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Two Guys Are Making The World A More Knowledgeable Place One Month At A Time

Documentary filmmakers Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple spent a month living on the Za'taari refugee camp in Jordan. Zach and Chris share a little how their life and neighbors were (and still is right now for about 140,000 Syrians) in photographs below.

Two Guys Are Making The World A More Knowledgeable Place One Month At A Time

January 24, 2014

Za'atari refugee camp entrance


"In an effort to better understand refugee life, we spent one month this winter living alongside displaced families in the Za’atari refugee camp. As the first filmmakers ever allowed by the United Nations to be given a tent and registered inside a refugee camp, we were able to get a never before seen look into the world’s most pressing crisis.

Our experience uncovered overwhelming trauma but also the untapped potential our uprooted neighbors posses. With the right programs we can support healing, ease the burden on host countries and even empower the disenfranchised by unleashing people’s creativity."

Registration for camp through UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency) and the Jordanian government

"...[W]e are provided with a UNHCR tent, 4 mattress pads, 8 blankets, a bucket, an aluminum pot, a gas heater (but no gas), a hygiene kit (soap, toothbrushes, detergent), a bread voucher, ration card, ID card, and a welcome meal (complete with Fig Newtons!). They also offer additional clothes and a second meal to those who choose. The supplies strike us as well-thought-out and, thanks to the generosity of donors, much better than what NGOs could provide when the camp first opened."

February 3, 2014

"Inside [Um Ali's] caravan, one wall is completely covered by Arabic writing. Even without knowing what it says, it’s striking to look at. We ask her about the wall and Um Ali tells us that when she first came to Za’atari she knew no one and was deeply depressed. She had lost a son, her home and everything she once knew and loved back in Syria ... she began to write everything she remembered on the wall.

At the market one day [Um Ali] walked through the gates of the women’s center ... a women’s group was taking place where they were sharing stories very similar to hers. She came back the next day and shared her own story."

"Um Ali thrived at the women’s center and was eventually hired to teach women the countless arts and crafts she had mastered back in Syria. This was the first job she had ever held and she became an important provider for her family. We ask if she likes to work, and she proudly tells us, 'In Syria, working wasn’t necessary so it never crossed my mind that I would enjoy it.'"

February 6, 2014

Ziyad is an artist who built, among other things, a fountain, by repurposing aid items.

"He built a bedroom for his kids, fashioned a bread oven, planted a garden, pieced together a storefront and is in the process of adding a private bathroom and cement patio to his caravan." (above)

February 13, 2014

Ra’ouf, a 10-year-old neighbor, and Zach and Chris make tea.

"Children under the age of 18 make up over 50% of the 95,000 current residents in Za’atari refugee camp. This statistic is very apparent; kids are everywhere in Za’atari. They freely roam in small packs doing what all young kids do when they get together. Only 20,000 of the children in Za’atari are enrolled in school and only about 11,000 consistently attend classes.

We find out, however, that Ra’ouf does regularly go to what he calls 'the nursery,' his name for one of Save the Children’s 'Child-Friendly Spaces.' Here Ra’ouf can play soccer, draw, and do a number of other activities with other kids ages 5 to 17. There are two of these spaces in District 5 alone so it isn’t as crowded as the schools and Ra’ouf says it is a fun place to go."

10-year-old Ra’ouf

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Texas State Senate and The ACLU

There has been a tidal wave of anti-trans legislation proposed over the past few months in the U.S. At least 17 states are now considering restricting anyone under the age of 18 from transition-related care.

Texas is currently debating two anti-trans bills. Once would criminalize parents for allowing their children to receive gender-affirming treatments. Another would criminalize healthcare professionals who administer them.

For a state that prides itself on promoting personal freedom, these bills go out of their way to punish medical professionals and parents for making deeply personal choices. Shouldn't doctors and parents have the right to make medical decisions for children without the state's involvement?

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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