Sexual Violence – From Silence To Justice in India

June 8th, 2014

With sexual violence in India finally coming out of the shadows, the complex social and legal challenges of affecting change are becoming increasingly apparent. We recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Jonathan Derby, a consultant to CSJ India, and have an in depth discussion of the challenges and potential solutions. Jon’s efforts to create an incubator for change through addressing the legal and social issues demonstrate the potential impact that can result. We offer this interview as an insight to a horrific problem and hope our readers will share it to help the issue to become more transparent around the world.

counsel to secure justice, india

Meg: Most of us, in other parts of the world, hear about sexual violence in India when some of the most horrific incidents occur but we don’t really have any context around how large an issue this is. Can you explain the problem and the scope?

Jon: Sexual violence is a significant problem in India. While the media highlights a few of the most horrific cases, sexual violence is extensive and deeply rooted in Indian society. Most sexual violence remains hidden. In 2007, a Ministry of Women and Child Development study, which surveyed 12,447 boys and girls across 13 states, revealed that 53.2% of children had experienced sexual abuse; 20.9% of children had suffered severe forms of sexual abuse, including rape. These percentages are staggering when you consider India has 1.2 billion people. At the same time, not many rapes are reported to police–only 24,923 rapes in 2012–so there’s a large gap between actual and police-reported sexual abuse.

While sexual violence impacts on socio-economic classes, the poor are especially vulnerable. Last week CSJ took a case of a mother who lived on the pavement with her young son and one year old daughter in a poor area of Delhi. They were staying in a night shelter where a man sexually abused her one-year old daughter. It turns out that the man had sexually abused other woman in the community too. This is the reality for the poor, especially women and children; they live in insecure and unstable conditions, which makes them extremely vulnerable to sexual violence.

Meg: How has Indian society responded to both the high profile issue this has become? Does the reaction vary by social class and age or are the lines blurred?

©Michael Matlach

©Michael Matlach

Jon: Like I mentioned, sexual violence is a significant problem in India that remains mostly hidden and unspoken about. While there has been dialogue about sexual violence for quite some time, mostly women’s rights groups were the one’s speaking out about the problem. In fact, I’ve met amazing Indian women who have spent their lives fighting for greater equality and security for women and girls.

But in December 2012 the dynamic changed when a 23-year old physiotherapy student was gangraped and murdered. Indians across social and economic backgrounds began talking about sexual abuse. In fact, sexual violence became part of the mainstream discussion across the world, and the epicenter for the heightened consciousness was Delhi. A year and a half has passed and the dialogue hasn’t stopped. Many times, a crisis would hit India that sparked outrage, but after time memories faded and life resumed as normal. But since December 2012, there’s been consistent attention on sexual violence in the media. New incidents, like the rape and hanging of two cousins in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh last week, continues to fuel the dialogue. This is a good thing. When more people speak about issues, it raises hidden problems to the surface, so they can be dealt with. For example, in 2013 police-reported rapes more than doubled in Delhi compared to 2012: a lot of this had to do with the increased attention of rape in Delhi. The number of rapes hadn’t increased, just more people had come forward and reported them to police.

Meg: A problem of this magnitude that is so ingrained culturally must seem at times almost impossible to solve. It involves changing attitudes in the court system, in the boardrooms, and in the bedrooms of India. Do you sense a cultural shift? What will it take to move the needle in the right direction?

©Michael Matlach

©Michael Matlach

Jon: Only time will tell whether there’s a cultural shift or not. When facing a problem so immense, I strongly believe each of us must find where we individually can make a difference. At CSJ, we seek to make a difference for each survivor of sexual violence we represent. More than anything, our clients need someone who will stay with them and fight for them during a confusing, dark time in their lives. We strive for our clients to see justice and know that what happened to them was wrong; to help them heal from the harm they’ve suffered and bring them to a better place in their lives.

