Report from the Field: Humanist Charities and Children of the Border

Report from the Field: Humanist Charities and Children of the Border

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by Sebastian Velez

Last December, Children of the Border, a non-governmental organization, asked members of the American Humanist Association and Humanist Charities for their support. Children of the Border works to provide pre- and post-natal health care of Haitian women working as sharecroppers in the Dominican Republic, and our core principles are well grounded in humanism. The women and their children we serve live in the most appalling poverty seen in the Western hemisphere, with entire families living from less than two dollars a day.

AHA’s membership donated over $7,000, which will be matched by a very generous anonymous donor, and will bring over $14,000 in services to Haitians and Dominicans living along the border between the two countries! We received the news from AHA development director Maggie Ardiente while we were in Haiti doing field work, and it brought a jubilant cheer from everyone.

We returned from the field just a couple of weeks ago, and here is a brief report of what these new funds will continue to support:

Contraception: On random visits to homes, every woman we interviewed said that she was either on the pill, taking the injection, or had her husband using condoms. When one of our male staff members had a motorcycle accident and missed checking in with women for a few months, we were surprised to see so many men in the community requesting condoms. Also, our collaboration with the ministry of health provides oral contraceptives and Pap smear supplies. The humanist clinic now concentrates on maternal health, the 3-month injection pill, and condoms. We are planning to distribute our stock of oral contraceptives to a town near the border on the Haitian side.

Health Services: Dozens of women line up every Thursday for our doctor to do health checks, perform Pap smears, give contraceptive injections, and check children and dispense the nutritional food packets. We’re now able to increase the amount of ultrasounds to three during each woman’s pregnancy.

One of our staff, a woman who three years ago was illiterate and living in a thatch hut with her eight children, is now the doctor’s assistant. She is learning how to read and write, gives talks about contraception, and manages the logistics of the clinic.

Our preventive programs have worked so well, that we might be closing our boarding house in town, Casa de Salud—opened when emergencies where common—and use the resources for the clinic in the village of Las Mercedes.

Sustainability and Entrepreneurship: In the field, all of the problems we try to solve are because people cannot make a living out of two dollars a day. In the United States, we are inundated with ideas from people who want to volunteer, many of whom bring a project idea. These ideas range from water collection systems, solar power generation, to new ways of producing cooking fuel, ideas for schools and curricula, and reforestation projects. The problem with bringing these two together—the communities in need and the energetic volunteers wanting to do something—has always been one of logistics.

This year we are developing an idea by a Harvard undergraduate, Annie Ryu, to use the enthusiasm and energy of U.S. volunteers, together with their ideas, into an integrated program (www.gdinnovators.org) that centers on their ideas and experience. The community will benefit with direct employment brought by the implementation of projects, from services to the volunteers (food, lodging, etc.), and of course from the projects the volunteers will implement.

We still have many problems to solve. The community water pump we installed is working, but houses are so far from each other that people can carry only just enough water to drink, but not to keep minimum sanitary conditions. Most people still need latrines, an urgent matter since contact between feces and drinking water is the main threat to a cholera outbreak. We’ve barely touched the issue of adult education. Children are still given away, many ending in prostitution or child slavery, but we have no way of accepting them. Our clinic, while well managed by our doctor and one of our employers, still needs a lot of work with patient data collecting and management. This data problem is compounded by a population where people have no documentation, don’t know their birth date, and where many women can’t recall how many children they’ve had, much less their medical history. Our clinic still has no electricity, and of course no phone and no Internet.

From all of us that work on this project, we want to give our most heartfelt thank you from the people we serve, to you, our donors. It is always a delight to explain to community members that the people paying for all of this do it out of love and concern, not because they believe in God. Unrestricted donations also allow us to operate with great freedom. We opened our clinic in the forest when our collaboration with a group of nuns broke down. They used to provide the space, some medicines, and part of the doctor’s salary, while we paid for the other half of the doctor’s salary, his expenses, and medicines. When the nuns said they would not accept contraceptives there (the doctor, nonreligious himself, was not happy for other reasons), we just opened our own clinic, hired the doctor in full, and stocked the clinic with medicines and contraceptives. This freedom is a privilege granted by our generous donors. Thank you!

