Lisa’s Story

I asked Lisa if she wouldn”t mind sharing her story with you in this Blog posting. Her story is both inspirational and universal. It is a story of awareness, overcoming fear and realizing great potential. It is a story of one woman looking for a way to help others and in doing so, connecting to her greatest source of wisdom. It is also the story of one woman’s experience of Traveling Postcards.It is my hope that through Traveling Postcards women will find their voice and stand together with small gestures from their hearts and hands, and offer healing and empowerment to women all over the world. Thank you Lisa for your bravery and for your commitment to serving women through such a profound and personal story.

“You asked if I would share my story with others because you thought my story might help them. Yes, I am happy to serve others in that way.

As I mentioned to you during our conversation, I had been looking for some type of community service to get involved in for some time now. However I was having difficulty figuring out what to do. For some reason, I thought I had to do something huge and it had to have a major impact on my community or the world. This thought then made me think that what had to be done was too big, too overwhelming for me to do, and that I would just be paralyzed with fear and abandon the idea. Thus, I never got involved in anything at all.

I’m not sure how I found Traveling Postcards online but suffice it to say, I believe it’s God’s will. The quotation by Mother Teresa that you have posted on your home page “In this life we cannot do great things; we can only do small things with great love.” resonated with me. In fact it was an “Aha moment” for me. What a powerful realization! Doing something very small with great love and how great the impact of that small deed could be.

Despite the fact that I really wanted to make the postcard, it took me some time to actually make one. My self-doubt, perfectionism, fear of not being good enough prevented me from making the card. I thought for weeks about the card…what it should look like, how I would decorate it, what it should say. I thought about all the supplies that I would get to make the card. I kept looking at the cards you had posted on the website to get ideas. The more I looked at those cards , the more discouraged I got and thought any card that I made would not be as beautiful or wouldn’t have a good enough message.

Then one day, at my ladies book club meeting, we got to discussing how we wished we could help other women around the world and the subject about the women in the Congo and the atrocities they were experiencing came up. Everyone kept on saying what can we do? So I mentioned Traveling Postcards to my group. I shared with them that each one of them could make a postcard with a message of love, hope and encouragement to be sent to the City of Joy which was being built for the women of the Congo. My sharing this really touched a couple of my friends who emailed me the next morning telling me how my passionate share the evening before was inspiring and that they appreciated it. These messages of love and support from my friends somehow gave me the courage to make my first postcard. I just used whatever I could find around the house and made it. The poem I wrote was something I had written when I first thought about making the postcard. It came straight from my heart full of great love.

When I looked at the postcard I made , I started to criticize myself and started the whole process of obsessing about how it wasn’t good enough. I knew that if I didn’t mail it right away, I would end up ripping it up. So before I could change my mind, I sent it off to you. Mailing that first postcard to you was one of the most difficult things I had to do. A few days later , I went on your website and saw my postcard and the note I sent with it posted on your blog. Wow! That was an amazing moment for me. I t made me cry. My postcard looked so lovely and the message on it very touching. It made me feel so good about myself.

You asked me why I made the card, what compelled me to make it despite my fears, my lack of self worth, my perfectionism. I made it because I wanted to be of service. That desire superseded my fears. I realized that even if it was something very small, even if it was for only one person, I wanted to be of service. Something I forgot to tell you about is that the words of encouragement from my girlfriends also catalyzed my intention into action. Kind loving words are so powerful.

The most amazing thing about making the postcard is that I gained so much by serving another. I felt empowered. I gained self-worth. I created something beautiful for someone and put a lot of love into it. Hopefully it would diminish some of her pain and give her hope knowing another cared about her. I learned an important lesson when I put that card in the mail. I learned to trust and let go. I had to trust that the card was going to be good enough and had to let go of my fears.”

Lisa Rodondi

Paying Attention

I know what it is to be wary and mistrusting of someone who says they are there to help. I know what it’s like to not have words to express how I am when asked “how are you?” I’ve been in that place and I didn’t know who could be trusted. Maybe I’m still there to some degree, and so I pay attention.

I pay attention to body language, facial expressions, eye movement, verbal communication through words and tone, and my own feelings. Non verbal communication speaks volumes  and if I am paying attention I will be informed on how to proceed. It feels respectful to myself and others to pay attention to timing, and what is welcome, as well as what is not welcome and honor accordingly. It feels safe.

So upon welcoming the women at the shelter to the Traveling Postcard workshop in Casper, Wyoming, I was paying attention to the language of the women who would be participating in it as well as the feelings that were visiting me. These women (including myself) have been betrayed through violence from someone they had trusted, violence toward themselves, and violence from our systems. They are understandably cautious.

The women entered one by one and I observed them measuring us and how this event might be for them as they chose their places around a table of bountiful art supplies. I saw annoyance at having to come to this mandatory event. I saw mistrust of these 3 women there to “help” them. I saw insecurity and vulnerability through the facade of nonchalance and bravada, and I saw the girl within the woman longing for the simple pleasure of being enough. I saw her most clearly.

