an unexpected and interesting year for Austin Channell.

 

Kendra Hovey is editor at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

You won’t find the village of Piol on Google Earth. You’ll find it by dirt road. That is, if the weather is dry. If not, you’ll wait in Bor a day, maybe more, until the road is clear. Then, it’s another sixty miles across South Sudan’s Jonglei state, but you will find Piol and, there, you’ll find something oddly familiar: The iconic Block O; a building called Buckeye Clinic; perhaps even a few villagers wearing their scarlet and gray.

If you happen to recognize Piol as the home village of TEDxColumbus speaker Bol Aweng, you already have some idea of just how much he has accomplished since his 2010 talk. Back then a working medical clinic in his South Sudan village was just an idea. Three years and a little more than $200,000 later, the Buckeye Clinic is a functioning healthcare facility with a vaccination program, maternity ward and staff of five.

It’s a huge change: Previous healthcare in Piol amounted to a table under a tree and one man with enough fluency in English to read labels and hand out medicine. And, it’s made a huge difference: According to the latest count (2009), in this part of the world only 1 in 5 children survives past the age of five. But in Piol, the clinic has inoculated over 500 children from potentially fatal but preventable diseases. “Now 5 out of 5 children may live to age 5,” says Aweng, and parents who before did not dare to dream because, as he says, “my child may be taken away,” now have hopes for their children and are even making plans for their future.

While there’s more to do and more money to raise, clearly Bol Aweng has achieved the goal he shared in 2010 to help his family, his village and south Sudan.

Since then, he’s accomplished one or two other things as well:

  • He illustrated a children’s book Maluak’s Cows written by his late cousin Maluak Chol
  • He makes and sells his art
  • He speaks and is a guest artist at various schools, churches and organizations

And all of this he does while holding down a full-time job (second shift) at a Walmart distribution center, and also managing all the demands and joys of life as a new husband and father.

That’s another change since taking the stage at TEDxColumbus: Bol Aweng is married and he has a young daughter named Kiki. He and his wife Ajiel first met as youths in the Kenyan refugee camps. Though it took a year-plus, immigration-induced wait before Ajiel and Kiki could join him in the US, the family of three is together in Columbus. Very soon they will be a family of four—a baby boy is due any day now.

To those familiar with his story, this will all come as particularly welcome news. Bol Aweng, like his friend Jok Dau, is one of the 35,000 Lost Boys of Sudan and one of less than half that number to survive. To hear his story (best told by him, here) is to wish for him not just success, but the most basic personal happiness; to wish, in fact, for every kind of happiness there is—for him, his family and for all the lost boys and girls of Sudan.

Though we don’t hear as much about them, girls were also traumatized, displaced, killed or orphaned during the long civil war. After 20 years of separation, Bol Aweng was able to reunite with his family, but his younger sister Nyankiir remained missing. She had been abducted in 1991 when she was only four years old. “We feared she was not alive, but held out hope,” says Aweng.

In the spring of this year, word spread to Piol of a woman in the far eastern part of Jonglei who was believed to look like Nyankiir. When travel was possible—and the limitations on this cannot be overstated: there are only 80 miles of paved road in the country; zero in Jonglei state; rains can quickly make dirt roads impassable; and bandits can make any road unsafe—Bol Aweng’s father, accompanied by the village chief, went to meet her.

“My father knows my sister has certain marks on her body,” recounts Bol, “ ‘if you have these marks’ he says to her ‘then I know you are my daughter’ and she has them and shows them to him and they both cannot talk to one another anymore and just cried.”

Nyankiir has a husband and two children. She no longer speaks her native Dinka, so the family must communicate through an interpreter. Bol was able to talk to her on the phone, and she is expected to visit Piol at Christmas this year and reunite with the rest of the family. What she remembers and what she experienced is still a story to unfold. But whatever the past or the future, the happiness to have found her, says Bol, is beyond words.

