I am so excited to be involved in the beginning stages of an innovative new organisation glish.guru. My conversation this morning with the peaceful and passionate entrepreneur Dani Leis was extremely inspiring.
Glish is an online conversation platform connecting students with English speaking coaches around the world. The idea is that the student watches a TED talk video about a topic they are passionate about, and then has a 30 minute conversation with a Glish coach about what they have watched. The student's interest is piqued, the conversation flows easily, and horizons are widened!
There will be free group sessions for those who cannot afford private sessions, and NGOs will receive scholarships for their staff or clients. Coaches will give free group talks that address the NGO’s issues, bringing their staff and clients closer together, allowing the flow of ideas and beginning global conversations around the issues.
Dani says the philosophy of Glish is to connect people around the world. Her International Peace studies background and previous work for non-profit organisations have led her to creating an online platform that aims to bring an understanding of different cultures and to break down barriers.
She gives an example of a conversation she had with a Saudi man about the ban on female drivers, following the women's driving rally last year. His concerns were only for the safety of women drivers, whom he feared would be attacked if they were driving alone. This discussion allowed Dani to see a sensitive issue from an entirely different world view, and helped her to rethink previously held judgements about Saudis.
I am thrilled to get started writing and coaching, and am excited to see how Glish will grow in the future.
Glish is at the very beginning, so if you have any ideas about how you can help, or if you are interested in being a coach, sign up for the newsletter at glish.guru.
For more information see the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/glishguru/?fref=ts
I am now on the editorial team for the website Somewhere Luxurious.
The site promotes the luxury travel magazine of the same name, and features many articles about luxury destinations, fine dining, and top accommodations to travel in memorable style and comfort.
So far two of my articles are on the website:
Romantic Hotels from 'The Bachelor'
Try Incredible Cuisine at Napa Valley's Michelin Star Restaurants.
I have just completed the third article, coming soon!
Enjoy the articles, and get excited for more to come.
One thing I love about living in Thailand is the abundance of New Years celebrations! Coming up to my own traditional New Year, I can't help but compare the differences between them.
Our own celebrations centre around drinking and partying, whereas my masseuse said to me yesterday that he plans to spend a few hours seeing the New Year in on the 31st December by meditating in Chedi Luang Temple. And he is Thai- it's not even his own new year!
The Thai new year is Songkran, during the second week of April, during which the streets of Chiang Mai go crazy and everyone joyfully throws buckets of water over each other, a lot of the time with ice or dirty moat water. A sad reflection of where the tradition originated: with water anointing the Buddha and the cleansing of the spirit ready for the new year. But of course, the new version is much more fun!
Chinese New Year, in February, has its food, dancing shows, and beautiful costumes. But again it is cause for revelry and traditions are often forgotten.
This is why I was impressed to visit a temple celebration on 13th December for the Shan New Year. They put on a wonderful performance of traditional costumes, dances and sword shows. Many stalls selling traditional food, and fun and games for kids - and not a drop of alcohol in sight! Of course the Shan are a minority here in Chiang Mai, but the celebration showed me how devoted they are to each other and their traditions.
I found out about the Shan New Year celebrations through my writing for the grassroots organisation Thai Freedom House, who run an arts and languages education centre (among many other things) for Burmese refugees, many of whom are Shan. Watching these children proudly dress up and dance for their families, their culture, and the homeland that many of them have never seen, was a moving experience.
I will write more about them, and Thai Freedom House, in future blogs.
For now: enjoy the photos!
Last night I went to see a fantastic talk at the Arts Centre, as part of Swindon Festival of Literature.
Jacqueline Rose is a professor of Humanities at Birbeck University of London, and she has written a book called Women of Dark Times. The book is about women such as Rosa Luxembourg and Marilyn Monroe, and how history has done them a disservice by remembering them for events such as their untimely deaths, and not who they truly were.
Both these women were strong figures, completely embodying their times in history. Rosa Luxembourg was a political leader, who rose in influence despite being female, being a Polish-Jewish German citizen, and having a limp. She was influential after World War I in her love of social democracy and communism. She brought a human element to it, showing that politics does not have to only be in the minds of men, but can also come from inside, from the heart. In 1919 the Sparticist uprising began, Rosa believed it was a mistake but supported it. She was captured and shot by the Freikorps- right wing WWI veterans. Rosa's legacy was that of a great orator, a true warrior for what she believed in.
