Our amazing group of instructors at our all-staff orientation in the High Sierra mountains, California. Photo by Parker Pflaum.

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About Dragons

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About Mbouillé

Mbouillé Diallo currently works in diplomatic security. He is an educator and taught young Senegalese and American students, specializing in language and culture. He is a seasoned Dragons instructor, he led Dragon's inaugural West Africa summer program in 2005 and has been invited numerous times as a speaker and trainer for Dragons staff training. A former radio host, he is very interested in politics and geo-politics, though he is not a member of any political party. He is currently writing an autobiographical book and lives with his wife and four children in Thies, Senegal. A former soccer player, trainer and referee, Mr. Diallo likes to watch soccer games and see his kids play.    

     

Interviewing Mbouillé

Can you speak a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Kolda?

I remember, when I was a lot younger, my parents or people of their generation would refer to the regions North of the Gambia as Senegal, and our area (South) as Casamance. I always wondered why. To me we were all Senegalese. My father served in the army and later the Police of Senegal. We ended up living in Kolda just because my father decided to build his house there. Actually, many of my siblings and myself (as a little boy) did not like having to live in Kolda. Because we wanted to be in the North and be "Senegalese". As I was growing up, I realized how grateful I should be to God and my parents for giving me the opportunity to grow up in Kolda. I am not sure I would have learnt and understood a lot of things. Maybe, I would not have been the same person. Two examples can help explain why I am saying this:
  • People like me who grow up in Kolda are what I call a "Language and Culture Melting Pot". Thanks to my past and experience I speak at least seven languages. In my neighborhood, we were surrounded by families of different origins. Almost in each family, they spoke a different language and had something specific to their culture, religion etc. There were several ethnic groups and each had some specificities. That's why I would do whatever I could to not miss family ceremonies. As such, I was able to grow up learning from others and build my own personality, my future… my life. I am deeply convinced that without this past I would not have had the opportunity to work at the US Peace Corps, Dragons and other foreign organizations, or it would not have been the same. With my background and education, it was quite easy for me to understand others and know that staying or working with someone thought to be different from you is a gift and WEALTH.
  • When I was a little boy, electricity and running water was nonexistent in our neighborhood. We learnt to struggle to succeed in difficult conditions. We would study at night with "lampe Tempete'' (kerosene lamps); and had to pull water from wells to drink, bathe, and do the laundry etc. The legend says that the best civil servants (teachers, health workers, etc.) were mainly posted in the Northern part of the country. My family was considered as one of the wealthiest in the neighborhood, but we loved each other, as friends and played together in the streets as one. We shared food, clothes, school supplies and anything to make friends happy. We learnt to be independent and fight to succeed at school and in society. The one thing I feared the most was going to the bush to fetch firewood for cooking or working in farms. However, by following my friends and seeing how well they were doing, I decided to do the same. The most memorable times of my childhood comes from the moments I spent with friends in the bush, hunting, wrestling, playing games and fighting sometimes. Growing up with that is worth years of school studies.
 

You reached out to Dragons with a grant proposal to fund Dr. Yaya Balde's campaign to purchase Personal Protective Equipment in the Region of Kolda. Can talk to us a little more about how these funds will help healthcare workers and the local population?

Healthcare workers were quite unable to fulfill their daily tasks to reach out to communities in the beginning, communicate well with them, let them know that following guidance given by authorities is key to fight COVID 19. The health system and facilities in Kolda is one of the least equipped in the country. Staff did not have enough tools (masks, gloves, hygiene gels, soap etc). Healthcare officials could not keep telling people to wash their hands if the latter don't have soap or water (in some areas). They used a few radio programs, but being in the field was the best way to communicate with people. Healthcare workers knew it would take time to change people's mind and let them understand that COVID 19 is real and anyone can be infected. The virus can survive anywhere; be it a hot, humid or cold area.  They needed the basic tools and products to help communities fight. The public health system also depends on volunteers, since many health workers are not treated as civil servants and their salaries depend on the fees paid by patients in public hospitals and health care centers. Some health workers unions and hospital managers publicly announced that they might not be able to pay some salaries in the near future if solutions are not found quickly. So, I understood that people's lives are at risk. How can someone who struggles on a daily basis to get the minimum to feed themselves and their family be able to pay for fees in order to be taken care of by public health care? And if the health care workers are frustrated and stressed out, because not only don’t have good salaries, but also they might even be paid, I do not think they will be able to help fight COVID 19 in an efficient way.  I thought it would be very helpful to help with means to anticipate and limit the number of people contaminated or affected. I contacted Dr. Balde and learned that there is a committee in charge that can receive donations. Knowing that I do not have enough income to personally bring a help that could impact, I decided to contact friends who could work directly with him and coordinate donations.  

