Heather L. Barmore
No Pasa Nada Heather Barmore Elsewhere About
Heather L. Barmore
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Heather Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices

    Sunday
    Oct112015

    For 62 Million Girls 

    My high school portrait"I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back" - Malala Yousafzai 
    My educational history is rather pedestrian and I am going to bore you with the details. You have been warned and you are welcome.

    I failed math. Multiple times. I am literally unable to do algebra. With little to no interest in the absolutes of math and science my misery in those subjects were balanced by my excelling in the social sciences. There were the AP classes and tests and the crossing of appendages upon receiving my scores. I skipped whatever caused me heartache and threw my all into advanced studies of American public policy. Even then, my AP European History teacher suggested that perhaps I should try to apply myself and, you know, do some work. My music teacher said the same and my English teacher. Oh, my Spanish teacher as well. See? Typical teenage inability to focus and want to do anything that doesn’t involve sleeping and silently cursing one’s classmates. When it came to college I got into my first choice school, in my first choice city. By the end of my senior year of college I had amassed so many credits that I studied and mastered my long golf game for four credits and my spring semester was spent shopping my way through Spain.

    I’m trying to remember the exact timing of things but it had to be sometime at the start of college when my mother gifted me a copy of Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. Have you read it? It’s a disturbing masterpiece. An unfortunate telling of the educational disparities across this country. Disparities which fall across socioeconomic and racial lines. While I went along with my rather boring but blissful education in the excellent public schools of Upstate New York. As I complained my way through college-level microeconomics there were students, a mere 151 miles away, students who looked just like me, with the same brown skin, students who, by no fault of their own, were struggling to get a basic education.

    In New York State in 2002.

    Hell, in New York State in 2015.

    Anyway, I read Jonathan Kozol and subsequently committed myself to a career in politics focusing on education policy. Specifically the failed attempts at educational parity across New York State and across the country.

    It’s not as if this story ends on some miraculous, happy note where the achievement gap closes and we all go home giving fist bumps and high fives to educators around the country. One of the joys of being a global citizen and awareness is realizing that the inequities here are not endemic to the United States as I write this and relive my own academic career there are 62 million girls around the world who are unable to attend school. 62 million girls who will continue a cycle of poverty in nations that struggle with achieving true democracy without education the girls and young women who are the cornerstones of strong nations and economies. 62 million girls for whom education, exceptionalism and freedom is unattainable.

    I have seen this with my own eyes.

    I have read the words of Malala Yousafszai, watched her interviews and had tears fill my eyes during a screening of He Named Me Malala* and do so with the privilege of knowing that my academic ‘failures’ were barely setbacks. I received an education and the support of parents who had previously resided in some of the worst school districts in the country but were able to guide me through my own path.

    Not every brown girl across this country or world has that. I am a rarity with my college courses and superb golf game and tailored resume proudly proclaiming my alma mater. I have all of these things and yet 62 million girls will struggle and put their lives on the line for the same.

    I said that my education is pedestrian. But it isn’t. I have enjoyed the privilege of an excellent education. One that afforded me the ability to sit here and write these words on behalf of the little girls who have been told they cannot.

    There are 62 million girls who would love to tell the story of their failed attempts at mathematics. My passion for education policy is to speak for them and share their stories not just today on the Day of the Girl but everyday.


    *For parents who are reluctant to take their child(ren) to see the film, I encourage you to take a peek at the parental discussion guide.
    Friday
    Jul032015

    There is a Light 

    "You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself." ~Alan Alda

    I have been reluctant to discuss my recent trip to Malawi. It was the opposite of horrible and just as life-changing as everyone said it would be. Which is why  I pause because  a simple “Oh, it was good” doesn’t suffice as a response to the excited query of, “How was Malawi?!”. To say that I went in reluctantly (new people, new place, I am a creature of habit. Give me my bed, my vino and my Netflix) and that it was better than I could have dreamed sounds so…basic. The truth is that it was magical and as I previously mentioned, there was a bit of guilt while there: who am I to complain about anything ever again?  

    In the time that I have been able to allow for the hugeness of traveling across a country to settle in my brain, I continue to return to the absolute beauty of Malawi. Would you go back? I am often asked. Yes. In a heartbeat. And then I go to my phone to share these photos:

    Every single day was exactly like this complete with a majestic, vibrant sky, seemingly showing off. Every day we were surrounded by magnificence not only due to Mother Nature but because of the people we encountered who eagerly displayed the fruits of their labor. I have been concerned in the past that Americans travel to places of extreme poverty to simply gawk but it was the opposite, with hand holding and pride in their farms and livestock.

