Laura Hopps

Sept. 30- Oct. 8, 2007

Kaleidoscope, 2007, Sydney, Australia

The eight-day Kaleidoscope conference brought together 300 young activists from over 100 countries to discuss the environment, human rights, women’s right, indigenous rights, trade justice, conflict resolution, HIV/AIDS, and other issues with the goal of learning, sharing perspectives, and creating a “global force for change.” Action Partners (A.P.s) will be supported in their work for the next 3 years by Oxfam International and Oxfam Australia, and by other Action Partners through the Oxfam International Youth Partnership (OIYP) network.

Dear Family and Friends,
When I arrived in the Sydney airport on September 29th, Australia was the fourth country I had visited in two days. The night before I left for the Oxfam International Youth Program (OIYP) Kaleidoscope conference, I had just moved to Nicaragua from Mexico. I spent September in Guadalajara with Christine Ruppert (my fellow volunteer in Nicaragua) taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course to prepare for setting up an English class at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte in Managua, Nicaragua, which is one of several things we will be focusing our time on over the next two years, along with investigating the possibility of a long-term volunteer program.

I didn’t know what to expect in my time in Australia, and I didn’t know anyone else taking part in the OIYP program. I was relieved though, at the end of the 25-hour journey, to arrive at the youth hostel and meet Rita and Turgo, two Action Partners from Argentina. Turgo works with a community radio network, and Rita works at a soup kitchen running programs for youth and women. That night I met several other A.P.s staying at the hostel, and in the morning a bus came to pick us up and bring us to the King’s School in Parramatta,where the Kaleidoscope would be hosted. The first night at the King’s School, after checking in, there was a ceremony by the Aboriginal people of Australia to welcome us to the country. It was a beautiful ceremony, which set a positive tone so that the 300 A.P.s from so many countries and cultures would create a community together in the following days .

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Homeroom
Each morning began with “homeroom,” consisting of two former A.P.s called M&Ms (Mentors and Motivators), and around 20 A.P.s. My group (the “Bandicoots,” which are hideous Australian rat-like creatures) was led by Piyoo, a 2004 A.P. from India who is currently working on her PhD from UCLA in Women and Communication. The other M&M was Lamin, a 2000 A.P. from the Gambia who works on trade issues and HIV/ AIDs education. The rest of the group was composed of 23 A.P.s from 22 countries, including Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, China, Jordan, Lebanon, and others. The areas of focus for the A.P.s included: education, HIV/AIDS work, transgender rights, trade justice, indigenous rights and peace building. Each day, the group came together to discuss different issues and reflect on the conference. Homeroom was a very useful experience, because I got to know people from extremely diverse backgrounds and hear their stories and perspectives. It was the first time I met someone who was transgender, that I heard about about issues facing indigenous people in Samoa, as well as many other things. Homeroom, and the conference in general, widely expanded my knowledge and understanding of the world.

also an enlightening experience, because I knew very little about the Baha’i faith, and the encounter has inspired me to research more about it. The session on Iran was also a good opportunity to talk with others from the U.S., Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern countries about the possible conflict and U.S. military intervention in general. It was interesting to see how many of us shared similar viewpoints, and I was also happy to provide the perspective of a socially aware American because many in other countries assume that Americans are ignorant or uncaring about what is going on outside of the U.S.

Excursions and Performances
On Tuesday, the second day of the conference, we were privileged to attend a performance by Cirque du Soleil and the Australian Theatre for Young People at the Carriage Works, one of the newest venues in Sydney. It was an incredible performance. Cirque du Soleil contacted Oxfam when they heard about the OIYP program and the conference, and asked to give the performance for us. After reading the application essays of the A.P.s to get a sense of who we are, the groups took 6 months to design and prepare the event. The performance was amazing, and very humbling that it was created in our honor. During the week, we also had time for an excursion to Sydney, and I went along with some others to Manly Beach, one of the city’s most famous beaches. The ferry ride across the harbor gave a beautiful view of the Sydney skyline and the Opera house. Although it was a bit too cold to swim, it was a great experience to sit on the beach and get to know some of the other A.P.s and the work that they do.