Changing attitudes is a long hard battle that could take a generation. That’s why it’s so important to find hope in small ways we impact individual people; these glimmers of hope sustain us as we confront the immense challenge of changing attitudes. While there must be long-term strategies that focus on changing the culture of India’s justice systems, improving performance immediately requires government authorities to merely follow laws already in place. The law in India protecting women and children from rape and sexual abuse is strong. Unfortunately, though, many times the law is not implemented on the ground: at police stations, hospitals and in the courts. When CSJ lawyers and social workers advocate for our clients during criminal proceedings, we hold the system accountable, so to speak, so police, public prosecutors and judges are more likely to understand and implement laws that protect our clients and further justice.

Meg: Threat of prosecution is a form of punishment in our country considered a success/deterrent even if prosecution isn’t successful. It seems that with the exception of the most high profile cases that provoke the most outrage and come with the possibility of the death penalty, that so much of the daily sexual violence isn’t necessarily impacted by potential punishment. How do you see creating solutions without the threat of death that are equally successful in deterring sexual violence?

©Michael Matlach

©Michael Matlach

Jon: I believe strong justice systems are instrumental in protecting women and children. After the December 2012 gangrape, there were calls for chemical castration and the death penalty for rapists. In fact, Parliament amended the Indian Penal Code to include death penalty for rape in certain circumstances. Rather than making punishments harsher, the criminal justice system just needs to work better: give rightful convictions, deliver swift justice and treat victims with dignity and compassion. Basically, if the criminal justice system works the way it’s supposed to work, over time abusers will think twice before they aggressively harass women, more women will report sexual abuse, and society’s faith will grow in the system meant to protect them.

Meg: I’m always curious as to how people in the NGO world end up going in certain directions. How did you come to choose India as your home? And why this cause?

Jon: The funny thing is I didn’t choose India. I wanted to use my law degree to fight injustice and that journey led me to India. When I graduated from Pepperdine School of Law in 2004, I pursued an opportunity in Mumbai, India with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world. The Mumbai office focused on combatting sex trafficking and forced prostitution—which is of course an issue of sexual violence against women—but really the location and issue were secondary. I followed my passion.

First, I served as a legal fellow in the IJM-Mumbai office. Then in 2008 IJM asked me to lead the office as Field Office Director. After serving over three years in that capacity I left IJM and explored incubating an Indian organization focusing on injustice. In October 2011, I attended a legal conference on Women and Justice in Delhi, India. Several women’s rights activists spoke about the need for lawyers to represent rape survivors during criminal proceedings. They said the criminal justice system was insensitive to victims and conviction rates were low.

The discussion struck a chord with me because at IJM-Mumbai, we represented survivors of sex trafficking during criminal proceedings. I understood the impact a lawyer and social worker could have when representing survivors of sexual violence, beginning at the police station until judgment. I don’t remember exact numbers, but the conviction rate for cases we handled that came to judgment when I led the office was between 70-80%. In comparison, in Maharashtra, the state where Mumbai is capital, the conviction rate for serious crimes was single digits.

After the conference I discussed forming an organization with Indian lawyers and other contacts in Delhi. Everyone agreed it was a great need; even then some had labeled Delhi as the rape capital of India. In April 2012, I moved to Delhi to research and explore opportunities to incubate an organization that provides lawyers and social workers to rape survivors during criminal proceedings, and Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) was incorporated in August 2012. Now we have a wonderful team of 6 Indian staff handling child sexual abuse cases.

Meg: What are your more concrete goals – i.e. in next 5 years – have trained “X” number of lawyers, or some other benchmark?

India Supreme Court ~ photo courtesy of CSJ

India Supreme Court ~ photo courtesy of CSJ

CSJ’s vision is that every woman and girl in India who comes forward about sexual violence has an advocate who defends her rights and has access to effective and compassionate criminal justice. In our first couple of years, our focus is to get really good at handling sexual violence cases. We have a small staff, so we want to concentrate our resources on a single issue (child sexual abuse) in a single court in Delhi. With this focus, not only can we represent more clients, but it also makes it easier to refine our casework model so we can replicate it throughout Delhi and eventually across India.

