What we’ve written, read, listened to, remembered, watched and been inspired by this week.

As the world remembers the more than one million lives that were lost and devastated by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, conflict continues in Syria, Sudan, Israel and Palestine.

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On September 9, the world lost a powerful advocate for human rights: Sunila Abeysekera.

We’re filled with sadness at Sunila’s passing and with immense gratitude for all of her work and devotion to human rights. We learned so much from her through the years, through her advocacy at the international level for peace and justice and her organizing to bring real change to communities on the ground.

With her passing, our movements have lost so much. But her legacy will be lasting. Thank you, Sunila.

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Learning by doing is an age old phrase, one that never seems to lose its relevance. Being thrown into the mix is an unparalleled method of teaching, rivaling the innovative educational technologies that attempt to challenge it each year.

Stella at MADRE

Stella at MADRE

I experienced a prime example of this tried-and-true philosophy during my time as a development intern at MADRE. I was thrilled that any organization would accept a high school junior to intern for them, and honored to be part of such an admirable, respected institution. In preparation, I read through MADRE’s inspiring program descriptions and educated myself about the organization, but really had no idea what to expect walking in on my first day.

The development office, as I soon found out, is the funding branch of the NGO structure.  It oversees foundation prospecting, grant writing and, on good days, grant acceptances and documentation. Every activity and new idea our partners and friends envision is shaped, contextualized and presented by the development department, where dedicated hours of poring over files and foundation directories help make MADRE’s and other NGO’s wonderful programs a reality. This realization made every prospect, grant application and foundation file I worked on feel like a direct link to the courageous, admirable women MADRE partners with worldwide.

Even on a small scale, I felt the unique gratification of doing my part to further the progression of women’s human rights today and for the future. On my last day at the development intern desk, reflecting on my time at MADRE this summer and looking toward my final year of high school and the opportunities that lay ahead, I take with me an experience that has taught me the importance of each microscopic brush stroke in the world’s infinitely expanding mural of change.

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For 30 years, MADRE has supported Indigenous women from different regions at the forefront of wars, discrimination, and extreme poverty, working hand-in-hand with women and families to bring solutions to their communities. MADRE provides strategic support for Indigenous women activists to be present and visible to international governing bodies, helping to bring their demands to the international arena. 

For this year’s 12th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, MADRE, in partnership with Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – NYC Office had the privilege of facilitating the participation of our sisters from Latin America and Africa. 

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a statement of courage and resilience that I heard from Silvia Perez Yescas, an Indigenous leader and a woman human rights defender from Oaxaca, Mexico, a place where the lives of women human rights defenders are at a high risk. She was in New York to deliver this statement at the official session of the Forum and had the chance to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya.  
Silvia Perez Yescas and Dali Angel from Oaxaca Mexico with James Anaya, special rapporteur on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

Silvia Perez Yescas and Dali Angel from Oaxaca Mexico with James Anaya, special rapporteur on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.


We at MADRE are proud of this continuing work to bring the voices of Indigenous women forward to influence key decision-making bodies. 
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Our partners Rose Cunningham and Liduvina Gill of Wangki Tangni and Mirna Cunningham of CADPI discuss living well, women’s political participation, violence against women, and intercultural exchange in this video produced in partnership with UNDP:

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Last week our partners at FIMI, with the support of MADRE and our friends at Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung here in New York, gathered for a final event together at this year’s United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). The event combined a series of individual speakers, panelists, songs, and demonstrations of hope and faith for the future our partners are building in the countries and around the world.

MADRE partner Rose Cunningham with two friends from FIMI's School of Global Leadership.

MADRE partner Rose Cunningham of Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua with Silvia Perez from Mexico and Maria Eugenia Choque from Bolivia.

The women in the room used the opportunity to share advice and tell stories, highlighting what they saw as the most important and critical ways to advance the movement for the rights of Indigenous

FIMI members attend a last UNPFII event together.

FIMI members attend a last UNPFII event together.

women and Peoples around the world. Many of them spoke about education, access, and resources, as the many ways those issues are interrelated. Several of the women recounted feeling alone in mainstream schools and struggling to finish their degrees, but spoke of how powerful it was to have the knowledge they acquired, and how much their sisters in the room had helped them to feel a sense of belonging they had often lacked. Almost every speaker emphasized the need for Indigenous women to pursue formal education and enact change from within existing systems in their home countries.

After several of the participants spoke, the women gathered before a home-made altar signifying their hopes for peace and their powerful women ancestors.

pf altar

The women performed a piece dedicated to acknowledging their generational differences and honoring the wisdom of the older women and the energy and hope of the younger women in the room.

pf generations

Music was omnipresent at the event; women sang during their presentations, before panels and speakers, and during the breaks, sharing their culture and their stories with another. The ended the day, and the week at the UN, by singing together.

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We’re so excited to have some of our wonderful partners here in town for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues! Here’s some of what they’ve been up to:

Tarcila Rivera (CHIRAPAQ), Lucy Mulenkei (IIN) and Mirna Cunningham (CADPI)

One of the best things about the Permanent Forum is having the opportunity to see partners from around the world all in one place! It also allows our sisters to exchange advice and stories, and offer one another support. Here, Tarcila Rivera of CHIRAPAQ in Peru, Lucy Mulenkei of IIN in Kenya, and Mirna Cunningham of CADPI in Nicaragua, also a member of the Permanent Forum, attend an event.

Lucy at the working group on sustainable development goals.

