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The last few days of our program in Rwanda have been inspirational, enlightening  and emotional. Starting with inspirational, we met with the Women’s forum for parliamentarians where we had our own seats in parliament for a question and answer session.  This informative meeting provided an historical overview of the conditions and processes that have resulted in the prominent role that women now play in Rwanda’s political process.  The host and main spokesperson was Forum Chairwoman, Ms. Connie Bwiza Sekamana.  Rwanda leads the world in seats for women in government and although society is culturally male dominant, we witnessed a presentation from the women that showed us men will have to adjust as women continue to play a more critical role in Rwanda’s politics.

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Above  Director of SIT program, Adin Thayer with member of women’s Parliamentary forum and My dear friend, Mukhtari in his seat of parliament
Our next  meeting was enlightening, as we visited a catholic school and Parish in Kigali and met with a Pastor Antoine Ritayisire who discussed his approach to community reconciliation. We discussed issues based around the emotional scars of the genocide that have left their mark on Rwanda’s young children and teenagers. Many questions were posed about the psychological problems associated with a country so soon out of conflict and the difficulties of teaching what may not always be reinforced in the home and through existing programs. The Pastor began by recognizing that Rwanda’s past internal strife had –and continues to have – a destabilizing effect in the region.  
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The next day we visited the association of Youth Development (AJMD) a Muslim Youth group whose programs include a sustainable gardening to increase the nutrition value for the families and programs for literacy education and capacity building for the organization members.

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Here we learned about the role of Muslim leaders during and after the genocide.  The Muslim Youth Leader explained that according to Islam  “if you save one person, it is as if you saved the whole world ” . Many Muslim leaders helped save people during the genocide by providing shelter in homes and mosques. They also particpated in the Gacaca process by offering witness testimony in many cases.
One of the more emotional visits of the week was our visit to the work site of TIG (Travaux D’INteret General), work camps where those who confessed and were convicted of crimes of genocide perform community service. We met with 7 men TIG workers and one women. Watching their faces it was hard not to envision the horrific nature of the crimes they may have committed. Someone from home asked me, “did you feel angry or scared of these people”?  What I learned from understanding TIG and the Gacaca proceess is that those who confessed  and were sentenced to TIG, were painfully remorseful for having participated. The years of arduous work to rebuild their country helps them heal frome the shame of their crimes. Those who did not confess to their crimes in this way are still in jail today. The TIG prisoners were quiet and answered only a few questions but when I approached them to shake their hand and bless them, they lit up with thanks, their eyes teared and you could see their pain and suffering. These people were victims as well. Out of respect for the prisoners, I have no photos of the TIG work or camps. 
Hope you won’t miss my next post of our last day in Rwanda and trip to filled with creative ways to resolve conflict and heal. …On the way to Uganda!

Being the mom of an incredible budding artist, I had to tell you about this inspiring pair. Tracy Lund has been a loyal Wallovers’ customer for years. When she approached our booth at the Faux Expo in Orlando I thought she had a twin. Then I realized this gorgeous woman was HER MOM.

As I listened to them discuss design, review the stencils, and make decisions I couldn’t help but think….”I hope this is my daughter and me someday”. So…. I thought it would be fitting with Mother’s day approaching this weekend,  to highlight this mother and daughter team in honor of all the mothers and daughters out there who share common passion.

Tracy and her mom Libby started out in the Dental field and ventured off together to take Tracy’s hobby to a more professional level. Tracy founded Tracy Lund creations in 2000. When she became busy with her work she began to call her mom in for help and eventually Libby joined her in business. Together they create custom artwork for designers, homeowners, interior decorators and builders.

“My mother and I have always had a close relationship so it made sense that we would work together on this creative venture”, Says Tracy

Over the years the team has stayed on top of the latest techniques, styles trends by taking classes taught by the best in the faux fnishing industry.

“We keep up with the modern trends in the industry through stenciling. We are able to create modern and old world styles from the stencil and medium we choose.”

Here the team is using Wallovers’ “Twisted” stencil over a colorwash to create an eclectic look. You can learn more about Tracy and Libby at  www.Tracylundcreations.com

From another creative mother and daughter team…Happy Mother’s Day to all!!

There was a lot to cover in a small amount of time in the village. As our bodies started to acclimate to the heat and lack of food we began to get energized to interview and interact more directly with the residents in the village. You can fit alot into an “African” day. The roosters start to crow about 4 AM and the sun rises shortly after that and stays high in the sky for the nex 12 hours. I never wore a watch on the trip and it was amazing how quickly I was telling time by the location of the sun.  We began the day meeting with the teachers and discussing educational needs.

We found the most challenging aspect of sustaining the school is providing enough incentive for educated techers to teach.  Education of any kind in South Sudan is a rare commodity. The few that have made it through secondary school have usually left the country through a sponsorship of someone in the family or a foreigner. When they return they are far more educated than anyone in the village and perhaps than many in the country. Their skills are so highly sought after that keeping them incentivized to stay is a great challenge especially when their is no support from the government.  They stay though, because they cannot afford to continue on with university education. So each step of the way they are back in a stagnant place. It is our challenge to to try to get teachers on the Goverment pay list,  but even that the pay is extremely minimal. Gabriel Bol continues to advocate to the Ministry of Education to pay teachers and put an emphasis on building schools and sustaining them. We ended the meeting by presenting the teachers with pencils and sharpeners for the students.