This year CSJ will take 30 cases, for a total of 60 cases our first two years. We have four main goals the team targets in each case: 1) rightful conviction; 2) swift justice; 3) clients secure rights and protections per law; and 4) clients are connected to services they need for healing. Right now, victims of sexual violence just are not securing these outcomes on a consistent basis in Delhi or across India. For example, a CSJ study revealed that in Delhi in 2012, there was a 20.5% conviction rate for rape cases and criminal proceedings took 28.7 months on average to complete. We strongly believe that when an advocate and social worker represent victims throughout criminal proceedings, there is a much greater probability these outcomes will be secured.

While we are developing ideas that will help us achieve our vision, right now we aren’t equipped to set concrete long-term goals. We are young and a lot of our long-term strategies will be shaped as we learn and grow. We do have a strategic advantage that will help shape our long-term goals: our team works within the justice system, so we understand how it works and what the most pressing problems are. We will develop programs that leverage this understanding and experience to make a greater impact on the justice system.

Meg: Often, when an endemic problem exists in a country, the West seems to perceive the issue in a black or white fashion and doesn’t understand the nuances and therefore, doesn’t know how to help. Other than financial aid for organizations like CSJ, is it possible for people in other parts of the world to make a difference and show solidarity with you?

Jon: Yes, it’s possible. In fact, I think it’s important for people in the West, who have skills and resources, to share generously and help those in need, wherever they live. The Internet and social media have made the world smaller and easier to stay informed about issues like sexual violence in India. People can learn about small organizations, like CSJ, that aren’t well known but do good work. They can make a difference by raising awareness about the organizations and their causes so more resources flow to work they do on the ground.

If we desire to truly understand the nuances of problems and the suffering of people, we need to go where they suffer, know the person and touch the pain. Vision trips to India are a way for people to “touch the pain” of our work, and use their skills to help CSJ, even if only a short time. For example, a group of lawyers and Pepperdine law students and faculty visited CSJ this year and trained Indian lawyers on oral and written advocacy.

There’s another very important point I should make: when we approach other cultures, very often we need to change our mindset. Instead of rushing in, thinking we have solutions, we must have a posture of humility: willing to listen and learn, and slow to judge. When we do, we find there’s much to learn from different cultural viewpoints; that’s especially the case with India’s rich culture. When we have this humility, it’s easier to work in solidarity and collaborate with other like-minded nationals to combat evils, like sexual violence, that are wrong regardless of culture.

Many thanks to Jon for sharing his story with us. We strongly encourage you to visit the CSJ website and watch a short, but powerful, video on the story of a girl named Archana.

More about Jonathan Derby:

Jonathan is an attorney licensed in California who has extensive experience in human rights at a grassroots level in India. After he earned his Juris Doctorate degree in 2004 from Pepperdine School of Law, he joined International Justice Mission (IJM) and served on the legal team in their Mumbai field office, which combats sex trafficking and forced prostitution. In 2008 he was promoted to IJM-Mumbai Field Office Director and led a team of 40 staff until April 2011. In April 2012 he moved to Delhi to incubate an new justice organization called Counsel to Secure Justice, which advocates for criminal and restorative justice for survivors of sexual violence. Pepperdine Law School appointed him as Nootbaar Global Justice Fellow while he conducted research, networked and prepared to launch CSJ, which began operations in April 2013. Now CSJ is just over a year old. It has a small team of 6 Indian staff in Delhi and represents over 30 cases of child sexual abuse.

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We Worship Violence

June 5th, 2014

On the heels of yet another shooting this afternoon in the United States, Seattle to be exact, it begs the question. What will it take? I’m at a loss. I could quote statistics, show an infographic, but I’ll cut to the chase and just give you a site to look at ~ which is an international site in which you can enter any country and find the statistics.

Have we totally, as a culture, lost our mind? I’m not here to debate the rational gun owner vs the NRA or any political debate – politicizing it has not worked. I’m here to ask as a culture, what the hell are we doing? We worship violence, plain and simple. It’s in the crap Hollywood churns out, the macho images we present, the video games we produce which introduce our kids to violence at an early age, and our overall apathetic response in which we’ve become numb to the latest shooting. People can reduce it to a gun ownership issue but it’s really not. It’s a culture of apathy and acceptance that has let this occur.