Humanist Charities is continuing to accept donations on behalf of Sebastian Velez’s Children of the Border project. Learn more or make a donation now.

Sebastian Velez is the director of Children of the Border and evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. He received the 2010 Humanist Distinguished Service Award from the American Humanist Association for his work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

(reposted from Humanist Network News http://www.americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2011-02-report-from-the-field-humanist-charities-and-childre)

Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars

Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars

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The ideological complexity of African American communities and the connections in that community between secular belief and social justice are rich.  Sadly, there is still a fair amount of ignorance and bigotry toward black non-believers in African American communities due to the stereotype that atheists are immoral, rudderless, and not authentically black. This belief is especially insidious for black women. Mainstream African American culture places a high premium on black female caregiving, piety, and sacrifice. The patriarchal traditions of the Black Church, with their emphasis on charismatic black male leadership and biblical literalism, play a key role in socializing black women to be subservient and self-sacrificing.

Black female churchgoing and religious belief are the highest in the nation — making African American communities the most unwaveringly religious in the U.S. At the same time, African American communities are among the most economically and racially disenfranchised; in the U.S., African Americans are still disproportionately poor, under-educated and over-incarcerated. Black incarceration rates and black homelessness parallel each other. And for all of the sound and fury of black religiosity, black women experience the highest rates of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and HIV/AIDS contraction.

So the book tries to make sense of these relationships vis-à-vis the paradox of black downward mobility in the so-called post-racial post-affirmative action era. It also attempts to show the immense benefits of radical/progressive humanism for African American women given the religious underpinnings of patriarchy and sexism. Finally, the book makes practical connections between racial justice, gender justice, humanism and the myriad health and educational challenges that African Americans face.

Read the rest of this interview here.

Noah and the Tax Incentives

Noah and the Tax Incentives

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by Sarah Ameigh

From Humanist Network News February 2, 2011

The recent announcement of plans for a Biblical-oriented theme park in northern Kentucky has brought the church-state separation question to the job creation front. In a struggling economy fraught with dwindling profits and rampant unemployment, how far can constitutionality be pushed in favor of economic growth?

Last December Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear announced projected plans for the Arc Adventure, a Biblical theme park depicting Noah’s Arc, touting it as one of Kentucky’s most promising and profitable endeavors. The park, which is being privately funded by Arc Encounter L.L.C., a for-profit organization of which ministry Answers in Genesis is a member, will cost an estimated $150 million dollars and create roughly 900 jobs when it’s scheduled to open in 2014. The projected “economic impact” for the first year alone, Beshear said, is over $200 million dollars.

The park’s proponents argue that for a state suffering staggering unemployment rates, the endeavor is well worth the funds. The question, however, is how much tax incentive the park will receive. Gov. Beshear came out in support of any possible tax incentives, which the Lexington Herald-Leader reported are an estimated $37 million or more.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” said Beshear at a news conference in December. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”

CNN reporter Anderson Cooper addressed the controversy on Anderson Cooper 360 last week, featuring Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham and Americans United for Separation of Church and State Founder Rev. Barry Lynn. While Ham maintained that Answers in Genesis is a ministry that is a member of a for-profit organization funding the “biblical history” theme park, Rev. Lynn responded that the park itself was a ministry, in light of which, any form government subsidization would be unacceptable.

“Answers in Genesis … believes the earth is 6,000 years old, believes the dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time–only true in the Flinstones—and also believes that there were really unicorns,” said Lynn. “I don’t think that the heft, that the weight of the state of Kentucky, should be asking anyone, directly or indirectly, to subsidize these ideas. Mr. Ham can have these ideas, this is America. Please don’t ask everybody to help you pay for them.”

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN correspondent, commented that the courts have not been clear on the issue thus far.

“What the courts have said is the government can’t sponsor something if the primary purpose is to advance religion,” said Toobin. “Well, what is the primary purpose of this amusement park? Is it just like Disney World, which is essentially secular, or is it more like a church? And this is some sort of hybrid, and I don’t know how the courts would look at it. In recent years, the courts have generally been more accommodating of government sponsorship of religion – of parochial schools, of soup kitchens – so my sense is the courts will probably uphold it, but whether it’s a good idea or not, separate issue.”

Sarah Ameigh is the communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.

http://www.americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2011-02-noah-and-the-tax-incentives