The challenges are great in the new country and with so much emphasis on security and infrastructure, promises that are made to teachers are rarely kept. The other teachers we encountered have only a primary school education, still valuable in a place where so many are illiterate. Our challenge is to find way to continually train and reward teachers in the village.

I cannot help but mention the incredible understanding I now have of the time, effort and emotion that Gabriel Bol Deng puts into this project. During our trip he worked tirelessly to meet with everyone he could, get opinions from top level officials to teachers and residents of the village, to holding and caring for babies, small children and pregnant women. He also had the added burden of making sure that Cory and I were doing ok and I know that I could not have done this trip without him and all his incredible connections.  His life is split between work and family in the US and work and famly in the village. Wherever we went,  from Juba to Ariang, people greeted us and appreciated us and knew that we were friends of “Bol’s”. Having a complete understanding of the difficulty of his task made the trip that much more meaningful to me.

Next we conducted a meeting with Traditional Birth Attendants. These women have  received this title from carrying the torch of generations past who have had the role. They have little to no training and care for women during birth using methods that were used centuries ago.

Amazingly, many women fair well and the natural remedies and processes used work in many cases. The difficulty is when there is a complication. There are no clinics nearby and,  although there are cars and roads now available, no one has the means to use them. Women are carried on stretchers for hours in the sweltering heat to a clinic where there may or may not receive the care that they need. Clinics we visited in South Sudan store medications that were expired and not refrigerated when necessary.


Cory spent a couple of hours reviewing some basic health care for  emergency situations and best practices during child birth. Training and basic supplies such as latex gloves and suction tubes would make a huge difference in preventing infection and other complications but they are not available to these women.

For two days I met with the group of women that run small business in the village. The businesses are extremely limited,  most making tea or sell tobacco. Ariang and the surrounding villages have 10,000 residents and some of them do have small income that can filter back into the economy of the community if the goods are there.

The first meeting had over 50 women and was a bit overwhelming but the next day we gathered a smaller respresentation who could discuss the economic needs and current situation of the market in the village. Hope for Ariang’s Education project provides income for many who work on brick building and other construction aspects of the project.

The women explained that people are going to the neighboring town of Akon to buy bread and Chipati and felt that if they had the access to an oven to make these items that the money would stay in the village and provide them with a small income to help feed their families.

We discussed forming a coop wth all the small businesses to use an oven to make the new producst for the village. The ideas kept flowing and we left many options to evaluate. It was exciting to see the women hopeful and to know that the Sudan Canvas Project would be able to begin to provide for the fincancing of a project that the women would take owenership of. We explained that the purpose was to begin something sustainable by them, that they could grow and develop and that the project would be a partnership between the women of Ariang and the Sudan Canvas Painters and donors in the US.

The feeling of hope became palpable. Gabriel and I left knowing that we would be propelled to move forward with the project so we could make a small difference in the lives of the women. Knowing that making a difference in their lives directly affects the lives and health of the children and ther ability to attend school.

I have come to realize more than ever that the education project, health nutrition and sustainability of business are all interwoven to make the community develop. We cannot look at one alone. Cory and I ralized the importance of our advocacy work would not just revolved around discussing conflicts and the North but also putting pressure on the Southern Government to address these issues and invest in systems to move them forward.

Our meeting ended with some ceremonious dancing. By participating we showed the women that we stand in solidarity with them, their hopes and their culture. …and I know Gabriel got a kick out of it too!

This summer I read a book that should be required reading for everyone! Pulitzer prize winning couple Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn open our eyes to humanitarian issues around the world. Their stories of how giving turns oppression into opportunity gives me hope for the world. You cannot read this book without wanting to do something and every chapter is chock full of ideas for the reader to make a difference in the lives of oppressed women.

While in Senegal this past February I visited the office of Ashkoka, an organization that supports Social Entrepreneurs enabling many women to receive the resources to help them start a trade.  Ashoka is mentioned numerous times in the book as an organization helping paving the way for women in developing countries.

There are also many examples of young people in America who make a difference by raising awareness of atrocities or visiting developing countries gaining a richer understanding of other poverty and struggles in other cultures. I am especially proud of my daughter Stehanie who

after seeing the school conditions in La Estrella, Nicaragua begged us to let her return to the small village this past July to teach English in the school she helped build there.

Stephanie traveled through the hills of Nicaragua back to La Estrella, Arriba to live with her host family again where she taught english and art, mixing paint out of coffee beans and giving the people there a new way to express themselves.

To tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it- and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it first hand, even live in its midst.”

Nicholas Kristoff, Half the Sky

This quote leads me to highlight another social entrepreneur. Someone I greatly admire. Andrea Gottschall.