When Nyankiir does come to Piol she will see the Buckeye Clinic, perhaps even her children will benefit from its inoculation program, as the children of her and Bol’s other siblings have. Along with vaccinations, the clinic also offers health education and basic primary health care services. Birth services, and a maternity ward for those experiencing complications, as well as, emergency transportation and medical training are planned for the near future. Funding for these services, as well as construction, utilities and personnel, comes almost entirely from the people of Columbus, Ohio. You may not know this, but there is a blue lion in Piol. Also a golden bear and a wolf with a blue paw print. You’ll find them in and around the clinic and on the catchment system providing clean water to the village, each one marking the fundraising efforts of Columbus-area schools.

From large-scale fundraising projects to each individual donation, the support, says Aweng, has been wonderful: “This was something I needed to do, but lack of funds can dismantle the idea. Then the community of Columbus joined me and now we see the day of a clinic in my village. I really feel proud about the people of Columbus.”

Steve Walker, long-time friend and mentor to both Bol Aweng and Jok Dau and also a major force behind the clinic project, reports that the next crucial steps are to hire a full-time midwife and nurse, and to raise more money for operating costs. The project is about $80,000 shy of the $300,000 goal that will fund the clinic for three years, after which it is expected to be sustained by the primary health care plan developed by the new—as well as the first and the only—government of South Sudan.

On July 9, 2011, after a nearly unanimous vote (98.9%), The Republic of South Sudan officially became an independent state. It is an exciting and much-welcome development, says Aweng, but the world’s youngest country is “still struggling a lot,” he says. While there is no shortage of outside interest in oil, Aweng also welcomes investment in agriculture, business, transportation, healthcare, security and, more than anything, education.

Building the clinic at the same time the country is building itself brings with it a unique set of challenges. Imagine that between interviewing and hiring, the country enacts a social security plan. Suddenly there are more rules, regulations and costs to figure out. But, quite unexpectedly, the project now has more help on the ground.

Last April, Steve Walker travelled to Piol with Jok Dau, who, as a lost boy also from Piol, has, in broad strokes, a story similar to Bol Aweng’s. Dau, in fact, was scheduled to speak with Aweng at TEDxColumbus, but was unable to get the day off work. In April, when he and Walker flew to Africa, Dau was in a much better job at the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and, just one year earlier, had travelled to South Sudan to marry Abol, his fiancé. This time, after two weeks working with the community in Piol and meeting with various government officials, Walker flew home, while Dau was to stay on three more weeks to help expedite his wife’s visa application and to visit with his new in-laws.

Three weeks passed, but Dau did not return. He made the mistake of skipping his pills and contracted malaria. As he began to recover, his wife who had been caring for him contracted not only malaria, but typhoid fever as well. Dau did not feel he could leave. He resigned from the USCIS. At the time, Walker was concerned for Dau’s future, but “Jok reassured me,” Walker recounts, “he told me ‘I will just start over’ and, well, I thought, that is one thing he certainly does know how to do.”

Recovery took months, but today both are healthy. Dau recently took a job training government staff in taxation and capacity building, and he continues to assist with the Buckeye Clinic. Turns out that having him “on the ground” has been an invaluable resource, says Walker.

Bol Aweng fully expects Dau will find a way to return with his wife to the US. Looking at Dau’s life now, as well as his own, I asked Bol Aweng what it feels like today, as a man, artist, employee, husband, father, philanthropist, to hear himself called a Lost Boy of Sudan. To answer, he began by talking about those 20 years: “Totally crazy,” he says, “no sense to them…and how I was able to cope…I can only say God is great. The Lost Boys of Sudan is about the history, but those 20 years are a big part of my life, and though, yes, I am a man, I have a happy life…the name ‘The Lost Boys of Sudan’… it is a reality.”

 

UPDATE: 12-8-13: Baby Aweng has arrived! At 8 pounds, baby is in good health. So is mom.

UPDATE 1-3-14: On December 15th, a political dispute escalated into an open conflict that has killed 1,000 people and displaced nearly 200,000. Fighting first erupted in Juba, then on December 25th rebels attacked Bor, the majority-Dinka capitol of Jonglei State that is about 60 miles south of Piol.

