Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Religion is peace, not war

By Vyshakh via UN Online Volunteer

There is a playground near to my house where all the kids in the neighborhood come to play in the afternoon. I often go and sit there watching them play and because of that they knew me pretty well. Once when I went there, I noticed that many of the kids were not there. But they were still playing with the ones present. I knew that they always got into a fight to select the team. So I asked them how they had chosen the team today and one little kid replied “Today, it is Hindu’s vs. Muslim’s”.I was shocked and dumbstruck. I felt a huge sense of shame inside me. If the minds of even these little children were sprayed with the idea of religion and the huge internal conflict surrounding them, how can we find fault with all the grown-ups promoting their religion as the best among all. I wondered about the present situation of our society. Every parent is so busy promoting their own religion and how it is better than the rest to their children that they forget to mention humanity. All the kids growing up has a mental note inside that other religions has some fault about it which makes them secondary to their own religion.As each day passes on, the situation deepens more and more. If we just look at the daily news we can see all the cruelty happening around the world just because of religion. When I grew up, I studied that Hitler killed Jews just because he didn’t like the Jewish religion. Everyone hates Hitler so much that no one yet has the audacity to name their child Hitler due to the immensely cruel atrocities done by him.Let me ask a question to the society “What are we doing now?’ In India, I am horrified to tell that people are being killed just because they eat beef. It is true that in Hinduism, cows are treated as a Godly creature. But I am pretty sure that it doesn’t promote murder.The mindset of a religious fanatic is that every belief of their own religion should be strictly followed and those disobeying it should be murdered. It is just pathetic. The situation becomes worse when political parties involve in it to get more votes.Throughout the world we can see incidents like this happening including the recent Paris attacks or shooting down of a Russian airplane done by the ISIS, which they proclaim as the Holy war.According to me, religion is supposed to be a guide on how a human should live their life to spread happiness and peace among all. The basic premise is that if we do anything wrong, God is watching us and we will be punished for it.All of the religions be it Hinduism or Christianity or Islam or anyone, they all promote peace and one who has read their religious books will never even have a thought of hatred against other religions.Everyone is a human and we love them based on their character or behavior. We can’t judge someone based on their religion.  We can’t be too narrow minded to actually believe that just because a few of the people of their religion are terrorists, all of them are bad and violent. I am a Hindu, my best friend is a Christian and I studied in a Muslim school. I am sure that this is the case of many people living in India. We have a rich tradition of being united and enjoying every festival as one of their own. We shouldn’t allow a few people to disrupt that and evoke distrust among the religions.But all is not lost. The youth or the next generation, has responded brilliantly through the social media against all these religious atrocities and the general conception of one religion above all. And I hope they follow it in real life as well. This gives us hope for the future where every religion is treated as the same and people never fight for it. And I guess I didn’t complete my story. Even though the kids made the team as Hindu’s vs. Muslim’s, there was a little problem; Two Christian kids were also there to play. And these kids had a brilliant solution. They put each of them in a team and made them their captain so that they wouldn’t feel bad. 
We have a huge lesson to learn from these kids. For them Religion is just a label and it doesn’t make a difference to them. And I hope at the end of the day, there will be only one winner: ‘Humanity’.

Monday, 21 March 2016

How I Overcame Body Shaming

By Olivia Dufour via UN Volunteers

My story starts all too similarly to the stories of young girls around the world: gossip, bullying, and body shaming throughout middle school. I had always loved who I was, until the end of elementary school, when my peers tried to manipulate the way that I viewed myself.

This girl-against-girl bullying began to impact my pride and sense of self. My friends had slim, straight figures, while mine often became the topic of conversation. I was deemed too curvy by some standards, too muscular and athletic for others, never able to be good enough.

What appeared on the surface as a critique of my shape, would later be understood to be an expression of my bullies’ insecurity and envy.

As the months went on, the bullying transformed into organized meetings, where I was being talked about in girl’s restrooms, at birthday parties, and at recess. Friends sent me pictures of conversations about me on instant messaging and online chat rooms.

School was my passion, because I loved to learn. My days became more about avoiding people and places, than about learning new and exciting things. Eventually, the stress became too much to handle.

As a result, I changed schools three times: from public school to private school and then private school to homeschooling. Thriving academically in these vastly different environments came easily to me, but what also came easily was more bullying.

I did everything that I could to stay at each school, until I had no choice but to remove myself from the situation. I thought that students at new schools would be different, more compassionate and welcoming, but that was not my experience. While the names of the schools I attended changed on a bi-yearly basis, the trend of bullying as a normal part of growing up stayed the same.

I was running hoping to find the solution in new places and new faces, not yet knowing that the solution was to focus on myself, and get to meet the girl that I once knew so well. It would be a homecoming of my very own.