What is the current state of the Covid-19 crisis in Senegal? How has the virus impacted daily life for most people?

As of today Senegal Registered 3253 confirmed cases among whom over 2000 recovered and 38 died. The government of Senegal has not yet opted for total lockdown. However, we are in a state of emergency and under curfew (2100 to 05:00).  The virus has impacted people's daily life in many domains: In terms of the economy, the majority of Senegalese workers are in the informal sector. The economy has slowed down and many locals have been having problems getting income to take care of their daily needs and their families. This crisis has also shown that the health system is extremely weak in this country as it is in many other developing countries. We realize now that the health system has issues in staffing (low salaries or no salary for many of them), and equipment (absence of masks, gloves, hygiene stuff) etc. More importantly, this crisis shows that good communication, hygiene and healthy diets can save lives and money.   The government voted for a special budget to support needy people. As such, food and hygiene products were supposed to be delivered to families that do not have income within a short period of time. Unfortunately, over one month after the decision has been made, many regions have not yet received anything from the government. The government could have done a better job if they did not focus on political actions that we call in French ‘Du Voyez moi’ (look at me). The minister in charge of this task is travelling and using the government TV and other Medias to show up and pretend that he is doing a good job delivering what the community deserves.  On a positive note, this crisis has pushed some sectors to be creative and work on resiliency. Though we are not used to producing and consuming locally, some sectors have decided to participate in the fight by producing masks, machines, gels etc.  

In your opinion, how effective has the leadership in Senegal been at managing the crisis?

To me there was good leadership in the beginning, in the sense that there was an agreement between the current government, the opposition, and most of the other sectors of the society. They all decided to fight the pandemic together. However, I believe, they forgot to take into account certain realities. Most of the recommendations were to stay at home and follow recommendations made by health organizations and authorities. The communication was done in the way that they focused more on stigmatization than addressing the issue. Many people still consider COVID 19 as shameful. That's why many communities did not want to be moved from home (house/village,city, neighborhood) to their quarantine  places (hospitals, hotels and centers).  Also, in my mind, the decision to move all the patients tested positive was a mistake. Many people could have stayed at home and taken care of. The huge amount of money spent to move and take care of those people in hotels could have been saved for investing in testing, research and equipment.  The decision to follow some recommendations was not adequate. For example, they could have recommended locals to wear masks right at the beginning of the crisis, rather than recommending only sick people should wear a mask. I think that added to the false belief that COVID does not exist.     Also, some local wealthy people and politicians who pretended to bring their own revenue into the fight were not doing it for the sake of helping needy people, but rather for publicity. Why would someone whose aim is to help people get out of the crisis expose the stuff and money he is giving in front of cameras and post it on social media? On the other hand, I came to realize that Senegal might not be as poor as our authorities claim. The amount of money that has been collected from politicians and other private business owners could have been enough to help us tackle the problem right at the beginning. If this money was used in the way it should be, the health system in this country would not have been at this sad level.     

Is there anything you wish people living abroad knew about Senegal?

Senegal is one country with a lot of differences and details specific to peoples’ lives; it’s not fair to say there is one culture of Senegal. Senegal is not a poor country, but communities are not always given the opportunity to take advantage of their resources. The colonial system and history have impacted Senegal in different ways. Depending on where you are in the country, you can see these differences.  As such, the decision-makers should take into account the community realities in order to manage and help this country get out of the hole. So, for people living abroad, the best way to know this country and understand the realities to connect directly with locals, stay with them, travel with them….  Also, the educational system has to change. No community can make progress without a good system of education. And leaders should understand that not only people who are literate in French should be considered as educated people or intellectuals. There are a lot of people who could be good resources, but they are not being asked; if they are, their ideas are not taken into account.

What are your hopes and fears for the future?

I will summarize my hopes in one sentence: I wish the future of this country to be left in the hands of those who have the capacity and deserve it. I am optimistic that the new activist movements that are spreading now all over Africa will help us get to that. Many young Africans now understand that the most obvious guarantee to move forward is real Africa Union…

Anything else you want us to know?

I will be happy to get back to you if you have further questions. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself in a few lines about my country…..    

Dragons Fund is a program of the COMMON Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are tax-deductible as permitted by U.S. tax law.