Marilyn Monroe can be seen as a tool of post WWII America- a symbol of beauty and purity, that America wants to portray to the world as America itself. One of the most poignant parts of the story is when Marilyn sings to the American troops in Korea- reminding them of the beauty of America, what they are fighting for. Monroe was an avid reader of books, thinker about politics, and frequently voiced her opinions. She is known to have said ''I do not trust us''- a politically genius statement. Then of course is the mystery surrounding her death- was it politically motivated, as an argument happened the day before between her and JFKs brother Robert Kennedy. She was about to hold a press conference admitting her relationship with the Kennedy brothers and denouncing them.
The conclusion that Jacqueline Rose draws is that these women should be viewed as having something to teach us about what is happening in the world today. Politically, but also about feminism. One point she stresses, which Rosa and Marilyn both readily admitted- we may be women, but we are not innocent. We can be held to account as much as men, we can speak up as much as men, we do not have to do disservice to strong women that came before us. Let's remember them for who they really were; not the way the world has previously portrayed them. Let's learn from them.
International Women's Day yesterday was a fantastic day in Chiang Mai.
We met at the 3 kings monument, I joined in the march with the One Billion Rising girls, holding our banner. We marched all the way to the park where the main event went on. Everyone along the way was watching, taking photos, listening to our chants. So it was great for raising awareness.
The stage was set up and stalls all around promoting different organisations in Chiang Mai, including those helping Indigenous and Burmese women to achieve equal rights in Thailand; those helping children who have been victims of human trafficking; and those helping people rebuild lives through education and helping them get into work.
The programme included a fashion show portraying the diversity of women from different parts of the world, traditions, disabilities and even gender- the ladyboy prancing along at the end was getting a lot of laughs. The groups showcased dancing and singing on the stage, live music, ladies in traditional dress dancing, a favourite was the group of 5 boys who sang and danced it was beautiful.
Right at the end we did our One Billion Rising dance 'Break the Chain' everyone got involved with the dance, even though most didn't know the steps. They all loved it, and shouted to do it again! It was such a great moment.
I love that International Women's Day happens and that we get to talk about the issues and celebrate the diversity of women.
I have watched the Q+A by Emma Watson on Facebook talking about HeForShe on International Women's Day. I absolutely recommend watching it: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/emma-watson-holds-live-q-779992?facebook_20150308
The Vagina Monologues is a play written by Eve Ensler (see my Biography section for more info about her). She went around the US and around the world collecting women's stories about their vaginas.
It starts off 'We are worried about Vaginas' and gives true monologues from real women's experiences. My highlights were: the poem 'My short skirt' written for the women who did not receive justice after being raped because of what they were wearing. 'My short skirt and everything underneath it are mine, mine, mine!'
Some monologues are funny- 'my vagina is pissed off!' talks about the horrors of the smear test among other things. The monologue about women's moans is a fantastic impression of how the vagina can give pleasure.
Some monologues are horrific- especially the story by a woman who was one of the 20-70,000 people raped as part of war in Bosnia-Kosovo. It had everyone in tears.
Seeing this in Chiang Mai, performed only by volunteers, was a fantastic experience. The women were so passionate and did a fantastic job. The proceeds all went to the Thai Freedom House, an organisation that helps victims of human trafficking.
This play is performed all over the world as part of 'V-Day' on or around Valentine's Day every year. To find an event near you visit the website: http://www.onebillionrising.org/events/#!/0/0/1/
I have done two days volunteering at Viengping's Childrens home in Chiang Mai.
The children there have been abandoned or abused, and are given a fantastic start in life by living in Viengping. They are given everything they need to grow and be healthy, to learn and play, and to communicate with each other, teachers and volunteers.
I will volunteer with the home for almost 2 months. At the moment I am looking after a gorgeous little 2 year old Burmese boy called 'Boo-bee'. I get to run around and play with him for a few hours every morning, I am so lucky!
He will be at the home until he is 6, when he will move to the Boy's Home next door, with all the other boys. The girls stay at Viengping until they are 18, and are helped beyond that. The children all go to a local school when they are of the right age, and some are adopted into families.
If you would like to know more, or to know how you can help, please visit the website: http://www.baanviengping.go.th/en/index.html
I am very excited to be here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This place is littered with people and organisations trying to improve the lot of impoverished and under-represented people here.
Today I went to the Chuan Chom Women's Correctional Institution. They have set up a restaurant and massage parlour, and teach the women to cook, waitress, massage and make crafts. I brought a gorgeous little bag that zips up to look like a smaller purse. Unique and made by hand. The food there was fantastic and I will definitely be going back for a massage.
Looking into it more deeply I discovered that the women are all in prison for minor offenses- drugs, petty theft and prostitution- crimes that at home would be punishable by a fine or community service. They would never see the inside of a jail cell in England.