In upcoming posts we’ll be talking about other issues related to violence, in other countries, but for today, if you live in the U.S., get your shit together and start caring. Otherwise, we will all end up in bunkers defending our lives (which, by the way, is not as pleasant as one of my favorite Albert Brooks movies of the same name).

As the fabulous Marvin Gaye would ask, ‘What’s Going On?’. Here’s a great music video from Playing for Change that features Sara Bareilles, Clarence Bekker and Titi Tsira on the vocals with musicians from around the world. Make it full screen, rock out, and then do something before it’s too late.

What’s Going On from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

Please, consider what the future holds without you pushing back against gun violence.

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Mediation: Balmorhea and Minimum Monument

May 13th, 2014

As someone put forth in the comment section of a Balmorhea video I looked at recently, “I wish Balmorhea music could follow me around in a truck and soundtrack my life.” Well said. They’ve been a favorite band of mine for meditation and general navel gazing for a while now, so when I came across this video of Balmorhea’s ‘The Winter’ paired with one of my favorite art installations, Néle Azevedo’s Minimum Monument project, I was in heaven. Literally.

The backstory on the project can be found on her site, but this particular installation was in Berlin in 2009, consists of ice sculptures, and was in conjunction with the World Wildlife Federation. It was timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Which seems rather timely given the news recently about global warming…but that aside, I don’t view this video as political at all, simply a message about life’s impermanence and our place in it.

For more information on Balmorhea, you can find it here. 

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Artist Q & A with Martin Heavner

April 29th, 2014
©Martin Heavner

©Martin Heavner

Martin has been one of HarmonyWishes’ favorite guest artists since his initial introduction to our site in 2008. We’re delighted to learn a bit more about him through our Artist Q & A.

1. Your images range in theme from landscapes to architecture to industrial – many photographers tend to specialize in a specific theme. What inspires the type of image you are going to make?

My work tends to have two main themes: nature and what I call “machine-scapes”, which often include architectural elements. Overall, I’m attracted to light, tones, textures and lines more than any specific subject matter. There’s also an element of worship in my photography. I believe God wants us to see and enjoy the beauty of His creation, including what He inspired man to design and build.

©Martin Heavner

©Martin Heavner

 2. Some of our favorites are the images that focus on past technology (old railroad, silk mill, etc) which provides a romantic view of our industrial past. Is this an area you are interested in exploring as a larger theme? And if so, what is it that fascinates you about it?

I grew up in a small town – Cumberland, Maryland – that experienced its most prosperous period when the railroad and glass, tire, and textile factories were the dominant local employers. My father, my wife’s father, and just about all my relatives worked in factories or for the railroad most of their lives.


©Martin Heavner

©Martin Heavner

Now those factories have all closed, but the railroad is still important to the town, including as a tourist attraction. So the industrial foundation of my youth, even with much of that foundation now in decay, still resonates with me and attracts my photographic eye. My image, “Station 126 – Lonaconing Maryland” was taken in an abandoned silk mill near Cumberland. The factory literally locked its doors one night in 1957 and left everything…the machines, supplies, employee time cards, calendars on the wall…frozen in time. For me, it’s a haunting place — not romantic, but visceral — because I understand how hard the employees worked and what a devastating blow they felt when the factory closed.

3. Do you generally seek out specific images or are they ‘found’ along the way?

I go where the light and my mood take me, so most of my images are discovered, rather than planned in advance. I admire photographers who plan their photos to the Nth degree, but that’s not me; I’m more spontaneous and some would say more lazy! Although I appreciate the Ansel Adams’ approach to pre-visualizing your image, I’m wired more like my favorite photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was prepared for anything but reacted to the moment as it presented itself.


To find out more about Martin and his work, you can visit his website here and experience his work through a HarmonyWishes e-card here!

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People I’d Like To Hang Out With – Maysoon Zayid

March 14th, 2014

Have you ever thought about having a party and picking 25 people to invite, just ‘because’? The ‘because’ can be a number of reasons – sense of humor, easy to be around, special talent, similar interests – whatever the reason, if you really took your time and assembled your group over the course of 6 or more months, what would it look like? And it can’t be anyone you personally know. That’s what I’d like to explore in this series called People I’d Like To Hang Out With. When I’ve reached 25, I’ll put a virtual party together on this blog just to see who would be invited.