Steve Walker was able to talk to Jok Dau by phone on December 27th. He reports that Jok was evacuated to Nairobi by air by the US State Dept. His wife Adol, who had been in Juba for a medical appointment, fled by car to Kampala, Uganda. She made it to the border town Nimule, but for unknown reasons was unable to cross into Uganda. Jok says she is safe there with many other refugees also fleeing Juba. Adol was seeking medical care in Juba because, in news Jok was happy to share, she is pregnant.

When Bor was attacked, civilians either sought safety at the UN headquarters (as Bol Aweng’s sister did) or fled to their home villages. Bol says that over 1,000 fled to Piol, where they are without food or shelter. There is no food in the village and everything in the nearest towns has been looted by the rebels. Both Steve and Bol have been trying to get in touch with the staff at the clinic, but the phone network has been down for weeks.

Today (1-3-14) the US government announced a further reduction in embassy staff. So far one American death has been reported (though not officially confirmed): a former “Lost Boy” who had returned to prepare for his wedding. Also today, official talks between the government and rebel forces (led by former Vice President Machar) begin in Ethiopia. Previously, the African Union has said it would “take further measures if hostilities did not cease” in four days from today. It remains unclear what those measures might be.

UPDATE 3-10-14: After two months with no word from his home village, Bol was finally able to talk to a Buckeye Clinic staff member on February 12. He learned that most families in Piol had fled to the swampy land on the Nile, including Bol’s family. The Buckeye Clinic remained and remains open. The village chief and clinic staff stayed behind.

A cease-fire agreement was signed on January 23, 2014. Though there is still insecurity in the country. There were reports of renewed fighting in late February in Malakal in the Upper Nile region, north of Piol and close to the Sudan border, and a brief clash in Juba on March 5th. The UN, which publishes a weekly update on the crisis, reports that since Dec 15th over 900,000 have been displaced from their homes. 

Photos courtesy of southsudanclinic.org, except independence celebration courtesy os Reuters. 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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It’s our fifth year.  How did THAT happen?

And while we aren’t going to have someone jump out of plane to celebrate, we are proud to announce what might be our most ambitious line up in the short history of TEDxColumbus.  Join us on October 11 from 9-4 (with happy hour until 5) at COSI to witness this collection of thinkers, researchers, provocateurs, rainmakers, entertainers and game-changers, all of whom, in their own right, are doing things truly OUT THERE. Come join a dynamic crowd of curious folks to be collectively provoked, challenged and inspired, while connecting, conversing and processing it all together.

A few changes from past year’s events:  We have selected more speakers  — but to speak for shorter times, upon audience request.  We’ve curated two special groups to join our expected, provocative talks.  Here is the complete lineup (access their bios and abstracts through the speaker home page here).

For being OUT THERE in their investigations, solutions, ideas, courage or reach.  Talks include:

  • On rebuilding cities, Mohamed Ali.
  • On global warming, David Bromwich .
  • On gender fluidity, Gabrielle Burton.
  • On revolutionizing hacking, Chris Domas.
  • On finding new planets, Scott Gaudi.
  • On giving back out there, when you are in there, Jim Fussell
  • On a basic unmet human need, Nancy Kramer.
  • On the courage to change, Decker Moss.
  • On reaching deep inside the brain, Ali Rezai.
  • On new rules for systems, Joe Simkins.
  • On entertaining us,  Tobin-Wilcox and The Castros.

Five in five.  (Okay, we did want to celebrate being five.)

For being OUT THERE in their passions –  in five minutes each.

  • On writing through logic, Miriam Bowers Abbott.
  • On paying attention, Chris Fraser.
  • On exploring within, Josh Hara.
  • On coming out of the valley, Stephanie Hughes.
  • On a dynamic bike city, Jess Mathews.

Sensory Talks. Playing on the five theme (last time, promise!), we’ve invited a group of speakers to share an incredible range of thinking on our five main senses.

  • On smells in a city, Dax Blake.
  • On our scent and taste memory, Tom Knotek.
  • On saving sight, Kaweh Mansouri.
  • On the power of touch, Lori Guth Moffett.
  • On challenging the ability to listen, Susan Nittrouer.

And we encourage you to move quickly if you’d like to attend.  We expect, as always, tickets to sell out. Tickets can be purchased here.