All crimes that here in Thailand are committed out of necessity due to poverty and a wish to look after their families. Many are from the hill-tribes, people who are not Tai (the people) and considered outside of Thai (the nation) society. These people have little access to resources and education and unfortunately many end up in desperate situations.
For more info read this great review: http://www.travelfish.org/blogs/thailand/2011/04/15/visiting-chiang-mai-prison/
I hope to keep finding little gems like this- I will keep you updated!
Today I am enjoying watching some videos on a great website- TED. It is a platform for many talks about lots of subjects including science, business and global issues.
I have just watched a playlist on 'The Importance of Educating Girls.' One talk by Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala (for more about her see my 'Biography' section.) One talk by Kakenya Ntaiya, a Maasi lady from Kenya who had to bargain with her father for an education. The price she paid was agreeing to undergo the ceremony of female genital mutilation. One talk by Shabana Bahij-Rasikh, an Afghan girl who went to school in secret while the country was ruled by the Taliban, risking her life every day. One talk by Leymeh Gbowee, a Nobel Prize laureate who helped girls in her native Liberia and beyond get an education.
Leymeh Gbowee says that wherever she goes she sees intelligent girls, waiting for their greatness to be unlocked. It made me think about my own life and education. I didn't particularly like school, at times I hated it, although it was the social aspect rather than the education that bothered me. But I didn't complain too much about going, because I always knew deep down that school would 'unlock my greatness.'
Many children are not like me, and do not like school, and do everything they can to get out of it. Others are not like me, because they never got a chance to go to school. Still other children will risk their health, their lives, and will risk their community disowning them for a chance at an education. Because, as Shabana Bahij-Rasikh says: 'They can take your homes, your family, they can take everything from you. But they can never take from you what is in your mind.'
I was just reading the blog of my friend Elaine
She is planning on writing a book and for the content she asked her followers a question, and I answered:
''Are you consciously living a life that will become a legacy for those who follow you? If yes, what will your legacy be? If no, would you be willing to share why you are not?''
My answer would be yes, but I am only just beginning to. My ideas for my future are that I want to do something that other people can follow. It puts me in mind of a saying -
''The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character''
(This quote is often attributed to Buddha but it's not actually a Buddhist quote!)
So if I can change the way one person thinks about an issue, in some small way, it changes the world.
That's what I want my legacy to be.
I have been wanting to make this website for so long, I am incredibly happy to be finally doing it!
I thought I should tell you all a bit about myself so you aren't wondering who this strange girl is who keeps writing about vaginas and interviewing people about their lives.
My name is Amy Lou, I am from Swindon, England. I have had a lifelong interest in history and so I studied Egyptology and Classics at Swansea University (I believe this interest came from my great grandmother, who used to tell me I look like Nefertiti and that the Romans used to roll around in stinging nettles when they conquered England because it was so cold).
My studies took me to Egypt a couple of times (see my Places section!) And to Peru, which was the first of my volunteering experiences. I worked for 2 months for Projects Abroad in the middle of nowhere in the Andes, looking after a self-sustainable farm, doing some work for the community- like putting fluoride on the children's teeth and setting up chicks in the schools for the children to look after and sell their eggs. But mostly the work was about the multitudes of Inca ruins on the mountains behind the farm - cleaning them up ready for future generations to have the resources to study them.
My love of travel began there. I went home and got several part time museum jobs in Swindon, to save my money up to travel again (and I learned to salsa dance in the mean time!) So off I went to Europe for 5 months to visit my friends I had met in Peru, and make many new friends besides through couchsurfing.org. I went to Luxor, Egypt for a month to volunteer at a children's home called Sunshine (see my Causes section!).
When I finally got home after 6 months of travel I had no idea what to do next, so on a travel jobs website I came across the travel company Contiki. I applied for the job of Tour Manager, and after interviews, assignments and training (taking 6 months in total!) I finally was headed out on my first European tour. 50 people aged 18-35 on a coach for 3 weeks, and only me to look after them, tell them about the places we go and organise every aspect of the trip.
I was teacher, mother, best friend, nurse, DJ, shoulder to cry on, and everything in between as the situation dictated. And I still am- 4 years later and I am still a Contiki Tour Manager during the summer.
In winter I am traveller, explorer, friend to those I meet. And recently I have become a feminist. a believer in human rights, and friend to those I haven't yet met. How did that happen I hear you ask? Read my first article in the 'Reading' section of the website - 'Vagina by Naomi Wolf' and you will know how.
Thanks for reading!