Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Prayers for Mary Jane Veloso

Mary Jane

Today we wait, with so much sadness as this young Filipino mother waits to be executed by firing squad.  She represents the many women and mothers, who each day, leave the Philippines to find work and support their families.  Although she was convicted of smuggling heroin into Indonesia, many supporters believe that she was a victim of human trafficking.  Like many mothers, poverty and a lack of education made domestic work in another country an inevitable solution for her and her children.  It is estimated that 100,000 women and children are part of the sex trade in the Philippines and that an estimated 4,000 people leave each day on temporary work visa's.  Still more, like Mary Jane, use any means they can to get a job and get caught in situations they could never have imagined as young girls in small villages.

I wait and pray, as so many are around the world with the hope that she will not be executed.  I do not believe in capitol punishment and support the United Nations efforts to make it an international human rights issue.  Only 21 out of 195 countries still have the death penalty and my country is one of them.

As midwives, we work hard to protect the life of mother and baby.  Nowhere is this more necessary than in the work to end human trafficking.  The impact, the violence, the fear are barriers to any move to healthy, sustainable societies.

I pray that they will not kill  her and she will get a fair trial.  I pray that we will one day have a world where a mother will never be forced to leave her children and risk her life to earn a living; that she will never have to leave her children so they can get an education and be safe.

I pray that there is work for everyone and a way for mothers to care for their children in  safe, secure way that causes no harm.  I pray for the end of the death penalty in my land and around the world.

Sometimes we know a person is convicted of a crime and when they are waiting for the firing squad, we know that society is to blame; poverty, war, greed, a lack of schools and a world that has too often turned their back on women.

I shut my eyes and wait and pray.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Listening to the earth

I return from the Phillipines; from the southern most island of Mindanao.   I am here in Portland but my heart and mind are still there.  I know this is how it is.  I walk around and go through the motion of putting things away and getting settled back in but I am thinking of the people I met and loved in other places.

It is part of it.  When we go, we agree to get sick perhaps and to have our hearts ache.  The people I travel with there, call it an Exposure Trip.  They do not say it is necessarily a volunteer trip but an exposure trip.  Sure, I help as much as I can but mostly I am learning to see another part of the world in ways I had never thought of before.  I sit with mothers and midwives and community health workers and we teach each other.

Tomorrow I will begin to tell what I learned.  I have electricity and internet and an education.   I can put my laundry in the washer and walk away and sit here at the computer.   I can turn on a faucet.  I have the time and obligation to tell this story.

But just for today, I want to lie in the tall grass and let the wildflowers crawl over me.  I want to watch the bees on the thimble berry and the snakes lying beside me on a sun baked rock.  I let the sheep nibble my hair and toes and I listen to the earth; the layer that wraps itself around the world like skin to one living, breathing  planet.  If I lie there long enough I can feel the roots that grow and connect me to the places in the Philipines where I so recently walked and slept and enjoyed my morning tea.  I feel those roots spread out and climb the mountains of Haiti and the rice fields of Vietnam and Cambodia. I know this layer of dirt; the one I am sinking into; the one I am trying to be a part of, does not know the name of  the country or who has claimed its soil as their own.   I feel the feet dancing and the men walking from the fields and the mothers giving birth and holding their babies to their breast.  I put my ear to the ground, buried there, in the tall grasses and listen.

At the bottom of the small mountain where I am lying in the grasses, I can hear the boats and trains and the factories.  I can hear how they too stretch out and try to reach all around the world.  They move chemicals and oil and coal and propane.  They want to dig up the land of the first people of Canada and move it through the First Nations Land of North America and across the world to the first people; the ones I lived and sang and world with in the mountains of Mendanao.  There are other lines.  There was the slave triangle and the path of colonial ships and imperialist armies and political deals we did not learn of until it was to late.  Paths.

Inside each mother the veins of the placenta reach deep within her and connect her unborn baby to nutrients necessary to growth.  If the placenta is not strong or is disrupted, the baby can not survive. The mother and baby depend on this connection.  They depend on the earth.

We are connected by cycles of sun and moon and tides and seasons.  But we, in this modern age, are connected by mines and the minerals we take from the earth.  I am connected to all the minerals taken from the earth to offer me a life style so different from the people whose land it is taken from.  The typhoons and earth quakes are made worst by this disturbance, these large extractions, the coal trains that benefit the very rich and leave mothers walking on roads blocked by landslides, by soil destroyed by de-forestation.

Every minute a mother will die a pregnancy related death.  Most people will  never take notice.

Today, if you were to ask me, why mothers died,  I would look up and say "perhaps mining."  And you might say,"Mines,  you mean the mothers  are in the mines and they collapse."  I can see the shock in  your face. But I  reply, "No. Its  that the mines and deforestation took away her food source and her roads and her child's education and the riches made possible  from the mining took away her human rights.  That is why she died."  I would squint in the afternoon sun.  "It might look like something medical but in the end it was mining or plantations or de-forestation."

But I am alone just now.  I let the grass cover me and listen for the mothers' footsteps beneath the dirt.   I put my ear on the ground and listen for the music and the prayers. This is how it is when I return. Its best to be alone for a little while; to do the simple tasks of home and garden as I feel my heart so connected to another place and time; to stories that cannot seem possible and solutions too far from reach.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


For the next three weeks, I will be documenting my work with mothers and babies in the southern island of the Philippines, Mindanao. I'm going in collaboration with Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines. Follow me on my journey as I help women and children with their birthing needs. New journey, new place.