TEDxColumbus 2013 is made possible with support of the following partners:

Lead Sponsor, resource.

Event Partners, The Columbus Foundation, The Doug and Monica Kridler Fund of the Columbus Foundation, Limited Brands Foundation, Cardinal Health and The Ohio State University.

Presenting Sponsors, GSW Worldwide, Ologie, Crane Group, Glimcher, IntoGreat, Alliance Data, Crimson Cup,

Media Partner, WOSU

Host Partner, COSI and Host Supporter, Susan Leohner Events.

Creative Support is provided by Base Art Co., Spacejunk Media, and BonFire Red.

 

 

 

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[by Kendra Hovey]

What does it really take to be ready for the TEDx stage? For Rich Bowers this is both a practical question useful to those with TED/TEDx ambitions, and a philosophical one: how is it that we create ideas, then shape, scale, and share them?

The question so intrigued the videographer and TEDster (once upon a time—as in pre-Chris Anderson—Bowers even attended TED), he set out to document it. For three months last year he followed TEDxColumbus speakers Jan Allen and Naomi Stanford on their journey to the TEDx stage. The result is his new documentary, “The Talk Emerges.”

The video is a labor of love. Bowers tends to devote himself to one of these almost every year, somehow finding the time while also operating a design and production company. Though many of his previous independent projects focus on musicians, they all share a similar fascination with the creative process:

“Humans can make things up out of nothing,” he says. “A lot of it is crap, but some of it is good. Humans have also figured out how to edit—to pick the good from the crap.”

And all Bowers wants to know is: “How does all that happen?”

“The Talk Emerges,” then, is one more opportunity, as he says, “to look deep into the pool where things originate . . . and perhaps watch something good come out of it.”

It is also, Bowers hopes, a tool for potential speakers and one that will put some substance behind the oft-heard, but abstract description: it’s a lot of work. He hopes, too, that those who enjoy TED and TEDx will appreciate even more the care and craftsmanship behind the experience they have come to love.

In “The Talk Emerges,” Bowers devotes much of his running time (70 mins.) to interviews, as each speaker shapes her idea and performance, and truly digests the impact of the TED requirements. “I cannot emphasize enough how gutsy Jan and Naomi were to do this,” he says, adding, “their willingness to share the good ideas, the missteps, the angst, the fun, and their own personal growth is a huge contribution to the TEDx tradition.”

So, after 40 hours of prep, research, and filming, plus weeks of editing, what wisdom about creating a successful TED talk can Rich Bowers now share?

  • First, take the challenge seriously, he says. A TED Talk is a commitment.
  • Second, in the best talks, the speaker is immersed in the subject. Not just cares, emphasizes Bowers, but is invested: “Be sure you have that kind of investment.”
  • Third, you will surprise yourself, he says, and there will be “good surprises and less good surprises.” In other words, embrace candor.

And, to have the best time, he suggests, “absorb the mechanics.” For the time being, make it part of your persona, he says, “then enjoy yourself and enjoy sharing your important idea with an audience.”

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxWomen, Viewing Events

[by Kendra Hovey]

I’ll start with some facts:

  • TEDxWomen is for everyone. It is, explains host Pat Mitchell, “for a world that needs the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism and their artistry.”
  • Women and men speak at TEDxWomen.
  • Women and men attend TEDxWomen, though, to date, women in much greater numbers.
  • The talks at TEDxWomen are as universally relevant as the talks at TED.
  • 15,000 people watched TEDxWomen 2012 at various live viewing events across 53 countries.
  • “The Space Between”—this year’s theme—refers to the gray, the and, the full spectrum that lives between polarities, be they black/white, rich/poor, work/family, right/left, male/female…

Next, some history:

  • TEDWomen launched in 2010 as a TED conference.
  • The x was added in 2011. Because of the large number of local TEDxWomen events that sprouted alongside TEDWomen, the TEDx community was thought to be a more logical home.
  • Talks from the past two conferences have been viewed 20 million times and translated into 50 languages.

Now, an opinion:

  • TEDxWomen is fast becoming my favorite TED-related event.

