Shine’s Dir. of Marketing and Production Alexandra Blaney with CNN Hero Pushpha Basnet at a New York City event honoring her work for children in Nepal. (Photo credit Clark Morgan)
Shine Global was proud to be part of an event hosted by Susan Sarandon honoring Pushpa Basnet, the founder and executive director of the Early Childhood Develepoment Center in Nepal, for being named CNN Hero of the year.
28-year-old Pushpa currently takes care of 40 children. Every one of them once lived in Nepal’s prisons. As one of the poorest countries in the world (according to UNICEF, 55% of the population lives below the international poverty line), there are none of the social safety nets that exist in most western countries. So when a parent is arrested and there is no one to look after their child, the child is imprisoned with the parent. Many of these children go to prison at a young age and are released to the world at age 18, with no life skills or support system, knowing nothing of the world but what they experienced in a jail cell.
“It’s not fair for (these) children to live in the prison because they haven’t done anything wrong,” said Basnet, who started a nongovernmental organization to help. “My mission is to make sure no child grows up behind prison walls.”
Pushpa grew up in more fortunate circumstances. Her family had a successful business and she was able to attend college. While traveling the country when she was 21, she was shocked to discover children behind bars. Despite objection to her age and the difficulty of the project, Pushpa started adopting children and taking them out of prison. “When I started, nobody believed in me,” Basnet said. “People thought I was crazy. They laughed at me.”
Since 2005, she has assisted more than 100 children of incarcerated parents. She runs a day care program for children under 6 and a residential home where mostly older children receive education, food, medical care and a chance to live a more normal life. While she now has a few staff members who help her, Basnet is still very hands on.
“We do cooking, washing, shopping,” she said. “It’s amazing, I never get tired. (The children) give me the energy. … The smiles of my children keep me motivated.” She struggles however to find the money to pay rent and to overcome the objections and discrimination of landlords. She also worries about the future of her children and recently set up a bank account to save for their higher education.
“This is what I want to do with my life,” she said. “It makes me feel (good) when I see that they are happy, but it makes me want to work harder. … I want to fulfill all their dreams.”
A documentary short film, Waiting for Mamu, will share Pushpa’s passion and the story of what it means for a child to grow up in prison and yet find hope in unlikely places.
UPDATE 5/14/13: Shine Global is pleased to be be acting as fiscal sponsor and production partner for the short documentary Waiting for Mamu. We are currently raising finishing funds for final editing and post production for a release this coming fall. If you are interested in donating to this project, please click here and enter your tax-deductible donation in the “Waiting for Mamu” section.
Last fall, Natalie Jesionka – Fulbright scholar, college professor, reporter, and human rights activist – approached Shine about an untold perspective on child trafficking that she believed deserved documentation. We agreed wholeheartedly and are now in development on SELLING OUR DAUGHTERS (working title), a feature length documentary that tells the untold story of children trafficked by those one would least expect: their parents. We’re very excited about this film and are actively raising the $50,000 needed to go to Thailand in January to shoot a presentation tape.
Natalie will serve as consulting producer on the project. We asked her to share some of her concerns about child trafficking and why she believes this film is essential. In her words:
“I have been researching human trafficking for the last seven years. No matter what country I was in, I would come across cases of labor and sex trafficking. I became fascinated by the subject and driven to understand it. This research has enabled me to witness some of the most hopeful moments in humanity, and some of the worst. No child or human being should ever be exploited for sex, labor, domestic servitude or organ trafficking.
“I have been going to Thailand for five years to report on refugees’ migration, human rights and to conduct research. Three years ago, I met Mickey Choothesa, the Founder and Executive Director of the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), an organization that works to rescue at-risk and formerly-trafficked girls, and prevent trafficking at the community level. Mickey served as a powerful mentor and enabled me to learn about trafficking in the Golden Triangle between Burma, Laos and Thailand.
“Most of the time, children are trafficked by their families who consider it to be work, and simply have no other options. The problem is that there is a great invisibility when it comes to child trafficking, but a lot of visibility when it comes to adult sex work. This contrast leads to trafficking being hidden in plain sight — and those who are really trafficked, chained to toilets, and held against their will remain hidden in the back streets, in massage parlors and restaurants behind the facades of daily life.
“Upon my return from Asia, I was grappling with this tremendous story; child trafficking is vastly different than what we see in the media, that it has many elements of choice, and culture, and traffickers are often the families and communities themselves. The team at Shine Global listened to my experiences and understood the importance of illustrating the reality of child trafficking. They are committed to show the complexity of child trafficking in its entirety.