 
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    [post_date] => 2020-07-06 10:23:43
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    [post_content] => Dear Dragons Alum Families and Community,

Today is July 1st: Week one of our summer courses. In normal times, students would be getting to know their instructors and peers, tasting and smelling new cuisines, and beginning their Dragons experience. These are clearly not normal times, and this year we are feeling what many of you experienced when your child left home: the empty nest. Until international borders reopen, the majority of our customary work is put on hold; as temporary empty nesters, we are afforded the time and space to look at ourselves in new ways. These past months of crisis have helped us to ask old questions with renewed urgency, expand our vision, and deepen our purpose. I'd like to share these developments with you:
 

Bringing our work closer to home

At our core, Where There Be Dragons is about discovery of and connection to self, others, and our shared planet through immersive and responsible travel. With international travel on pause, we want to expand our mission to meet new realities. Over the past several months we've developed new domestic programs for our SummerGap and Adult participants. We've long wanted to bring our work "closer to home." These courses do just that, allowing us to bring participants in contact with critical issues and impactful experiences in the US.  

Supporting communities

  • While we know Dragons will get through this and be stronger for it, the slowdown has acutely impacted many of our overseas staff and partner communities. In response, The Dragons Fund (a 501c3 program of the COMMON Foundation) started a
  • Community Relief Fund to help provide small grants to affected communities in the places we visit. These communities have always been the bedrock of a Dragons education. We are continually inspired by their creativity, strength, and resilience. They continue to teach us how to navigate this complex world.
  • Julianne Chandler, our Latin America Program Director, recently wrote a beautiful blog post about how one of these communities in Bolivia has been impacted by the pandemic and responded in creative ways.
 

Deepening our work towards justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion

Over the past few years we've made tangible strides in more fully articulating and realizing our mission, vision, and values. We hope our actions loudly reflect our words. And yet, as with all things aspirational, the journey is endless. COVID-19's unequal impact on vulnerable communities and movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter remind us of how far we have to go-as an organization, as a country, and as a global community-to actuate meaningful and systemic change. International travel, and Dragons programming, are fundamentally entangled with legacies of colonialism and contain deep inequities. We are using our "empty nest" to develop a long-term strategic plan for deepening our work toward justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, which we look forward to sharing in the coming months.
  Dragons will always seek to provide profound and unfiltered experiences that expose us to the beautiful and painful complexities of our world. Through our shared learning, we can step beyond our cultural and self-imposed limitations, awakening to who we want to be for ourselves and our communities.
Thank you for all your support in the recent months, and over the decades. We look forward to updating you on our programming as it returns.
 
Reed Harwood
Executive Director
 
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    [post_content] => This blog post is written by Claire Bennett, a Dragons Instructor who usually resides in Nepal, but who has spent the months of the pandemic hunkering down in Indonesia, after supporting the Bridge Year Program there earlier this year. Claire worked with Lutfi Handayani, Dragons Local Coordinator, to distribute a Community Relief Fund grant in Yogyakarta.

On our way into the public health office in Yogyakarta we had seen a pick-up truck, sirens blazing, full of people in hazmat suits. It was this trip that really opened my eyes to the scale of the pandemic here in Indonesia. Up until that point, the number of cases of COVID-19 in the country that I somewhat unexpectedly have called home for the last few months, seemed to be within reasonable limits. (Although my definition of “reasonable” has been warped by the comparison to other countries I hold dear which have fared much worse, like my native UK.)

Lutfi and I had applied to the Dragons Community Relief Fund for a small project here in Yogya. Part of the grant was to donate 25 sets of PPE to the local public health office. Procuring the suits had been no small feat; they are not available for general purchase, so we had needed to locate the correct material and then take it to a tailor to sew the suits to the required specification. I marveled that the government had resorted to appealing to the public to donate hand-sewn hazmat suits.

To enter the public health office it is mandatory to wash your hands and wear a facemask. We asked one of the administrators where the pick-up truck we had seen was headed. “To collect and bury the body of a seven-year-old girl who died this morning,” was the reply, and we wished we hadn’t asked. Still, she would not be counted among the case statistics as she was still on the waiting list to have the test that would have confirmed it. “Most of the people that die are in the ‘suspected’ category,” we were told. “But we still have to treat the bodies like they had the virus – that’s why we are running out of PPE.”

Our donation was to protect public health workers overwhelmed by the rising death tolls here. It felt like a good use of a very small amount of funds.

