Saving Orphans and my Sanity. Working with SOHO while on the job hunt.

We moved back to the states about two months ago, looking for jobs. Perhaps, and to our surprise, the most interesting/frustrating/complicated adventure yet.

In the meantime, I decided to reach out to a group that I worked with in 2013, Saving Orphans Through Healthcare and Outreach (SOHO).20131129-IMG_6173

I thought, perhaps they have some contacts for me to aid in my job search. Little did I know during that meeting, they had a lot more in store. October 14th was SOHO’s fourth annual awards gala to raise awareness for gender abuse and trafficking in both Indiana and Swaziland, Africa where the organizations focuses it’s work. They needed help with creating visuals for the gala and assorted organizational tasks in preparation. And there I was, on their doorstep with too much time on my hands and a desire to be productive while in job-search limbo. I was ecstatic that they needed me. Let me tell you, there is nothing more discouraging than looking for jobs sometimes. There have been many incidents where I have wondered if getting my master’s degree was even worth it. Emails not responded to, phone calls not returned, no sign of life on the other end of the search at all. I have learned a lot from this experience, but working with SOHO has been integral in not only keeping my sanity, but also introducing me to individuals who have inspired me, motivated me, and shown me there are much bigger needs going on in our world than my sometimes self-pitying state of jobless-ness.

Each year for the past four years, SOHO has honored special guests at the awards gala. This year, there were two honored guests, Gail Masondo an author, motivational speaker, and life recovery coach; and Yvonne Chaka Chaka- the Princess of Africa. I have been told Yvonne is the equivalent to the Angelina Jolie of Africa (I would say she is more like Whitney Houston) a very prominent singer and humanitarian especially during the Apartheid.

Gail (left) and Yvonne (right) at the Prayer Breakfast

On Monday the 12th we hosted a prayer breakfast at SOHO to prayer over the events for the week and to ask God to help our organization reach those who are abused both at home and in Swaziland. We had various community members, pastors, priests, and a police officer there to tell us about the trafficking situation in Indiana. I was SHOCKED to discover that Indiana has the 5th highest population of trafficked individuals in the country. It was also an emotional time for some individuals who opened up about how they had been abused as children.It is hard to describe the mixed emotions of anger and disgust I felt at hearing this news. My heart burned and ached. The room became immediately smaller and I felt suddenly trapped in its four walls. There is so much pain outside and I feel helpless to do anything about it. Even the strong individuals in front of me have suffered. We all have suffered in some way, I suppose. For me, the difficult thing is not accepting the pain of others, but how to react to it–  how to balance the anger with empathy. In that moment, we just put our hands over each other and prayed.

After the breakfast there was a forum at IUPUI sponsored by the University, the Desmond Tutu Center, SOHO, amongst others. The panel consisted of our two honored guests, Elna Boesak, two IUPUI students, a professor of social work, and a state representative. All had really interesting things to share about their experiences with women’s empowerment, gender abuse, and trafficking.

Christina Hale, the State Rep for District 87 made some really thought-provoking and rather shocking points during her talk about Indiana in regards to issues of gender violence, equality, and activism in INDIANA. She stated:

  • 1 in 6 girls are violated sexually by the time they reach high school
  • There are 33 counties in IN with NO OBGYNs
  • 1 in 5 children suffer from “food insecurity”- I put this in quotes because it is sort of a new term, a buzzword word that refers to economic inequality, food insecurity being a side effect.
  • IN had the lowest voter turnout in the nation in 2014

She encouraged the audience to participate politically. “Hegemonic, old-fashioned mindsets” are making the decisions here and we absolutely have the power to step in and shift the power relations. She talked about her story getting to be a state rep and it actually seems that if more of us were encouraged and became familiar with the process and duties, perhaps we would be more interested in making our voices heard. It was a great talk and encouraged even me, someone who tends to stay away from politics, to become more politically active. Changes need to be made.

Yvonne, reiterated some of her favorite speaking points during this talk as well as the Womens’ Breakfast on the 14th, the day of the gala. (Wo) man is a (well-organized) man. We can REARRANGE the world.

Yvonne singing for us at the Womens’ Breakfast.
Yvonnne, Gail, and the Chicago Con. General of South Africa, Vuyiswa Tulelo.
Cynthia, Gail, and Yvonne.

Gail, as a motivational speaker, was particularly moving as well. She has a power behind her voice and words that demanded attention.

“We need to mentor our daughters and nurture our sons.”

Gail speaking at the Womens’ Breakfast

This statement turned things on its head for me. I began to see gender abuse differently. It is not always about a perpetrator and a victim. It is not black and white. Boys need to be nurtured to become gentlemen and women need to become empowered and educated. There are two sides to the coin as they say, both of which require equal attention.

Apathy is our only enemy. It is the heart of a lot of disengagement of these crucial issues. We have become, around the world, a culture of silence. It is intimidating when you are not deeply embedded in an organization to find a passion or cause to support. What can we do as individuals? Gail’s response: “make yourself a committee of one and do your part.” Choose your cause and move from table talk to action. From personal experience, engagement happens quickly. One day I am in SOHO’s office, only familiar with one face. Within a week I am surrounded by women who inspire and motivate me, involved in an issue of which I was little aware, but to which I now feel intrinsically connected.

On the 14th we hosted the awards gala, once again featuring the honored guests. It was an incredible experience to assist in planning such an impactful event. I am so thankful I was able to be a part of it. There is so much that goes on inside organizations like SOHO to get their programs off the ground. It is easy to become completely embedded in the cause and through the work, the long days, the phone calls, the feeling like you’re running around like a chicken without a head, you become part of a family, a community. This has become everything to me. Volunteering again for SOHO reinvigorated my job search and my desire to join a team that does good work. To be surrounded by people with equal passions and diverse skills, to see our ideas becomes realities– real events, real programs, that save real people.

20151013-IMG_3704Volunteering for SOHO this year, I think I felt more connected to the children in Swaziland– more so than when I actually went to Swaziland in 2013.  It is (somewhat) easy to look into a child’s eyes and feel moved by their hardships. You would certainly have a heart of stone not to. However, its back at home when those eyes start to fade from memory, and the burning passion to save the children begins to dwindle that I realize most of the work is done here. In 2013 I documented the events that took place in Swaziland with a hope to spread awareness of the work SOHO does in Swaziland. This year, I have not stepped foot on Swazi soil, but I have felt more involved in aiding the Swazi people than before. I have been a part of the hard work it takes to raise money, design programs, and build relationships. It is long, long hours some days. It is pain, sometimes. It restarting from scratch and frustration, in some cases. But it is all blessings; what I have learned, the people I now call my friends, and the motivation I have gained to continue to do good work. It may be difficult, I may still not have a job, but I can always do work that means something to someone. And that is all I live for.

Written and photographed by Allison Troutner, SOHO Visual Presentation Volunteer for the 2015 HOPE RISING! Gala