Like TED, TEDxWomen blows my mind, captivates, educates, stirs and moves me. It also has the benefits built into TEDx, namely, access to the fascinating nooks and crannies of life that (big)TED is sometimes too big to see.

By the same token, TEDxWomen shares the realities of TEDx: less time, energy, resources—less rigor—and as a result there are some talks that don’t quite hit their mark.

But where TEDxWomen beats all is the connecting. Interaction is part of the TED platform—if you attended TEDxColumbus you might remember introducing yourself to your neighbors and lunching with five (now former) strangers.

At the TEDxColumbus TEDxWomen event, this element is seamless and unprompted.

TEDxColumbusWomen 2012For whatever reason, people tend to bring and express their full selves—not a compartmentalized professional one. As a result, discussions get rich and interesting real fast. In short, it’s fun.

It also makes perfect sense for TED. Watch almost any TEDTalk and invariably the subject percolated and took shape out of this inseparable mix of passion, personal and professional.

But exactly how this ease in expression and connection I see at TEDxWomen happens, I can’t say. And how to tap into it on a larger scale . . . I wish I knew.

This question—how to scale-up?—came up again, in fact, almost every time a speaker shared yet another project, idea, model, theory or good work.

One particularly poignant example is the counter-terrorism efforts of Edit Schlaffer, Archana Kapoor and Arshi Saleem Hashmi that enabled Pakistani and Indian women, both, to move from victimhood, and the defaults of fear and hate, to agency, understanding and empathy.

 

Some quotes:

“The loss of a son, no matter whose son, is the loss of a son.”

 

“Terrorists know how to use the power of women, why do not counter-terrorists?”

 

 

 

Another great quote from the day comes from John Gerzema, who said:

“Femininity is the Operating System of 21st century progress.”

Maybe you want to pause…go back, read that again. It’s quite an interesting thing to say, isn’t it?


It is the basic idea of what he calls the Athena Doctrine. Surveying as many as 60,000 across the globe, Gerzema found that character traits classified as “feminine” were rated as highly important for leadership, success, morality and happiness. “Feminine values,” he states, “are ascendant.” I, personally, would love to see what more empathy, respect, patience, expressiveness and flexibility, among other traits, would do for the world. I hope he is right. But I would also like to see research on the correlation between what people say they want and what people actually do.
TEDxColumbusWomen 2012
Four reasons (and there are undoubtedly more) to watch Eboo Patel’s talk are:

  1. it’s a great trajectory story (how I got from there to here);
  2. Patel speaks about faith in a way meaningful to believer, non-believer and all that’s in-between;
  3. if you don’t already know about Dorothy Day, you will; and
  4. trust me, you don’t want to miss out on meeting his grandmother.

Two speakers, Angela Patton and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, share particularly poignant stories about the importance of fathers.

[When the Taliban threatened Basij-Rasikh’s father with death if he didn’t stop his daughter from going to school, he said this: “Kill me now if you wish, but I will not ruin my daughter’s future.”]


The target of a massive online misogyny and harassment campaign, Anita Sarkeesian’s appalling, eventually hopeful, but still appalling, story is essential viewing, and her analysis increasingly relevant.

The talks I mention are just a few of many that struck a chord. TEDxWomen covered a range of topics from transcendental meditation, computer programming, street art, autism, the “war” on obesity, the freedom of a wheelchair, the benefits of getting lost, and more—plus those still to be discovered as I watch the last 20 or so online.

One presenter, the explorer and “way-finder” Elizabeth Lindsey, is concerned that we have come to live our lives by “fickle criteria.” “We are following the wrong stars,” she says, “we’re being sold a lifestyle when what we want most is a life.”

To continue her metaphor, one inspiring through-line in this year’s TEDxWomen is example after example after example of people following different stars—and the innovative and positive destinations they create. And, from 17-year-old Brittany Wengar to CEO Charlotte Beers, one thing seems clear: Counter to what women, at least American women, have been told—to check their gender at the workplace door (and men, too, to check their femininity)—these stars shine brighter when we tap into and value the full range of who we are.

 Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

Photos from TEDxWomen by John Lash c/o The Paley Center for Media;  Photos from viewing event by Allyson Kuentz c/o TEDxColumbus

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We’re thrilled to announce the 2011 TEDxColumbus line up.  After many months of nominations, interviews, conversations and research, the list is complete.

“The heart-and-soul of a TEDx event is the passion, talent, data, perspective and determination that comes through in every talk.  This year at TEDxColumbus the speakers and performers will offer a delicate balance of primary research, unbelievable life journeys, fascinating analyses and overall, really big ideas that will stretch every mind in the room.” said Ruth Milligan, Event Curator. “Everyone is assured to walk away with their own personal time capsule of experience and knowledge.”

In alphabetical order, those who will present include:

Alex Bandar– Visionary, Metallurgist, Connector
For a guy that doesn’t sleep much, Alex has an amazingly coherent vision for the world. Concerned with the death of “shop,” his vision for bringing a “maker” experience to the students in Columbus is only one part of his story. He’ll share how that vision is informed by his morning, noon and night passion (yes, different than his day job), where he’s quietly built one of the most dynamic collaboratives of engineers, artists and tinkerers in the region.

Mark Berman– Naturalist, Educator, Entomologist
Who cares about the bug?  Mark does.  And thinks you should too.  He’ll bring a unique lens to the two, four or ten legged creatures that in his opinion, can bring you perspective and maybe in return, a little respect.

David Burns– Innovator, Antagonist, Educator, Father
The pathway that David took to being a pioneer in the STEM/ 21st Century Learning Movement is a fascinating journey.  But what this leader knows about education makes him question: is education system viable anymore? He’ll uncover his own trepidation on this topic, fueled both by the irrelevant standards he faces in his daily work but also by the challenges of his three teenaged, college-contemplating children and how this impacts them.

Mike Figliuolo – Traveler, Teacher, Entrepreneur
While travel creates great stress and anxiety for many, some find it an amazing set of moments that illustrate the human condition.  Today Mike will share a different angle on his journeys and the interesting places they have taken him – and now, all of us.

Theresa Flores– Warrior, Vigilante, Advocate
Theresa’s passionate advocacy for one of the most vulnerable segments of our society is inspired by her own horrifying experience.  As she introduces you to a world far beyond your mind’s reach, she’ll show it can really be found next door.  And how one answer to it all might be found in a tiny bar of soap.

Jamie Greene– Planner, Architect, Collaborator
As our city has a moment in time as it turns 200 next year, Jamie will help guide hundreds of initiatives, events, promotions, exhibits, books and more into a year-long, collective commemoration.  But at the heart of it all, we’re curious, why does it matter?  In a brief reflection, Jamie will bring clarity to this question and inspire us to join in the movement.

Denny Griffith– Artist, Administrator, Visionary
Most creative individuals end up with more than one persona in life.  How do they support, conflict and interact with each other?  Denny will reveal his vulnerable insights from years searching for the balance between his public and private personas.

Claudia Kirsch– Radiologist, Artist, Pioneer
Claudia spends her life looking for hitchhikers, the kind that take ‘free rides’ along your nerves carrying cancer. Through her blend of science and a little art, she’s redefining how radiologists look at the most congested traffic site in our bodies: the head and neck. Her discoveries will inspire and may someday even save your life.

Maryanna Klatt–  Researcher, Yogi, Teacher
The impact of chronic stress on our health, productivity, and overall wellbeing can be catastrophic.  But how do you reduce it without adding one more thing to your life? Maryanna will reveal from her significant research initiatives that learning stress reduction techniques within the very ecosystem where we spend our days may be the most viable solution.

Dirk Knemeyer– Provocateur, Entrepreneur, Thinker
Dirk argues humanity took a wrong turn, but is getting close to finding its way again. After centuries of industrial production in inhuman ways and scales we now have the opportunity to turn our substantial capacity for remaking the world toward the most promising and unexplored of frontiers: ourselves. Dirk challenges us to view the future through the lens of the self.

Randy Nelson – Professor, Neuroscientist, Researcher
Dr. Nelson has a deep curiosity about the dark side of light at night.  His research will reveal that our passion for electrification has more complex consequences than can meet the sleeping eye.