[caption id="attachment_157207" align="aligncenter" width="715"] Photo by Claire Bennett, Instructor.[/caption]

 

[caption id="attachment_157205" align="aligncenter" width="715"] Photo by Claire Bennett, Instructor.[/caption]

The other thing we planned to do with the community grant was something we knew would provide immediate relief; giving small amounts of essential food and supplies to those hit hardest by the crisis.
Indonesia is in an unusual situation in that there has been no nationwide lockdown, and no shelter-in-place instructions have been given except for in areas of exceptionally high transmission such as the capital.
The government has declared that a lockdown would be too hard on the country’s daily wage earners, who make up a significant proportion of the population. Despite this, the economic impact of the crisis has hit Indonesia hard, as tourism ceased, restaurants reluctantly shut their doors due to declining demand, construction work has stopped, and markets have closed. A large number of families have lost their only source of income. In my work with Learning Service I have often spoken out against “handouts” as a form of charity, as it leads to dependency instead of systemic change. However in the face of an immediate need such as a natural disaster or, as we have found, economic fallout from a pandemic, there is a need for a stopgap, and when people are struggling to feed their families there isn’t time to make longer-term plans. We decided to focus on the two areas of town that host our Dragons students – Tamansiswa, where the semester program house is located, and Kotagede, the community that hosts the Princeton Bridge Year groups. In both communities, we worked with local leaders to identify families most in need, which ended up being 20 families around Tamansiswa and 19 in Kotagede. The community chief in Tamansiswa also requested us to install a small public hand-washing station to promote good hygiene practices for the duration of the pandemic. The food packages were comprised of bare essentials, to ensure that we were not giving anything that would be wasted. 5kg of rice (of course, we are in Indonesia), cooking oil, salt, sugar, tea, eggs, hand soap, and naturally the ubiquitous “Indomie” instant noodles. The packages were delivered to the community leaders who distributed them anonymously in order to avoid questions or jealousy. [caption id="attachment_157136" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Instructor.[/caption]
In lots of ways, the support that we offered with this community fund was minimal: a token of support and solidarity in troubled times. But I also like to think it had a modest impact.
For the relatively tiny amount of just US $525, we were able to make 25 hazmat suits for public health workers, support 39 struggling families with a couple of weeks’ groceries, and set up a public hand-washing station. Along with boxes of food and soap, the Dragons community also offered our community in Yogyakarta a sense of hope in these dark times. A huge thank you to all who have donated so far!    

Dragons Fund is a program of the COMMON Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are tax-deductible as permitted by U.S. tax law.

 
PS. WANT DRAGONS BLOG UPDATES SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX?

One email a week. Nothing Markety. Unsubscribe any time. Subscribe to the Dragons Blog and stay connected to the community. ❤️

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    [post_content] => 

Building Sustainable Relationships With Land & Water in the Western United States

Catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dragons is excited to facilitate new low-impact domestic programs closer to home. Our Colorado River Basin Semester continues to advance our mission to offer immersive and responsible travel by exploring the history, culture, and environments of the North American West. Taking health risks into account, we are initially prioritizing programs that remain in-line with public health recommendations and which do not pose a greater risk to vulnerable populations. Coming September 1st, 2020, 10 Gap Year students will travel slowly by foot, train, and boat to connect the Colorado River's ecosystems from alpine peaks to desert canyons. Participants will backpack to the source of the Colorado River. Get their hands dirty studying permaculture and sustainability on local farms. Float through the desert canyons of Utah and sleep under a blanket of endless stars. Forge lasting friendships and connect to landscapes that will call you back for many years to come.

Program Highlights:

[caption id="attachment_157040" align="alignleft" width="356"]domestic gap year program where there be dragons colorado utah Photo by Tim Hare, Instructor.[/caption]
  • Engage with movements for food justice and food sovereignty
  • Meet with scientists, activists, ranching families, Native American communities, and recreational groups to gain a deeper understanding of the demands on land and water
  • Study permaculture with sustainable farmers and learn about practical solutions for climate change
  • Develop a complex understanding of the human history and a deeper connection with the natural environment in the high mountains and winding desert canyons
  • 2-week backpacking expedition along the Continental Divide including possible summits of 13,000 and 14,000+ foot peaks
  • Float the red rock canyons of the Colorado River Basin while you learn about complicated demands on this precious resource and how water has carved the magnificent natural beauty of the Southwest
  • Study controversial land use issues and natural resource extraction practices in the Bears Ears National monument and other public lands
  • Learn how communities of the Southwest carve out their existence amidst the greatest drought in centuries and strike a delicate balance in a competition for scarce natural resources
 

Learn more about the semester on the program page. 

