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International Partners in Mission Presentation at the City Club

Today, October 15th, we went to the City Club for a special program titled "The Restoration of Liberation Theology" which is part of a series of programs/events that International Partners in Mission (IPM) is putting on this week to celebrate their 40th anniversary. One of the things that IPM is noted for are their Immersion Experience Programs. According to their website, these programs offer "7-12 day travel opportunities to the regions in which IPM's Project Partners work. The purpose of the program is to allow participants to be with and learn from our Project Partners, forming friendships with the people they meet, while learning a bit about the country's history and current day realities...IPM Immersion Experiences operate with the understanding that our purpose is to form relationships and develop a stronger understanding of the reality of life for our Project Partners. We do not do any direct service projects, and understand mission as a two-way street. It is our hope that returning participants become advocates for our Project Partners and marginalized citizens around the world, becoming responsible global citizens." So far there are Project Partners in Brazil, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Nepal,and Wyoming (in the USA).

Prior to the start of of the program, we spoke with Mr. Joseph Cistone, Sr. who is the father of Mr. Joseph F. Cistone, Jr., the Executive Director and CEO of IPM. Mr. Cistone, Sr. talked to us about his experience with the Immersion Experience Programs in El Salvador, Africa, Kenya, and Brazil. He said that one comes across people who have nothing but they are "happy and pleasant" whereas we have an abundance and always want more. He went on to say that the people that they meet are so proud to to show what they have accomplished with what little money that they have and after Mr. Cistone, Sr. returned he was not the same person because he was now more appreciative of his blessings.

Today's speaker was Dr. James P. Keane, Vice Principal of Catholic Memorial School in Boston. He was certainly well qualified to speak on this topic because his doctorate dissertation concerned Father Gustavo Gutierrez, a Dominican Priest who is often considered the father of libertation theology which, as stated in Wikipedia, "is a Christian response to the conditions of poverty in Roman Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described as "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor."

The last two Popes particularly Pope Benedict XVI have been discouraging of liberation theology pushing it back into the shadows, but Pope Francis has made some overtures in its favor including meeting with Father Gutierrez. More hopeful signs are Pope Francis' divesting himself of many of the traditional papal trappings and the movement to make the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador a saint because Archbishop Romero was allegedly murdered for speaking out against social injustice, assassinations and torture. Moreover, when Pope Francis met with President Obama the two exchanged gifts. President Obama gave Pope Francis seeds to symbolize a new start between Rome and the United States and Pope Francis gave President Obama two medallions; on one was the word "hope" and on the other was the word "solidarity".

At least twice if not several times during the course of his presentation, Dr. Keane praised the Immersion Experience Programs of IPM because he believes that an important key to fighting poverty is for those who are privledged to get to know the poor by name (i.e. as individuals) and become friends.

We liked visiting with our friend Pastor Doug Horner of St. Paul's Community Church on Franklin Blvd. in Cleveland and we shared a table with Mr. Brock Close from the Center for Health Affairs, Ms. Nicole Braden Lewis who is an Attorney who was once a Peace Corps volunteer and Ms. Mary Kelsey of "Gold Mining in El Choco, Columbia: Drawings and Photographs" who is a friend of our Joyce Graham. Ms. Kelsey recalls Ms. Margaret W. Wong assisting an acquaintance of hers obtain a green card.

Also at our table was Mr. Gabor Brachna who traveled to Central America in the tumultuous 1980's with the Ohio Synod Lutheran Task Force and spent several weeks there. Although he is not of the Catholic faith, Mr. Brachna said that the program today was very inclusive and, due to his own experience in Central America, he could relate to and understand a lot of what was being said. We spoke to Dr. Keane afterwards and we believe that one of the things that he was trying to accomplish in his presentation was to establish solidarity between all faiths/walks of life so more can be accomplished.

Next we traveled to Notre Dame College to attend a program called "You are Hired; a Unique Insight into What is Necessary to Obtain a Job in a Global Environment and the Need for a Broad Cultural and Linguistic Awareness." It was put on as a joint effort of the Bishop Anthony J. Pilla Program in Italian American Studies, the Consulate of Italy in Detroit, the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Cultures, the Boler School of Business and the Center for Global Education.

The speaker was Thomas Richmond, President Emeritus, Little Tikes, Inc. We decided to attend this program because it was mentioned on and, once again, they were right because Mr. Richmond was glad to meet us and share his insights.

The event was attended mostly by college students and Mr. Richmond, who had a very upbeat personality, related to them quite well. He told them that the skills you need to make it in today's economy are resourcefulness, adaptability, change orientation, and an appreciation of multi-culturalism. He said that in order to work for an international company, one needs to to understand the people and the culture that one is working with so he encouraged the students to travel and learn at least one language.

Mr. Richmond has worked for 14 different companies during his tenure so he discussed his experiences working for companies in Poland, France, and Israel. All of them did things differently and it took a while for him to get used to their different styles but he was ultimately glad that he did because he believes that change is a good thing and once one is comfortable, one is not learning anymore; the key is to find common ground with your co-workers and respect and appreciate their unique qualities and lifestyles.

He also told a story about meeting a person in Asia who was to become one of his closest friends. When they first met, the Asian person bowed and gave Mr. Richmond his business card with two extended hands. Mr. Richmond explained that to give someone a business card in the Asian culture is a wonderful compliment but he didn't realize this at the time so he took the card and started to make notes on it. Needless to say, things got off to a rocky start.

We also got to met several other faculty members including Dr. Santa Casciani and Dr. Luigi G. Fierri of the Bishop Anthony M. Pilla Program and Dr. Serena Scaiola, Hon. Consul of Italy in Cleveland. We introduced ourselves to a person who works with international students who told us that they often encounter immigration/visa issues that it takes a lawyer to work out so the administration has a list of lawyers that they give to the students as possible referrals. It is possible that one of those lawyers just might be Margaret W. Wong.

Our last event for the night was a panel dealing with human trafficking put on by IPM that was also being conducted at John Carroll University but on the other side of the campus. On Tuesday night at the lecture by Dr. Nyong'o and on Wednesday afternoon at the City Club, we had met Ms. Alyssa Bovell with IPM who urged us to come and even gave us her cell phone number in case we got lost on campus. We were late because we enjoyed Mr. Richmond so much that it was tough to leave but we still managed to catch the last 20 minutes of the human trafficking program. Upon our arrival, we saw that it was attended by quite a few people that we had encountered at the other two IPM events including Mr. Joe Cistone, Jr. and Dr. James M. Keane.

When we arrived, Ms. Soni Shreshta from Nepal was talking about conditions for women there which are not very good and human trafficking for sex and slave labor is quite prominent. It is a budding democracy but women still do not have many rights. Some hope is generated by the "calendar project" which has involves a calendar with a different monthly message concerning the empowerment of women. Once a month the women meet to discuss this. Ms. Shreshta's English was limited so she was helped during her presentation by Mr. Mahesh Upadhyaya, a very nice man. Afterwards, Mr. Upadhyaya told us that women produce 65% of the wealth in Nepal but only own 10% of the property.

Other subjects that were discussed while we were there were how to raise male awareness about problem; the fact that a lot of the human trafficking victims are males but it is more underground than the female abuse; how to identify situations in which human trafficking could be involved; and what the average person can do to help. We also attended a program on this topic a couple of weeks ago put on by the First Friday Club but in our opinion, this subject cannot be discussed enough so we will attend these programs whenever/wherever we can to show the firm support of ourselves and Ms. Wong.

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