Lucy attended a session where a Cape Verde speaker spoke out: “Africa should be given priority in post 2015 development agenda. Agriculture is at the heart of poverty eradication in Africa.”

Otilia Lux de Coti at the MADRE/RLS panel.

On Monday, MADRE and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – New York Office hosted Indigenous women from around the world who discussed and shared strategies for combatting violence against women. Read more about our work with RLS here.

Follow @MADRESpeaks for more updates on UNPFII !

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My beloved coworkers have a saying: “You don’t have to be a mother to be a MADRE.” They’ll say it lightning-quick, in tones that range from reassuring to affirming to just plain old firm. And certainly we practice what we preach; most of us are not mothers – but we are MADREs.

I’ve been a big sister, a fairy godmother, a cousin, a daughter, a coworker, a friend, a best friend, a partner, a Wife, a Boston Wife, a Job, a teacher, a partner-in-crime and more, but I’ve never been a mother. In the most expansive set of the word, I’ve never mothered a single living creature. I can’t keep a plant alive, I’ve never been pregnant, I refuse to be independently responsible for the well-being of a pet, and my fondness for leather jackets and bacon says I’m not much of an Earth Mother, either. But I’m a MADRE.

If the coworkers, sisters, partners, interns and volunteers who make up our world are what I can measure a MADRE by, here’s what you need in your toolkit if you want to carry the mantle. You’ll need strength and compassion. You’ll need a big, loud voice and a willingness to use it when necessary. You’ll need patience: with systems, with other human beings, with the incredibly, devastatingly slow pace of progress. You’ll need endless reserves of determination and devotion to the overwhelming cause of making the world a better place for everyone who occupies it. You’ll need to believe in collective action and understand that the world is structured to advantage some and disadvantage others, and at the end of the day, you’ll need to believe unflinchingly that this ultimately disadvantages us all. Most of all, you’ll need hope. You’ll need hope when everything else in your toolkit fails, because you’re human, and building things is hard.

And in return for having these things and hanging on tight when it’s hard, which is almost every day, we all get each other. Like a mother, a MADRE is never alone – but unlike a mother, you can enjoy an uninterrupted night of sleep. Happy Mother’s Day, moms. May your breakfast in bed not begin at 6am.

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The small town of Haweeja, where we work with our partners at the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), has become one of the sites of increased violence across the northern part of the country as largely Shiite government militias engage with Sunni gunmen in a sectarian conflict.

According to the New York Times:

The deadliest battles occurred near Hawija and Sulaiman Pek, northern towns near Kirkuk, and battles were still raging in the early evening. In Hawija, the army shut off electricity, and troops shouted through loudspeakers, urging civilians to evacuate, witnesses said. Government helicopters also fired at Sunni gunmen on the ground in Sulaiman Pek.

This is not the first time this small town has felt the impact of the legacy of violence left by the US invasion and ten year occupation. In 2011, OWFI discovered that children in Haweeja were suffering from unprecedented rates of birth defects, and disproportionately high rates of cancer were impacting the entire population. These health problems are potentially linked to a US base one mile away, where chemical munitions were regularly detonated and dumped. Since then, OWFI and MADRE have been working to bring adequate medical care to those in need and draw international attention to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions. We have reached out to our partners there and will provide updates as the situation evolves.

For ongoing updates about the situation in Haweeja, join the Haweeja Action Team and support the community as a member.

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A judge in Guatemala yesterday announced a decision to suspend the genocide trial against Efraín Rios Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez, ruling that the proceedings to date were invalid. Guatemala’s Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has denounced this move as illegal, and prosecutors have pledged to appeal this decision.

Seeking to nullify the existing testimonies is a slap in the face to those who were the targets of genocidal violence in the years of Guatemala’s civil war, particularly the years of Rios Montt’s regime of 1982-1983. Indigenous Peoples, labeled as enemies, were systematically targeted by the military, and whole communities were destroyed. In the past month, people who survived this violence bravely stepped forward as witnesses to put their harrowing stories on the trial record:

The second woman to take the stand wept as she told the court that she had been raped by a series of men over three days in a military post in the Quiche department in the country’s heavily indigenous highlands region in 1982. “They tied my hands and feet,” and raped me, she said, “Not just me but my mother, too.” (Associated Press, April 2)

APR, from Chajul, weeped as she testified that in March 1982, soldiers came to her home and took away her husband, before returning and raping her outside of the house. The soldiers left her one-month old baby behind and set the house on fire, burning the infant alive. Crying throughout her testimony, JST testified that soldiers came to her home in April 1982, took her, her mother, and other women to a room in the local parish building where the soldiers tied them up, beat the, and raped them.

CBG wept loudly as she described being captured with her daughter by soldiers who came to Amajchel, San Gaspar Chajul, Quiche, after they fled to the mountains. She said that the soldiers raped her, beat her, stabbed her, leaving scars, and killed her child. Later, they forced her to prepare food for the soldiers. (RiosMontt-Trial.org, April 3)

Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire. Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. “I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,” Mr. Chávez told the court. “After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.” (New York Times, April 14)

These are just a fraction of the testimonies that this ruling would seek to erase. Developments in this trial have moved at a rapid and sometimes dizzying pace, but here is one constant: Survivors have been waiting over 30 years for the justice that is their right.

Update: Judge Yasmin Barrios, who is overseeing the trial, announced that she rejects the decision to annul the trial.

For more information about how you can follow the developments in this trial, click here.

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