After four years I had an emotional breakthrough and the problem’s solution came to me instantly: show a powerful version of myself without changing who I was, and I would be untouchable.

Overnight, I became confident again, unharmed by the attempts to belittle me. Whenever I would feel as though my name was being whispered in the hallways, I would invoke C.S. Lewis’ wisdom “Courage, dear heart”, I would say to myself.

I wore the clothes that made me happy, I walked with a sense of pride that projected strength, and I spoke in class with purpose and clarity. Soon, these so-called enemies noticed and tried to become my friends, this strategy was more than working: it was teaching others to look within themselves.

From then on, I accepted only kind and genuine individuals into my life, and soon my circle of friends was receiving positive attention from teachers and students. My passion had always been to help others, so I founded a nonprofit workshop organization in 2010 called “Rise and Shine”.

I invited the schools’ students, friends and bullies alike, to participate in a movement of empowerment and self-reflection. Those who had bullied students in the past came to these workshops and explained that they too were tired of bringing down others, and wanted to change their path.

Surprisingly, apologies were sent my way, explaining why they tried to change me: they were intimidated by my positivity. I traveled across the Tri-State area doing speaking engagements, and teaching children aged 8-17 how to use their voices to help, not to harm.

I learned an invaluable lesson that while there is strength in numbers, there is even greater strength in oneself. To recognize the power that you hold is the first step towards greatness. The earlier that this recognition takes place, the longer you can live unafraid and uninhibited, but it is never too late.

Whether you are 2 or 102 years old, there is still a chance to be empowered from within. So if you are reading this and feel as though someone in your life has made you feel less than you are, take this moment to be assured that you are not alone. You were brought here for a reason, and you will accomplish more than you may ever know, with or without that person’s approval.

You are supposed to be different. There is an indescribable beauty that comes from knowing that no two women look exactly the same. I took my experience of being body shamed and refocused my energy on honoring myself and the women that came before me.

Educating the women and young girls of today was and continues to be an important way to prevent body issues from impacting their lives. The journey of self-love is the most important step towards a lifelong experience as an empowered individual.

Once I tapped into my unique qualities as indicators of strength and bravery, I became invincible, unreachable by media and beauty industry biases. It became clear that in a way conforming was more of an act of surrender, than one of fitting in.

When this message reaches you, I hope that you find a renewed love and purpose for yourself.

You deserve to live a life you are proud of. I will leave you with this, a quote from a powerful French poet RenéChar: “Impose ta chance, serre ton bonheur et va vers ton risque. À te regarder, ils s’habitueront.” (Impose your chance, hold tight to your happiness, and walk toward your risk. Looking at you, they will become accustomed.)  


Olivia Dufour is an empowerment public speaker and human rights advocate living in New York. She holds a B.A. in Government with a specialization in International Child Protection. She speaks English, French, and Russian, and loves learning about different languages and cultures. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

We develop by embracing various cultures

By Tram via UN Volunteers

I am Tram from Vietnam. I got a chance to study Bachelor Degree Business Administration in Finland, the best coutry in education. I have lived here around three years and a half so there have been many many great experience, challenges that I did not get when living in Vietnam. I would like to share my story about language and culture barrier. 

When we grow up in our country, we are affected by behaviors, thoughts, lifestyle from our surroundings. More growing up, we are eager to learn from other countries, how their life is, what makes them different from us… 

As a Vietnamese student studying in Finland, I found it was quite difficult to adapt to a new life from the beginning, my head was empty when I came to Finland. At school, I attended a course introducing about Finnish customs and culture. 

To me, the course was not enough. I needed more real experience and read more culture books. I wondered why Finnish females apply a lot of make up, why Finnish males are so muscular. The answers are they respect their body and want to be healthy. 

Our body will not fucntion well forever but exercise helps us to be younger, avoid despression, sickness, be active… 

In Vietnam, I only wore normal, boring clothes at home and at school and did not take care much about my body. Finland lets me know that I am a young woman, I need to pay attention to my appearance which says about me. 

With a slim budget, we can buy stuffs from secondhand shops, even we can get a totally new one with a low price simply because the stuff is unnecessary from selllers.

Besides, sitting too much in front of the laptop makes me gain weight, move slowly, feel tired and I do not want additional fat. 

To deal with this, I change my lifestyle by attending public events to improve my Finnish skills, do some excersice, read more books… I also pay attention on my diet by avoiding sugar and fat. I have eaten more fruits and vegetable. After a week, I feel healthy, positive and energetic. 

It is commonly said that the Finns are very quiet in the public, at home… and respect the personal space. They do not communicate as much as Vietnamese people. 

Disturbing strangers, their neighbors, the mutual area, making noise is not their style. It is normal in Vietnam that you can look everyone, everywhere on the street. In Finland, when walking on the street, you just look straight or look down the street. It is impolite that you look the Finns and the Finns realizes that you looked at them. This situation is called the private space. They do not want to disturb others. 