Bart Overly–  Futurist, Architect, Thinker
As our population rapidly ages and lives much longer, how so might the habitats we have constructed for our comforts adapt to this change?  A global review of attitudes towards this longevity crisis (or opportunity) might enlighten design and development’s reaction towards it.  As a student of architecture, Bart will share his perspectives on this ever dynamic and somewhat troubling dilemma.

Janet Parrott– Filmmaker, Storyteller, Professor
The exploration of hospice was not one that Janet had planned to take, but found herself in South Africa doing just that.  As a filmmaker, Janet was equipped with tools to tell the story of a very different approach to what we embrace in America as hospice, but challenged by the pathway that took her there, having lost many personal friends to HIV/AIDS herself.  Janet will reveal the struggle that ensues when the creator becomes a part of the creation.

The Salty Caramels– Musical gumbo
With a suitcase bass drum, cast-iron skillet, heavy-gage chain and a musical saw as ingredients in their “musical gumbo”, you’d expect for the Salty Caramels to stand out, and that’s exactly what they do.

Adam Smith– Multi-Instrumentalist, Composer
His passion for fusing his Film and TV music experience, jazz idioms, art installations and free-improvised directions creates an extremely unique landscape for the adventurous musician and listener.

Rose SmithPoet
One of our many shared ‘moments’ at TEDxColumbus, Rose will delight us with her provocative poetry and engaging delivery. 

Trent Tipple – Survivor, Father, Scientist
In a touching reflection on the fragility of our existence, Trent will question our ability to truly appreciate what life has offered. He should know, he’s faced his own mortality three times.  And fortunately for his family, his patients and the world, he’s here to openly share that appreciation of his own.

Susan Willeke – Ethicist, Teacher, Steward
We’re told to keep an open mind, so why would Susan argue that we need some bias in our lives?  As an ethics trainer, she will compel you to recognize why your bias is helpful in keeping some societal order, but on occasion, how it drags us into some of our most regrettable mistakes.

 

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Tis the season to coordinate the curation of the third TEDxColumbus event.  We’ve been overhwelmed with speaker nominations, much to our delight.

We thought we’d share the main factors in how we sort, debate and choose the speakers as we head into the final inning of this process.

1. Chosen speakers generally fall into one of 3 categories:

     A. Primary researcher or original artist/author

     B. Primary observer of other people’s data from a unique lens

     C. Primary experiencer (our word) of a once in a lifetime event

2. Topics and ideas they speak on can be widely varying against our theme, but we aim for:

     A. Big and mind-bending

     B. Provocative and emotional

     C. Story/anecdote rich

3. Nominations not considered are:

     A. Anything remotely self promotional

     B. Policy talks – they are usually important but dry and often politically charged.

     C. Riffs – ie one sided, research-lacking, opinionated rants.

     D. Leadership and motivational talks

     E. Speakers who do not have an intrinsic tie to Columbus

 

Once we have vetted through if a speaker and topic are a potential fit, we look at the entire list altogether. This allows us to achieve balance in narrative style, native / foreign speakers, topic, gender and ethnic diversity.  This is the tough part of the process as we always end up leaving a good speaker or idea behind.  But the audience (you), would not appreciate only talks on education, or only talks by people who have overcome a life-threatening, heart-tugging obstacle.  The beauty of a live TEDx event is the connectivity one finds between diverse topics.

We don’t have an exact statistic on how long speakers take to prepare, but our rule of thumb is at least one hour per minute of presentation, particularly if it is a new talk (even on an old idea).  The first year we had one speaker leave town from his family for 3 days to work on his 12 minute talk. Let’s say it’s a notable commitment.

But the payoff if significant. Speakers know the audience is seeking new ideas and has a wide-open mind, the shared experience with the other speakers is quite amazing, and last but not least, the value of having a TEDx video online is a fairly huge perk.

We welcome your questions and suggestions as we continue to refine and improve our process. But we ask that you only give feedback if you have attended a live TEDx event.  Watching individual talks online is not an adequate judge of the wholistic experience we work to achieve for our audience every fall.

 

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