“By telling this unique story, I hope we can help policymakers understand that trafficking solution must be effective on a local and global level. As a society, we must understand the unique cultural, economic, and geopolitical circumstances that lead to this practice around the world in order to best combat it.”
At 17 years old, Meghan Latini and boyfriend Brendan Higgins have found themselves with new accessories: a Crown and a sash that marks their big win of titles “Prom King and Queen” at Huntington High School in Long Island.
What is unique about this teenage fairytale? Both Meghan and Brendan were born with Down syndrome. For many, this genetic disorder provides a series of roadblocks that can stand in the way of carrying out a normal teenage life. However, as Meghan’s mother Marianne Latini says, this special couple continually defies expectations, “[Meghan] always reached heights that we didn’t know she would be able to.”
“ A lot of people were cheering for me, so I was pretty happy” said Meghan.
The award winning couple was clearly warmed by the acknowledgment and celebration from their peers, most of whom they’ve grown up with. The support for these two from their peers is an irreplaceable network of encouragement, something which has clearly allowed Meghan and Brendan to rise above being defined by their condition. As proud father Joe Latini says, “to get that kind of recognition from your peers, that is really something, and it felt great.”
6 years ago on her way home from her cafe job in Clarkston, Georgia, Jordanian born Luma Mufleh took a wrong turn that would change the course of her life. She stumbled upon a group of children. Barefooted, they were kicking around a deflated soccer ball between rock-marked goal posts. Who were these children? “They didn’t look American, it’s a scene that I would see over and over again in Jordan and other parts in the world…but never in the United States” said Mufleh in a recent interview with CBS. Her initial curiosity at this unique scene caused her to return the next day. She gifted the kids with a new soccer ball and in return asked to play. What Mufleh came to realize as she continued to play with these kids, was that her new teammates were actually refugees.
In fact, Clarkston is just 1 of 350 U.S cities in which families, who have escaped war or persecution in their home countries, are resettled. Uprooted without choice, countless families and orphaned children flee to the U.S. in order to seek asylum from their war torn countries. Disconnected from all things familiar – their communities, cultures and even their own families – refugee children face a serious struggle to find a sense of belonging in their new homes.
Mufleh has certainly found a solution for this struggle. Coach Mufleh began the Fugees soccer team in 2004 in order to provide refugee boys with free access to this organized sport. As the team evolved she began to realize that the needs of these kids extended far beyond the soccer field. In hopes of addressing needs such as appropriate education and refugee specific support, Mufleh founded the Fugees Family in 2004. This aptly named organization has used the game of soccer to motivate refugee youth, and provide them with the facilities and support necessary to realize their infinite potential. In order to serve the comprehensive needs of these children the recreational soccer team has now extended to “year-round soccer for 86 boys and girls aged 10-18, after-school tutoring and soccer for 50 elementary-aged students, a private academy serving 36 students, and an academic enrichment summer camp.”
What about the future? After buying 19 acres of land in Clarkston from generous donations, Mufleh has big dreams to build a permanent Fugees Academy which will have a wider reach to refugee children in need .“I see it becoming a national model that shows how to teach refugee kids successfully so it’s not just our kids that are affected by what we do, it grows to something so much bigger” Mufleh says ambitiously. She hopes to raise enough money – 5 million dollars to be exact- in order to bring her ideas from paper to practice. “It’s going to happen…we don’t have any other choice…and if you want something to happen, you can make it happen. That’s what we teach the kids.”
Dolores Huerta and The Harvest/La Cosecha Dir. U Roberto Romano at a June 2011 screening of the documentary in DC (photo credit: Bruce Guthrie)
Dolores Huerta, a civil rights advocate and labor leader who fought for farmworkers rights alongside César Chavez, was honored with one of the nation’s highest civilian honors — the Presidential Medal of Freedom– on Tuesday.
“I was humbled, thrilled, and surprised,” she said. “I never expected to be nominated.” For more than 50 years, activist Dolores Huerta has worked tirelessly to advance the cause of marginalized communities. She is internationally recognized as a feminist, a farm worker advocate, a gay rights activist, and a labor leader. Alongside activist César Chávez, Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, and then served as the first vice president of the United Farm Workers. As a fearless advocate for civil rights, Huerta has been arrested twenty-two times, and has been severely beaten by police while protesting.