I have learned that they are highly independent meaning that they try their best to deal with problems, limit in asking for helps and do individually. Being independent makes you creative, strong and learn from yourselves. You may think that why the Finns are so distant and cold with every body. However, once you understand the Finns and gradually adapt to Finnish culture, you will learn a lot from them and everything will become very awesome. Individual efforts make you more confident, dare to face with problem and you find solutions to control your own life.

In Vietnam, we have only two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. However, there are four clear seasons in Finland requiring you to wear clothes seasonally. Finland begins the year with winter which is very long, beautiful, strong season. 

In this time, we need to keep warm enough to avoid consequences in the long term, drink vitamin D for the sake of your bones and practice exercises. There are many interesting sports you only play in the winter, for example Nordic walking, downhill skiing, skating,… 

When the spring comes meaning your life is changes since the ice and snow melts, you will see more sun lights, singing birds, small red buds… The life becomes flourished. I sometimes miss the sunny days in Vietnam as they are hot and energetic. Most of people like the summer as it is the hottest time in the year. 

They will enjoy the nature, for example going swimming, going to the forest, attending musical events,… In summer, winter clothes should not in your wardrobe but  summer clothes. Autumn is attractive by its yellow, red or even golden leaves. How you can control your heart when seeing many beautiful yellow trees. 

The next aspect I emphasize is language. I faced with many difficultes because of language. I could not attend events in Finnish language, except music event J. It was hard to find a part time job and a full time job relating to my Business study with my limited Finnish skill. 

I could not say that Finnish is difficult as we are all different and have specific points. The Finns prefer speaking Finnish rather than English with foreigners, they have high ethnic pride. Finnish and Swedish are main languages in Finland. 

There are around 5% people speaking Swedish. Besides, there is Sámi ethical language. There are no gender, no position in Finnish but there around sixteen suffixes having differet meaning. It is a Finnish say that ‘Practice makes perfect’. It is very correct in studying Finnish and in generally, you should practice many times otherwise you will forget them quickly. You will be surprised when the information on the food pack are Finnish and Swedish. 

There are more people speaking English in the capital Helsinki, you may find it easier to live here because of the crowd, language, jobs and many interesting things. Understanding Finnish language makes you more comfortable to live here as you can communicate with the locals, understand what is going on surrounding you, especially the culture, the Finns… 

My life was not easy when I did not understand Finnish, there are news on TV, job advertisements, notices… in Finnish mainly. There are also programs, events aiming at the Finns so I missed chances to learn new things. Everyday, you just try a little bit until a certain time you understand that your Finnish skills are developed and do not forget to practice regularly. 

Living in a foreign country will force you to develop yourself, to adapt to a new environment and have an opened mind. I try to work, save money for traveling. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

You can overcome depression

By Fauwzia via UN Volunteers

“I can't tell anyone because I am so scared and because I just can't bring myself to explain how I feel..sometimes I feel so empty, so empty that I cant feel anything I cant even cry, it is one of the saddest feelings in the world and it hurts so much because you don't know what is wrong,you are just a huge huge mess and no ones seems to understand and no one sees”.

You smile everyday but you smile because you are trying to keep hope that maybe just maybe it would all just go away one day.And when you are with people you are the one that makes them smile and laugh,you keep hoping that maybe the laughs and smiles would be contagious.

I experienced my first episode of depression at 18, I was a first year medical student and  on one particular Wednesday everything just came crashing my school,my personal life,my faith and family. 

I was so confused and I was hopeless I didn't feel like doing anything,I had never experienced anything like that before the feeling was so strange and scary(I kind of thought it was karma though) I was away from home and alone too. 

For 2 days I stayed in bed without eating,I didn't call,text or text anyone back I just looked myself up in a room. I was able to get through my depression with my faith,I found peace in getting closer to GOD,it doesn't matter if you are a believer or not depression is human and not matter what you believe in it still affects us all.

Depression is not a sickness it is just human, it is something that everyone experiences once in a while, once we are able to pull out from it, it always makes us stronger and better, one of my friends said “it brings our purpose back and makes our goals clearer” which I strongly agree with, choosing to accept it is choosing to accept yourself for who you are, accepting the fact that you are human and that you break down and that you are not perfect and can never be perfect, but you can be your own little perfect imperfection.

How you choose to deal with it is very important, talking to people helps a lot,find that thing that makes you happy or that thing or place or person that makes you feel at peace you don't need to talk you just need to do that thing or be with that person or be at the place.Knowing you are not alone and that your friends, family have all experienced this makes a whole lot of difference and that you are always stronger,braver and better than you think,just know that there are people out there who see you and wish they were you.

Know that you are loved and that you deserve to live and love,you deserve to see this world, impact on it,love this world because tomorrow is the future which we can never tell.