 
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[post_title] => Announcing Dragons Domestic Fall Gap Year Program: The Colorado River Basin Semester [post_excerpt] => Coming September 1st, 2020, 10 Gap Year students will travel slowly by foot, train, and boat to connect the Colorado River's ecosystems from alpine peaks to desert canyons.  [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => announcing-dragons-domestic-fall-gap-year-program-the-colorado-river-basin-semester [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-06-16 10:49:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-06-16 16:49:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 48 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 53 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 53 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/about_dragons/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 60 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 14 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 60 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => For Parents, About Dragons ... )
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    [ID] => 157103
    [post_author] => 1530
    [post_date] => 2020-06-12 10:18:08
    [post_date_gmt] => 2020-06-12 16:18:08
    [post_content] => 

Julianne Chandler, Dragons Latin America Program Director, shares how a community is undeterred in their endless commitment to each other...

It’s Friday morning and I’m up early, the crisp early winter cold biting through the mountain air.  Only in the Andes can you awake to frost on the grass and find yourself battling blistering rays of sunlight by 11 am, with temperatures jumping over 40 degrees F in a few hours.  I sneak out of my gate before the kids are awake, stuffing my hand-sewn mask into a pocket as I roll my rusted old cruiser onto the dirt road.  I’m still taken by the striking calm that fills the air in the absence of motor vehicles, and our little road is deserted save for a flock of sheep as I head towards the main avenue.  When I reach the corner I pause to take in the morning stillness, and my gaze stretches into a horizon that is crisper than ever before: Tiquipayaya lays spread out below, a patchwork of urban sprawl interspersed by large expanses of agricultural fields that predominate farther to the west.  To the southeast the city of Cochabamba takes shape, crowned by Cristo de la Concordia, allegedly the largest christ statue in the world.  In the far distance I can even make out the lomas of the Zona Sur, Cochabamba’s sprawling working class sector, where trouble is brewing.  Bumping down the Montecillo hillside I pass neighbors and families making their way home by foot, their weekly provisions in tow.  Technically only one adult member of each family is permitted to leave the house each week, for a 4-hour window designated according to your national ID number, but I see couples and mothers toting children on their backs, stopping to eat a salteña or sip a glass of mocochinchi on the side of the road.  
I am reassured by these simple acts of normalcy in the midst of pandemic, by small gestures of disobedience in our little Bolivian town.  
I find it uncomfortable to ride with my mask, but slip it over my face as the cobblestone gives way to potholes and clouds of dirt, the abandoned remnants of a paving project that was paused way back in September, just before national elections threw the country into its last crisis. In Bolivia, there are layers to our state of emergency, one overshadowing the next until you can't tell where one was left off and the other begins.  As I roll into downtown Tiquipaya I find the streets lively but also eerily quiet.  Lines snake their way out of shops with some semblance of social distancing, and a truckload of military men look serious but a bit aimless on the corner of Pablo Jaimes and Avenida Reducto.  I know that in some communities thought to be “undisciplined,” such as the Zona Sur, the security presence is not so passive.  They stare down the loan gringa as my bike squeaks past, but fortunately don’t ask to see my ID;  it’s not my designated day and I’m breaking quarantine regulations by being out of the house. In some pockets of the country protests are stirring as we head into month three of draconian quarantine measures, and images on the news show violent repression by members of the armed forces in K’ara K’ara, El Alto, Yapacaní.   In a country with the largest informal economy in the world, people are starting to go hungry and need to work to survive.   On Avenida Cochabamba I slip into the ATM amidst a line that stretches three city blocks all the way to the central plaza.  People are seated on lawn chairs and perched on the curb at a scattered distance from one another, peering out over masked faces as they wait to collect a measly government bonus of 500 Bs. (less than $75).  In El Alto there are reports of people spending all night in line to retrieve their bonus, wrapped in blankets to protect against the biting cold at 13,000 feet.  These are our elderly, our sick, our most vulnerable.  Our transition president Jeanine Añez, who increasingly governs as if she has actually been elected for office, likes to group these people in with the “undisciplined” protesters, as if reprimanding children for staying up past their bedtime.  Lately language of “obedience” and “discipline” are pervasive in the news and incessant TV propaganda, revealing coming from a regime that has no legitimate claim to office.  Under Añez’s newest decree, you can be imprisoned for spreading “disinformation” - even in the form of art - as a threat against public health. If only the same enthusiasm were being directed to testing and medical supplies.  Coming out of the ATM I recognize the eyes of a friend on the corner donning a colorful mask, and we both light up in recognition.  Facing each other we pause and hesitate under the watchful stare of the police, and then both decide in the same moment to embrace each other because we haven’t been able to properly greet a friend in weeks.  Our kids are in the same class at Kusi, and we lament the fact that they haven’t been out of the house in more than 60 days. Caro gives me a squeeze on the shoulder as I jump back on the cruiser, and my heart shines a bit brighter as I head for the countryside.   I reach the shaded bench across from Hotel Regina 10 minutes early but see that Valentina and two of our homestay mamas are already there.  I embrace Doña Leti instantly because she’s like family, but Doña Pilar is nervous about being out of the house and we greet each other at a distance. 
Instantly we are laughing and exchanging community gossip, and we are all wrapped up in the absolute joy and simplicity of sitting on a bench with women friends. 