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The table was laid with colorful cloth and then layered with photos, books, ribbons, colored paper, markers, paint, and so much more. They were taking in the beauty and watching; watching and sensing into what this “craft” thing was that they were being called to do. Murmurs of self doubt, desire to be good enough, artistic, poetic (and accepted) began to shuffle around the table, and I sensed their caution as well as curiosity.

And then the art making began. Slowly and deliberately their hands moved across the table to choose the just right materials, passing on some and claiming others for their creations, their own gift of love that would be shared through these cards. It seemed an easy and natural transition from caution to comfort as art became a common bond among these women who have already shared so much between each other. Their tones relaxed, they smiled and chatted while they shared their discoveries and support for one another, here, around this table, and wherever else needed. I walked around the table and asked them if they would tell me about their cards. Some were quiet and hesitant to share and I met them with inquiry into the colors and images they chose. Some were eager to tell me about them and did so with ease and confidence. One woman was making an elaborate book that “will greet the woman who opens it with joy” and she giggled with that feeling of bringing joy to her. I was consistently impressed and inspired by the depth of their descriptions and explanations of the representations of the colors, images, words, and messages. The messages sent hope, courage, support and so much love through womanly solidarity. This was a wise group each paying attention to their own process of growth. Each considering where they had been and where they were going. Each grateful for their shelter and this opportunity. Complexity and generosity sat at that table.

There was wisdom there in that room. The kind of wisdom that comes from within and is felt and communicated by creating together, making something nourishing, and sharing vulnerability and strength. This wisdom is a kind of intimacy that women share when trust is established through the creation process. It feels like love.

These women shared love. They didn’t call it that, but it was love. They honored themselves and allowed their wisdom to guide their art toward self expression and saw their own hope for a better today and tomorrow. The work of self growth and transformation was already well underway and the shared creative experience of Traveling Postcards deepened it. Stories of new beginnings, faith, compassion, radiance, and transformation filled the room. They began to understand love at a different level then considered before. Caution had moved over for empowerment and joy. They radiated self acceptance and self care with each addition to their cards. Feelings of accomplishment and support beamed from their faces as they shared the meaning of their card and placed the card they had created in the traveling suitcase and chose that gift of love and support from another woman. As they chose their new cards  I heard “this card has been calling to me the whole time and I am so glad that I have it,” “this card is just like me, full of color and power,” and “I was so drawn to this card and I can’t explain it, but it was made just for me” through smiling voices. Each card is a gift of strength, a mirror of self worth and value, and a lifeline of connection and solidarity. Traveling Postcards helps. Art expresses the words and feeling.

I paid attention and felt into my own sense of self to find trust in my wisdom. I am the artist that is creating my life’s tapestry and I am not alone. I choose the colors and textures that are added to my masterpiece. I am a strong and wise woman full of love to share with others as I so choose, just like the amazing women of Casper, Wyoming. I know myself and paying attention is important, and opening to those trustworthy is a gift. I am so grateful to be on this spiritual journey of shared self discovery. To witness growth at this level is a great honor, and to share the wisdom of love with grandmothers, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, aunties, cousins in the family of women is a high honor for me. We are all connected through creation great and small and Shelter to Shelter is a generous vehicle that is bringing us together in wholeness.

Thank you to Caroline for having this dream of using art to end violence and waking into that dream. I see you as a dream weaver who brings an opportunity to find empowerment. I see you as an artist with a beautiful vision and I am paying attention to how you are bringing it to life.

Thank you Juliette for sprinkling your dream dust of spaciousness and exploration. I see you as being fully in life with willingness to seek knowledge along the journey. You are a gift of love.

May we all be well,
Janis

 

Contributed by Janis McKinstry

Shelter to Shelter

For me, the only pursuit truly worth spending time on is social transformation: to catalyze our current, predominant socio-economic structure, which depends on human exploitation, the normalization of violence, and environmental destruction, to one that centers freedom, equality, and the celebration of diverse human expression.

There exist many, many ways to work toward this end; Shelter to Shelter is one of these, and it is a project I feel honored to participate in.

Our collective silence around systemic violences enables their persistence.  Within the action of traveling to engage creatively and intellectually with survivors seeking support services, we break that silence, and we state that we care.  This statement directly opposes the pervading social attitudes of blame, devaluation, and rejection that inflict continued suffering on survivors of gender- and race-based violence.

Previously, I experienced Shelter to Shelter as the creation of a space where connection took root between colleagues, between peers, between strangers, and within individuals.  Based on creativity and love, this connection could feel so deeply healing, joyful, and safe, that we witnessed ourselves as powerful–excellent in our capacity to survive, forgive, and love.  To experience oneself this way, empowered despite a world of forces invested in one’s disempowerment, is transformative.

One our first trip, I learned (more than I could have prepared for) about diverse manifestations of resistance to heterosexism and racism happening in shelters across this country.

I hope to learn more: of the resilience of people whose lives began in other places and cultures, who now redefine themselves within the customs of a different society, resettled as refugees; of the histories of organizations like Seattle’s Refugee Women’s Alliance, Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, and Berkeley’s Narika, which were founded by South and Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants; of the needs, hopes, fears, and goals of the people receiving and providing survivor support services in their communities.