Huerta is now 82 years old, a mother to 11 children, and grandmother to seven. Huerta considers some of her proudest accomplishments to be, “Spanish-language ballots for voters, public assistance for immigrants, toilets in the fields, drinking water protection from pesticides,” and an immigration act which gave legal status to over a million farmworkers. She continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women and children. As voluntary President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she travels across the country speaking to students and organizations about issues of social justice and public policy.
“The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights. I thank President Obama for raising the importance of organizing to the highest level of merit and honor. It is a unique honor and privilege to be included in this group of distinguished individuals being honored here today and the communities they represent” she said in a statement.
Dolores Huerta spoke at the June 2011 Washington DC screening of Shine Global’s film The Harvest/La Cosecha delivering a heartfelt statement of support for the film and for the ongoing effort to improve the lives of farmworker children and farmworker rights in general, urging every person to take action on these pressing issues.
She has received numerous awards among them the Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Clinton in 1998, Ms. Magazine’s one of the three most important women of 1997, Ladies Home Journal’s 100 most important woman of the 20th Century, Puffin Foundation award for Creative Citizenship Labor Leader Award 1984, Kern County’s Woman of The Year by California State legislature,the Ohtli award from the Mexican Government, Smithsonian Institution – James Smithson Award, and Nine Honorary Doctorates from Universities throughout the United States. Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside 12 others, including Bob Dylan and Madeleine Albright.
Shine Global would like to congratulate Julia Perez, the Associate Director of our documentary film The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011), for being honored with a Latino Spirit Award by the California Latino Legislative Caucus. The Spirit Awards recognize those individuals who exemplify the spirit of the Latino community and have contributed to the State of California. The honorees have been found to have furthered the understanding and acceptance of Latino values, culture and traditions through leadership and service. This year’s recipients include pioneers in film, literature, art and public service, among other categories. Many have overcome tremendous obstacles, rising to become role models and community leaders. Past honorees include: Carlos Santana, Grammy Award winning recording artist; Rita Moreno, the first artist to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award, Dolores Huerta, Co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union and Tom Flores, former coach and player with the Oakland Raiders.
Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and an Arizona native. “I was 5 years old when I started working in the fields with my parents. We lived in 10 different states and I was the first in my family of ten brothers and sisters to get an education and to get out of the fields,” said Pérez. Her personal experience in the fields helped her connect with the families and children she and director U Roberto Romano interviewed over the course of filming. “I was able to relate to these families on a very personal level. I was in their shoes so many years ago and yet, I find that nothing has changed. Young children are still working in the fields and getting exposed to dangerous pesticides which in the long term could have life-threatening consequences. Children simply should not be working in the fields at such a young age and that is the bottom line,” said Pérez.
For ten days each month in the following three years, Pérez traveled throughout the United States interviewing migrant families and their children, asking them questions, capturing their hard work on camera and learning about their hopes for a better future.
“I had a child tell me once, ‘I didn’t know I was allowed to have dreams,'”said Pérez. “For a child to be making statements like this in the land of opportunity was astonishing to me. Our children should be getting an education, not uprooting every season from state to state to work under such brutal conditions,” said Pérez.
Migrant labor is one of many reasons why Latinos are not faring well in education, she believes. High school drop out rates among Latinos continue to worsen and are at an all-time high while college admissions low, but in the migrant community, those numbers are worse.
“Sixty-five percent of migrant children drop out of high school compared to the average Latino student and that is a terrible thing for our community. We are losing future doctors, engineers and lawyers,” said Pérez.
“I think there needs to be a fundamental change in agriculture. We have huge agriculture corporations like Cargill who have annual revenues in the billions and it’s on the backs of many migrant children. There needs to be a federal change,” said Pérez.
The Latino Legislative Caucus is comprised of twenty-seven members: nine Senators and eighteen Assembly Members. It is one of the most influential organizations within the California State Legislature. Its members hold strategic leadership positions and focus primarily on improving the quality of life for working families in California. Currently, due to the changing demographics of California, it is apparent that the issues affecting Latinos in California are issues that affect all Californians.
In 2001, the Latino Caucus saw a need to recognize and honor distinguished Latinos for their contributions and dedication to California and the United States’ economy and cultural life with the annual Latino Spirit Awards. These recipients are outstanding individuals who have greatly contributed to the wonderful music, poetry, literature, journalism, community action, and entertainment of California, the United States, and the world.