Doña Pilar tells us about the recent loss of her corn crop, her primary source of income this time of year, which collapsed after the abrupt end of the rainy season.  Soon Paola and her mother Doña Elsa join us as well, with stories about the grandchildren and farm animals and how they’re faring without the essential weekly income they bring in selling chicharrón in the cancha every weekend. Leti is the last to join us, who came from Villa Oruro by foot with the news that her uncle passed away the day before, leaving 9 young children orphaned on the altiplano outside of La Paz (his death was not COVID-related).  Her parents, Doña Carlota and Don Abdon, had rushed to La Paz in the cover of night, risking bribes or fines or worse at security checkpoints, to reach a mourning family in need that could not be accessed by Bolivia’s precarious medical system.   Bolivia Dragons Fund Community Relief Fund Before bidding farewell to our Collpapampa neighborhood families, Valentina and I hand over the modest donation from Dragons that had brought us together.  We explain that while we won’t be able to receive students for an indefinite future, Dragons has started a fund to support our key host communities during this time of uncertainty and economic scarcity.  They are deeply moved that Dragons has thought of them, and share with us what they’ll be able to do for their families with this support: a quintal de arroz (220 pounds of rice), much needed medication, stores of potatoes, flour, cooking oil, beans, and other staples to weather the certain precarity ahead.  Jumping back on our bikes, Valentina and I continue on to visit the homes of other families.  As we ride through open fields and down tree-lined lanes, I am again taken by the sweet liberty of this moment, another small act of rebellion in a time of masks and security checkpoints and social distancing enforced for some at gunpoint.  Nearly 10 years have gone by since Valentina and I walked these same roads together for the first time, stopping in at the homes of farmer families and single mamas and Aymara weavers to gauge their thoughts on receiving young Dragons students into their homes.  They were so shy and skeptical at first, with young children peeking out wide-eyed from pleated skirts at the idea of a gringita or gringito sharing their homes. “But here, in the campo, where we have dirt floors and chickens roam free?  Why would an American student want to live here?”  And why not here, Valentina exclaimed, with the authority of someone who raised her sons free on these same country roads. 
Here where we mark our days by the agricultural cycle, where the sweet cadence of Quechua hangs in the air, where the protective gaze of Mt. Tunari peers down at us from a height of 16,400 feet along the eastern flank of the longest mountain chain on earth.  
Those children who peered up at me all those years ago are grown up now.  They’re studying medicine at the public university or working at factories or helping in the fields.  These women have been there through my pregnancies, they grew the flowers at my wedding, their younger kids climb trees and play hide and seek with my own daughter on the program house farm.  By now they have received countless Dragons hijitas y hijitos into their homes, encouraging their Spanish, nursing their illnesses, laughing across seemingly impossible distances - cultural, economic, spiritual - that fall away in an adobe kitchen over a warm meal.    Riding past the Program House farm, we make our way to the farming communities of Apote and Totorkawa.  Doña Marta lets out her deep and infectious laugh when we appear at her store front, beaming as she tells us about her granddaughter who is still managing to bring income in for the family at a meat factory as the public health crisis unfolds. She complains that her braids are untidy when I ask for a photo, and gives me a firm hug when we head on our way.  Doña Marta has seen plenty of other crises unfold, she has survived dictatorships and the loss of children, and she’s unphased by COVID-19.  We’ll get through this, she says, que mas podemos hacer pues? Bolivia Dragons Fund Community Relief Fund Heading further down the road we stop at the homes of Sandra, Doña Eugenia, Susana, Doña Mari and her sister María.  They invite us in, offer tea and mandarinas and fresh pacay from the tree.  They share stories of past students and inquire about our kids and send their surprised and dignified thanks for the support more with their eyes and gestures than with their words.   Bolivia Dragons Fund Community Relief Fund All of these families depend on informal labor to make a living, much like most Bolivians. They sell produce and hot meals at the weekly farmer’s market, they are gardeners and carpenters and gifted weavers.  They run dental offices out of their homes, and serve as local leaders in neighborhood associations. They look out for each other, just as they worry when students aren’t home as night falls on Tiquipaya. Last fall they saw their sources of income run dry after the political crisis took hold, when a predominately middle and upper class popular uprising paralyzed the country for 21 days.  Bolivia was still contending with the effects of political turmoil when the public health emergency descended, snaking its way into corrupt political systems and the embers of recent massacres and the halls of deficient medical centers.  Now our homestay mamas face the loss of Dragons income as well, which has provided a steady supplement to their income these past years.    I ride up the hillside back to Montecillo just before curfew kicks in at noon, and am filled to the brim with the presence of these strong women, laughter in their eyes as they face increasingly tenuous circumstances.
Without their generosity, their kindness, their patience, the work we do of connecting young people to a landscape and slice of life different from the one they’ve always known would not be possible. 
A donation from the Dragons fund will provide a small boost to their livelihoods in the coming weeks, but we will never be able to repay them properly for what they’ve offered us all these years.  How can you even start to place value on the memories, the stories, the intimate folds of their lives that they’ve shared with our students? I’ve been in this work for a long time and honor the effort that Where There Be Dragons has made to extend support to our host communities in a time of global crisis. In my years as an international educator, I have never come across another organization that seeks opportunities for extended homestays in communities like Tiquipaya or El Alto, locations that would not be on the radar for your average traveler.  International travel programming is rife with inequities, both in terms of access to a carefully crafted intercultural experience, but also with regard to recipient communities and the many layers of power and privilege that subtly or overtly shape the exchange.  As the travel industry faces an unprecedented global crisis, I am grateful that Dragons has paused to acknowledge the disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities and populations around the world.  As far as I know, no other student travel organizations are directing fundraising efforts directly to communities in need.   Bolivia Dragons Fund Community Relief Fund When I slip back into my gate, my girls are frantic to see me and I realize it’s the longest time we’ve been apart in two months.  Inara is eager to hear all about Tía Vale and the mamas I’ve visited, and I wrap my arms around my daughters who have not left our land since March.  As I get back to work that afternoon, there’s an update from Ana on the community grant we’ve sent to her in El Alto.  “Lxs chicxs are mobilizing” she says, talking to me from the front lines of Jeanine Añez’s assault on Bolivia’s indigenous and poor.  “The situation is serious.”  They are militarizing El Alto and residents have to get more creative about transporting emergency provisions to the families that have been hardest hit on the barren fringes of the city. 
'They have created human chains to transport goods by foot to more remote areas,' she explains. 
“Lxs chicxs” -  referring to the youth activists and artists that make up Teatro Trono, one of our strongest partner organizations -  take turns moving goods on their designated days as the security presence closes in.  “We have three brigades getting supplies to the wounded in Senkata, to distrito 11, to families in more remote neighborhoods.”  My heart chills at the mention of Senkata,  the site of a government-orchestrated massacre that left 9 people dead and dozens wounded in November of last year.   “We’re calling it the Cadena de Abrazos que Alimentan.”  The chain of hugs that feeds…    