First guest, Maysoon Zayid. I came across her on TED and this is a chick to hang with. Love her sense of humor and gift of perspective. If you take a few minutes to watch her talk, you’ll understand why.

She’s definitely got a place at the table!

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HarmonyWishes Collection of Fabric, Wallpaper & Gift Wrap Now Available !

December 30th, 2013

We are excited to announce that the HarmonyWishes brand has expanded to textiles and paper goods! Here’s a preview of our store. We’ve opened with 12 designs and will soon be adding more. It’s a great way to personalize your home, office, wardrobe and gift giving with unique designs only found here! Fabrics are available by the yard or fat quarter for those of you who like to quilt. There are 13 types of fabric to choose from, so you’ll be sure to find just the right look for clothing, curtains, pillows, baby blankets, placemats, napkins or whatever you wish to create. Gift wrap is available in satin or matte. And wallpaper is available in a standard roll of 24″ x 144″.

Be your own unique self and start the New Year out with a design by HarmonyWishes!


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The Conviction and Charisma of Carlos Santana

December 29th, 2013

I recently saw a PBS interview with one of my favorite musicians, Carlos Santana, which I particularly loved as he expressed the soul behind the music.  He explained his two driving factors – Conviction, which he got from his mother, and Charisma, which he got from his father, also a musician.

Having seen him perform live here in Arizona several years ago, much of the interview resonated with me as I was fortunate enough to have seen how it translates to his performance.  I particularly love his reference to music as ‘a state of joy that can’t be bought’. Traveling around the world I see how true this is in every culture.

His comments around real musicians remind people of the forgotten song within them I find so true.   Here’s one of the many that speaks to me…. You are My Kind with Seal.

Which one of his songs reminds you of the forgotten song in you?



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Sound and Step, the beautiful difference

November 11th, 2013

I live in Mexico and spend most the day speaking in Spanish, as you might imagine.  And perhaps for living here for the last several years, I find the Mexican accent easy to understand.  It’s what I would call straightforward–what you read on the page, you pronounce phonetically. (No judgement on non-phonetic languages, this is more of a comment on my Spanish ability.) However, when I meet a Spanish speaker from outside Mexico, I’m amazed at the difference in pronunciation, and my embarrassingly slow adaption to the change. Suddenly, a new Dominican acquaintance is dropping Ss at the ends of words.  Or a Chilean friend pronounces her Js like Chs.  The language distinction that I find the most challenging between different regions is speed. The Spaniards, oh dear, they talk so fast. Have you ever stopped to listen to a conversation happening in another language?  Maybe you overhear some Chinese on the train, or a bit of Polish at the grocery store?  Does it ever sound like those you are overhearing seem to speak much faster?

I wasn’t sure if my perception was based in reality, until I saw this intriguing infographic on a recent study of the speed of language. Check it out!

The Speed of Language

Inforgraphic by sofyay.  This graphic was originally posted on Visually.
I like imagining that the “more dense” languages are literally heavy-on-the-tongue, slowing down the speaker. While the less dense languages are light-as-air, and whip right our of the mouth with great speed.
If this cultural distinction in language speed is interesting to you, you might also dig this podcast from the incredible producers at RadioLab (my hands-down favorite radio show on the planet). Similar to the study of language speed, they informally measured  the walking speed of people in various cities with the help of radio producers the world over. The results are interesting–but the step-by-step story (Ooo, what a pun!) is lovely to hear. If you like it, check out more Radiolab episodes here.
It’s fascinating to consider that not only do we find ourselves with different cultural practices, values and history from our fellow humans around the globe–but that even our pace, our rhythm of speech, the pulse engrained in our genetic make-up can be so distinct.  What a beautiful distinction! I think it makes it all the more vital that we consider that distinction as we act on the global stage–understanding with compassion and intelligence the varying rhythms of the world. Honoring them, valuing them–rather than frustrating ourselves by the friction.
Something to ponder…



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A series on gratitude, part 1

October 28th, 2013

Some interesting studies on the effects of gratitude have been circulating the web.  In one, according to Harvard Health Publications from Harvard Medical School, “Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.”  What happened?  Well, those who focused their journaling on things for which they were grateful reported that they felt more optimistic, happier and interestingly, exercised more and found they has less need to visit their doctors–in contrast to those who focused their journaling on irritations and complaints.  Read more here.