Learning Marketplace
Each day, we also had two short courses, or “Learning Marketplaces.” Mine included: Trade, Aid, and Human rights, Gender, Religion, and Culture, Intro. to Indigenous Rights, Conflict Resolution, Agricultural Lifestyles, and one about a possible U.S. military intervention in Iran. These programs were very helpful in gaining new information on the topics and hearing different perspectives. The Gender, Religion, and Culture Learning Marketplace was my favorite, because we had a great discussion, and I met an A.P. from Afghanistan who works with UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women). I think he is one of the first guys I have met who focuses his work solely on women’s rights and is proud to be called a feminist. Later in the conference, I also met an Iranian filmmaker (who was in charge of the media team for the event) who is also a feminist and recently finished a documentary film called Hidden Generation about women in Afghanistan. It was eye-opening to meet a lot of men from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America who focus their work on women’s rights in addition to many women involved in the field. Also in the course on gender, I met a girl from the Solomon Islands who is of the Baha’i faith, and her community is one of very few in the world in which women and girls are more likely to go to school than their male counterparts. This was

Latin American Regional Network
Another component of the week was meeting with A.P.s who work in the same region. Because I am currently living in Nicaragua, I was part of the Latin American region, which consisted of about 50 members. (On a side note, the North America and European Region consisted of only about 15 A.P.s in total. From the U.S., there were 6 including myself, and three were Native Americans who don’t consider themselves to be part of the U.S.). The Regional Meetings were useful, because we were able to create an online network called Latinkusca, which will consist of a listserv and a series of web pages that will be linked together. The four groups include: access to essential services, women’s rights (which I am a part of), indigenous rights and the environment, and peace building and conflict

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resolution. Over the next several years, we will share educational material, post what is going on with our projects, human rights violations going on, and other concerns in our communities. We will also be working on coordinating action, for example, on World AIDS day and other internationally recognized days. In the coming months, we will also be planning for A.P.s in the Latin American network to come together for a conference sometime in the next two years.

I hope that the OIYP network will strengthen my knowledge of social justice issues and enhance my work at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte . The OIYP program provided an incredible opportunity for me to connect with people from all over the world, and especially from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and other conflict zones, and from almost every Latin American country. As an advocate of non-violence I believe in the power and necessity of dialogue in getting to know “the other” for the construction of a more just world. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to take part in the Kaleidoscope event, as I made friendships that I hope will grow in the future, and I look forward to working as an Oxfam Action Partner to be part of a “global force for change”.

What’s Next: OIYP 2007-2010
In the immediate future, I will be in contact with Denis, Lestor, and César, the three A.P.s from Nicaragua who also live in Managua. They work on environmental protection, agricultural issues, and youth organizing respectively, and I hope to connect them with other people in Batahola to help facilitate a stronger youth network in Managua and share ideas. I also hope to connect with other A.P.s in Central America and invite them to share about their work in GLBT issues, indigenous rights, and other issues with the Batahola community. In addition, I will also be in touch with others in Latin America via the Latinkusca network, as well as other A.P.s throughout the world. In November, I will be traveling to El Salvador to attend the annual Vigil for the martyrs of El Salvador at the University of Central America (UCA), where Christine and I will join with thousands of people from all over the world to remember the 6 assassinated Jesuits and thousands of others who were killed during the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. During that time, I will also connect with Fundahmer, the sustainable development organization I formerly worked with, other alumi of at la Casa de la Solidaridad program, and other community activists, as well as with Diana, the Salvadoran A.P. who works with the indigenous community.

I thank all of you for your love and support, and invite any questions or comments at lhopps@gmail.com! Sincerely, Laura Ho"s

With each true friendship, we build the foundation on which the peace of the whole world rests. - Gandhi
Useful Links: The Oxfam International Youth Partnership web page includes information about the 300 Action Partners and the work that they do, and well as photos, videos, and interviews from the event. Check back soon, because I will have a video interview posted!: www.oiyp.oxfam.org Hometown Baghdad, a series about youth living in Baghdad, created by two of the Iraqi Action Partners: http://hometownbaghdad.com/ For more information on my work in Nicaragua see the Batahola Volunteers’ Weblog: http://bataholavolunteers.blogspot.com Centro Cultural Batahola Norte: www.centrobatahola.org

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