Dragons Fund is a program of the COMMON Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are tax-deductible as permitted by U.S. tax law.

 
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[post_title] => A Chain of Hugs That Feeds—Dragons Community Relief Fund in Action [post_excerpt] => Residents have to get more creative about transporting emergency provisions to the families that have been hardest hit on the barren fringes of the city. They have created human chains to transport goods by foot to more remote areas. “Lxs chicxs” - referring to the youth activists and artists that make up Teatro Trono, one of our strongest partner organizations - take turns moving goods on their designated days. We’re calling it the Cadena de Abrazos que Alimentan.” The chain of hugs that feeds… [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => a-chain-of-hugs-that-feeds-dragons-community-relief-fund-in-action [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-06-27 09:00:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-06-27 15:00:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 76 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 76 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 48 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 53 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 53 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 ) [3] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 13 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 13 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community ... )
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    [post_author] => 1530
    [post_date] => 2020-06-03 14:31:50
    [post_date_gmt] => 2020-06-03 20:31:50
    [post_content] => Dear Dragons Community,

On Monday, May 25th—Memorial Day—George Floyd was murdered under the knee of a Minnesota police officer. In a country already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, Floyd’s death compounded the pain of another open wound: the wound of American racism, an infection that has festered for 400 years. It oozes hatred and rage and violence. It blinds so many to the full, sacred humanity of Blackness.