So, is there a season of gratitude?  For those of us who live in Canada or the United States, perhaps we associate gratitude with our civic holidays of Thanksgiving in Fall.  Certainly, many religious traditions celebrate days or even months of rejoicing and thanks throughout the calendar year.  So perhaps there isn’t an official season for gratitude. However, in honor of the findings of Dr. Emmons and Dr. McCullough, I’d like to initiate one here with our community, if you’ll indulge me. Let’s create a space for gratitude in our lives.  Right now.  I’ll inspire you with a great experiment set up by Soul Pancake.  Take a look:

So, how about we kick off this first post, in a series on gratitude, with throwing a shout out to someone who has changed your life.  I’ll start!

I want to throw a shout out to my senior year high school English teacher, Mr. Mullaley.  Cloistered in his tiny cubicle in the English Department, asking him to sign my year book, he asked, “Megan, have you ever considered studying English? You’d be good at it.”  I sloughed it off then. English?  What for?

It’s years later, with an English degree under my belt, and I can’t say enough how the practices I learned in my major and in Mr. Mullaley’s class–critical thinking, analysis, the study of history through the lens of literature–has shaped how I understand and act in the world. Thank you, Mr. Mullaley. You inspired me and helped point me on a trajectory that has gotten me where I am today. I am so grateful.

I’d like to nudge my HarmonyWishes cohorts to post on Facebook their Shout Outs.  And then we throw it to you, community.  Don’t be shy!  Let us hear your notes of gratitude on our Facebook page, or Twitter (@harmonywishes).  The flow of appreciation and good will will fill our pages with energy!

Un abrazo,


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What Does Peace Look Like?

October 6th, 2013
There is peace in the land and it begins with me.

There is peace in the land and it begins with me.

My meditation lately has been the question, what does peace look like? What naturally comes to mind first are the clichés – the actual peace sign…the beautiful, restful image of nature that puts our mind at ease…or the more graphic symbols of street art.

But, what actually does it LOOK like? Often times it’s the lack of something that defines it. In many places around the world it becomes the absence of violence, hate speech, persecution and bigotry. When the void is created, peace can result.

I happened across a non-profit website this week based in Toronto, Canada, called The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention. What sets this organization apart is that rather than reacting to genocide (clearly needed as well), their mission is to use technology and research to prevent it. Which, when you think about it, is so simple, but yet we as a global community have been trained to respond rather than predict.

They make several basic points which I believe make sense and are available through research:
• When you identify potential situations where genocide becomes a likely outcome, and raise awareness about it through various media and methods, it can have the effect of making regimes think twice about engaging in such practices knowing the world is watching. Again, it’s a matter of raising the profile BEFORE it happens rather than after it’s started. Internal and foreign pressure can have a chance when the problem is identified early in the process.
• If you can identify and counter websites that incite hatred you may have the opportunity to intervene through social media to hinder the escalation that radicalizes people against another group.

What’s also interesting about their approach is their use of technology in this genocide prevention initiative which involve:
• Information Gathering – through social media like FB and Twitter, it’s become easier to monitor situations prior to calamity. Another information gathering technique is crowdsourcing through mobile phones which can map situations based on text messaging by average citizens.
• Information Management, Visualization and Dissemination – where the data bases they are building will organize and analyze information which can be presented to the public, policymakers, and other orgs where it can help mobilize a response.
• Prevention – where using mobile phones networks to document abuses and warn threatened communities, and employing GPS technology to guide targeted people to safe areas can save lives.

Sound idealistic? Perhaps. But there is nothing worse than standing by and watching helplessly as innocent people get slaughtered merely because they represent a tradition or religion which doesn’t happen to coincide with their neighbors. Absence of persecution? I believe that’s what peace looks like.

For more information on The Sentinel Project, click here. And visit their Wiki for another look at them here.



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