    I asked repeatedly about the sentiment towards the United States and whether or not we were truly helping. Being the cynic I am, I steadied myself for something anti-American but received the exact opposite. I was told that the US is a great partner for Malawi, that we have done much and that we are needed there. The US is one of the few countries who have been committed and continue to stay. The US doesn’t simply hand out money and walk away, we have put and continue to put people on the ground. The US is revered.

    Now, being the Congress-obsessed person I am, I have spent the last several months looking up Federal funding requests and appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year and wanting to learn more about any prudent legislation related to foreign aid. Two weeks ago, thanks to the efforts of the ONE Campaign, the House of Representatives reintroduced the Electrify Africa Act. Today, I will spare you my getting all wonky and give you the necessary details. In two days Tracey Clark will share her words and images in order to bring awareness to The Electrify Africa Act.

    I am often told that people are nervous when calling their representatitve's office in Washington but when you do call them in order to get him or her to sign on to this bipartisan bill (because I know you will) you can give out these facts:

     - Seven in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa - nearly 600 million people - do not have basic access to electricity.
     - In 20 African countries, endemic power shortages for people at all economic levels are a way of life ( we were on Lake Malawi when we were - gasp - unable to get online. The hotel staff shrugged it off and, in the end, so did we)
     - The lack of electricity has a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls. It also results in poor healthcare, stifled economic growth, limited or no education and a lack of safety.
     
    The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 would prioritize and coordinate U.S. Government resources in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 to:
    - Promote first-time access to electrify for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor.
    - Encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power in both rural and urban areas using a broad mix of energy options.
    - Encourage in-country reforms to facilitate public-private partnerships and increase transparency in power production, distribution, and pricing.
    - Promote efficient institutional platforms that provide electrical service to rural and underserved areas.
    - ZERO cost to the American taxpayers. In fact it would SAVE money.
    You can join in by sharing your own favorite images of light and tweet using the #ElectrifyAfrica and #lightforlight hashtags. Retweet the words of many of your favorite bloggers who will be sharing more about how to Electrify Africa throughout the month of July.


     

    Monday
    May182015

    Malawi, Briefly

    "The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land."  ~G.K. Chesterton

    Outside of a community hospital in Monkey Bay, I stopped Karen.

    “I’m such an asshole.”

    Wielding two large DSLRs she looked at me, concerned, “why are you an asshole?”

    “Because I’m selfish? I’m surrounded by privilege and I can be so unappreciative of my life?”, I sighed at the absurdity of my often reactive and defensive behavior and my annoyance at what amounts to basic life crap.  

    “You’re not an asshole”, was the reply. “You know why? Because you’re going to go home and write about what you saw. You’re going to tell these stories.”

    Which is true. I began outlining how to tell you what I saw in Malawi. I gave myself a pat on the back one morning because I had it all figured out. Only to return to the states and be completely overwhelmed by placing an order at Starbucks and picking out an iron at Target. I’ve always rolled my eyes at people who return from trips with grandiose life changing statements because, really? You went to X country and suddenly have perspective? Puh-lease. Now I’m on the other side of the trip and it’s all true; everything I want to write is cliched. My emotions are all over the place. I am a writer who should be able to write, right? But I can’t. As you can tell by this stellar post.

    Before the trip we were sent an extensive list of what to pack, which I followed to the letter including a raincoat and an umbrella even though it was 80+ and sunny everyday. We were given briefings and itineraries and travel times. What we didn’t get was a primer on how to go about moving through the “real world” upon our return. There is no handout on how, after a week in Malawi, you’r entire worldview will change and everything will bring you to tears and your heart aches. I was probably annoyed about something on May 5th but today it’s the most insignificant thing ever.

    Everyone I have spoken to says to be gentle with myself and that is what I’m going to do. Last night I began to upload photos from my larger camera and will continue to do so and write about this experience because it needs to be shared. First, I need to to sit with myself and, as my friend Wendi said, digest. For now here are is a quick slideshow I hastily put together on Thursday afternoon. Everywhere we went we were greeted with song and dance. The music is one of those songs and the photos are all iPhone shots. I figured a little snippet of Malawi would be better than nothing. I'll post more photos on Instagram and more words will come later. Be gentle with me.

     

    Probably the best trip to Malawi ever from HeatherB on Vimeo.