We write to you today to fight that infection. We know that Black Lives Matter. And in the words of instructor Caleb Brooks, “we know that George mattered, that he was imbued with the life force that every poet and theologian and artist and shaman has lived and died trying to translate into the broken languages by which we express our love and also our hate.”

We write to grieve with you, and to join hands with you against the systems that killed George Floyd.

We condemn the racist policies, white supremacy, and police brutality that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and innumerable others. White people and white-run organizations must actively work against the legacies of white supremacy, racism, settler colonialism, patriarchy and structural inequality upon which this country was built and that pervade the lives of Black and Brown people in the US every day.  

As an administrative team, we regret that it has taken us until now to make this statement publicly. We acknowledge that we benefit from these heinous legacies and have a responsibility to dismantle them. Our mission to build a just and equitable world requires sustained anti-racist action. We stand in solidarity with those demanding racial justice. We invite you, our community, to join us in the movement for sustainable transformation. 

Today, Dragons donated to Black Lives Matter 5280, a small organization on the front lines of the protest in Denver, near our headquarters. You can find more organizations to which our staff are donating, and more ways to get educated and involved below.

The work of liberation is hard and at times may feel impossible. But, to echo James Baldwin, “in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand.”

In solidarity, 

The Where There Be Dragons Administrative Team

 

RESOURCES TO GET EDUCATED AND INVOLVED

Thank you to Black-led activists who have created these resources, which we have pulled from various locations. 

READ

We encourage you to purchase your books from black-owned and African American-focused bookstores. You can find a list here
  • ain’t i a woman by bell hooks
  • Ally Resource Guide
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 
  • Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
  • Black Lives Matter Syllabus 
  • Choke Hold by Paul Butler
  • Divided Sisters by Midge Wilson and Kathy Russell
  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper 
  • Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall 
  • How to be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
  • How We Get Free edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor 
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson 
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat White Supremacy, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
  • Native Son by Richard Wright 
  • POC Online Classroom  
  • Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde 
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi 
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein 
  • The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherríe Moraga
  • What to do Instead of Calling the Police 
  • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors & asha bandele
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo 
  • Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect edited by Joe Macaré, Maya Schenwar, and Alana Yu-lan Price
  • Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis 

LISTEN

WATCH

  • 13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
  • American Son (Kenny Leon) — Netflix
  • BlacKKKlansman (Spike Lee) — HBO
  • Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 — Available to rent
  • Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada) — HBO
  • Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu) — Available to rent
  • Dear White People (Justin Simien) — Netflix
  • Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) — Available to rent
  • I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin doc) — Available to rent or on Kanopy
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) — Hulu
  • Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton) — Available to watch FREE for the month of June
  • King In The Wilderness  — HBO
  • Rachel Cargle’s Address on the Revolution 
  • See You Yesterday (Stefon Bristol) — Netflix
  • Selma (Ava DuVernay) — Available to rent
  • Systematic Racism Explained
  • Tamika Mallory’s Speech on George Floyd Protests
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — Available to rent
  • The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) — Hulu with Cinemax
  • When They See Us (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix

DONATE

GET INVOLVED

  • #AmplifyMelanatedVoices when sharing content
  • Click for a pre-made email draft to demand justice for Breonna Taylor
  • Click for a pre-made email draft to demand justice for George Floyd
  • Click for a pre-made email draft to demand justice for James Scurlock
  • Click for a pre-made email draft to demand justice for Tony McDade
  • CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TO VOTE
  • Get involved with your local government to end police brutality 
  • Join Local Black Lives Matter Chapters
  • Join Local allyship organizations such as SURJ

SUPPORT/FOLLOW

MORE

 
PS. WANT DRAGONS BLOG UPDATES SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX? ONE EMAIL A WEEK. NOTHING MARKETY. UNSUBSCRIBE ANY TIME. SUBSCRIBE TO DRAGONS BLOG AND STAY CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY. ❤️
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