 

I give thanks for this opportunity to direct my privilege toward speaking out against injustice; to share love and connection; to honor the healing power of the creative process; and to learn and spend time with a dear friend.

Juliette Nolan

Conso’s Story

Here is Conso’s story:

Conso Buzabo

Conso Buzabo

I am a Ugandan and proud to be a part of that little landlocked country affectionately called the “Pearl of Africa”. As a society we are a proud people trying, like any other, to do the best we can, survive the way we know how. I can’t say why we consider emotions weak and a distraction or why it is hard for us to give or accept a compliment. Maybe it’s because we are society whose history has taught to be wary of visitors bringing gifts or new ideas. Maybe it’s because of what we have done to each other and what has been done to us or even our experiences. Whatever the reason, we are a community that has seen grief and pain and learnt to buck up and move on as that is the way life is. No one person is special, we all have the same story and experiences and the best way to survive is keep your head down and don’t rock the boat, even when you feel like the boat is sinking.

I had no idea what to expect when I went to ask the children in the In Movement program to make Traveling Postcards. Personally, making my own postcard was one of the hardest things to do. How do I let out feelings that I have been taught to keep silent? How do I encourage someone who is hurting when it does not come naturally? For many of these children silence has been their refuge, their best friend. For many of them thinking about the pain, violence, grief and nightmares the women in Congo are facing would be facing their own personal nightmares. So how could I ask these children to do what I myself was finding hard to do?

I was completely surprised.

In Movement, a non profit organization that began in Uganda in 2003 has a simple mission. They believe that the expressive arts are a very powerful tool of empowerment for youth, unlocking vast potential for personal growth and transformation. By encouraging creative risk-taking in safe, supportive and empowering settings, they are planting seeds that can assist youth in helping to transform their society, and lead happier, healthier, and more satisfying lives.

In other words they provide a safe place for the children to express themselves, learn who they uniquely are and be proud of them selves.

Many of the children who were a part of the Traveling Postcards project are students who have been part of the In movement program for a few years and so are more in open to expressing themselves freely among strangers than the average Ugandan child. Because they have been appreciated and been told that they are special and unique, they were able to pass this on.

Many of them had never made a postcard before or even received one but they were eager to pass on the message that they have received; one of inspiration and hope. It did not matter if the was artistic or aesthetic. All that mattered was that someone somewhere would know they were loved.

The card making was a success the children wanted to make a second one of their own for the women and guardians in their lives, to let them know that they care for them.

Am still in the process of making my own traveling postcard, and slowly it is taking shape and am not afraid anymore that is isn’t symmetrical, colorful or perfect but I hope that whoever receives it will know one thing… I see you. I appreciate you. I love. I care.

And hopefully the women who receive the children’s cards will know this too.

Woman of the Sacred Valley

Woman of the Sacred Valley – (Ollantaytambo, Peru).

Written by Monique Henry

I want to start by telling you how beautiful I found the Traveling Postcards workshop to be. Not just for the women involved but for myself. It is easy to feel like you are the only one dealing with hard times on this earth. I found the experience to be very humbling and it reminded me of how special I feel to be a woman and how strong we actually are.

 

Every Thursday My Small Help holds a workshop with the mothers of some of the children we work with as well as with some other women from the communities surrounding Ollantaytambo.

 

The week before the workshop we described the process to the group and asked them to reflect upon the issues that matter most to them as woman and as mothers. We also asked them to search for things around their homes that would inspire them or that they would like to add to their postcards. Their faces stared blankly back and to be honest I was not sure how the workshop would turn out. The following week women arrived with buttons, flowers, beads and all kinds of beautiful things they found around their homes. It was very inspiring to me to watch them open up during the workshop and to express themselves freely and artistically without pressure. Many of the women have never had the opportunity to experience artistic freedom. It wasn’t long until the workshop was a buzz of laughter and stories. The power of the woman creator and artist began to flow.

I was deeply touched at how we all opened our hearts and shared our stories. The simple act of having a platform to express ourselves artistically and verbally was enough to get the ball rolling. What an amazing experience we all had. We had so many laughs that day.

 

The women were extremely excited about receiving postcards from other women elsewhere in the world. A few weeks later postcards arrived for the from Armenia!

 

Monique Henry

The women were very excited their voices had gone out into the world and they had heard the voices of other women from another continent. They read over their cards multiple times and said they felt accompanied, encouraged and supported! Ana Chavez Bargas says, ‘I learnt to face life despite the difficulties to go forward’. The project inspired us to express ourselves and share our own stories and reminded us all that we have a voice.

This experience eloquently sums up what it means to be a woman and I am proud to be a woman who is part of the Travelling Postcards family!

 

*MySmallHelp is a not for profit organisation who believe  that caring for the poorest people in the world is the joint responsibility of humankind with a mission to help those living in poverty, or with a disability, access a brighter future primarily through providing access to education and skills training. www.mysmallhelp.org