After performing in the Vagina Monologues in 2007, Andrea became passionate about fighting FGM (female Genital Mutilation) and went to visit The Sakutiek Rescue House outside of Kenya.  The rescue house, the second founded by Agnes Pareyeo, a FGM survivor is located in the Rift Valley, 100 miles west of Nairobi. SRC is a safe haven for girls where they can celebrate an alternative “rite of passage” enabling Massai young women to follow in their tradition without experiencing the cutting. Ninety percent of the women in this part of the world have arranged marriages and routinely undergo genital mutilation.

Andrea returned from her trip  and created My Empowered Flower, a jewelry line that raises money for the Rescue House. Through combined efforts in the theatre and jewelry sales Andrea has raised over $70,000 for her cause.

I have tried to teach my children an important lesson. If you see something that bothers you, do something about it, even if it means just telling another person and creating awareness.  I hope to encourage everyone to read “Half The Sky”, and I hope when you’re done reading, you don’t just put it down.. but find your own small way to make a difference.

I need serious time in the studio to get the creative juices flowing! In preparation for an upcoming Studio Open House in Cincinnati on March 20 I have to think new and exciting! Gary Lord’s Prismatic Painting Studio brings hundreds of sophisticated wall finishers to his Open House each year. We want to WOW his students with some fabulous new ideas with color and pattern.

Soft, gorgeous and glittery

Colorful, tropical and artistic


bold and contemporary

There is no end to the possibilities with patterns, especially when I can just reach for a stencil from the Wallovers line. They are so easy, anyone can use them!!! Thanks Gary for giving me a reason to get cookin’ on some new ideas!  Looking forward to teaching a 2 day workshop at Gary’s studio in May!

N’Gor Island has earned it’s nickname, “Island of Paradise” A 10 minute boat ride from the mainland, the small island boasts crashing waves and tropical sunshine,

local artists at work, thatched cabanas, and delectable food.

Before the arrival of French Settlers, N’Gor island was uninhabited. Only a few goats bred by Lebous fisherman used to dawdle on this “prohibited” territory, thought to be possessed by a bad spirit. Although few Americans visit this “treasured” Island, europeans come from all over to to vacation here.

local artist, Amedine Drop’s moving painting depicts the two sides of Africa, the contrast of peace and beauty and the sadness of war. The tear drops from Sudan and the darkness represents conflicts in Congo and surrounding areas. Of course we purchased this painting with little haggling. Happy to support the local artists.

This is a favorite destination for surfers as the waves crash relentlessly against the island shore. But even with the strong sound of the ocean  we were soothed by the sound of Senegalese drumming coming from somewhere amongst the  rocks and trees.

Walking back to the hotel locals sell everything from sesame candy to peanuts. we had a sumptuous orange peeled for us like a n art. It’s sweet juice will quench any thirst.

We have to thank Karim once again for a fabulous day. He is off to plan our night out with local, live music.  Unfortunately the shows get

started at about 1 AM. The night life never ends
in Dakar.

Stepping onto a small boat from Dakar, we traveled on sea for 20 minutes and entered Goree Island about three hundred years back in time. An eerie site as we approcahed the island once owned by europeans and used as a holding point for slaves before they were traded .

Over 15 million Africans were brought through this one most western point of the continent over  the course of 300 years to be taken into a life of servitude.

Packed into  8 x8 rooms and spearated by men, women, children and impaired,  slaves were inspected and then

forced through  “the door of no return” to board ships bound for America. A life of slavery, never to return to their native land.

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Goree Island is a beautful, colorful home of artists and fisherman but one has trouble seeing juxtapostion of the  jubiliant children making a sport of catching coins off the tourists boats and the stone fortress that housed their ancestors and stole their dignity and freedom.  Goree Island’s Slave Museum hits you in the soul and I know it will stay with me forever.

This statue of Liberty depicting a man and woman with broken chains was strong image and reminder of the perseverance of the African people.

Still Goree Island was filled with wonderful surprises. A delicious meal by the sea. Traditional food of Poulet Yassa, a chicken and rice with delectable stewed onions.

Colorful artwork and fishing boats.

Colorful,old stucco and narrow sandstone streets

…and  of course, Senegalese drummers. We had to join in but Joel got the beat much faster than I.


After a full day and rest…our guide, and now good friend, Karim showed us Senegalese night life, until we turned it in at 2AM (which was when it was just beginning.) Sorry Karim.

We are off on our adventure in Dakar, Senegal. After a few hours on the Tarmac in New York we made a speedy 6 1/2 hour flight overseas to Senegal. We never saw so much baggage in our lives. Not from us of course but from the Senegalese traveing back from NYC. What was in those bags?

We were enthusiastically greeted by our guide Karim, who took us to our hotel to catch some much needed sleep. Our hotel is ocean front but 90% under construction. After a brief disappointment of seeing the workers carrying buckets of gravel past our window all day, we came to the realization that this wasn’t going to be a “typical” beachfront  vacation and we went with it. We made our way to the beach and soaked up the magnificent climate. Full sunshine with a cool breeze.

The beach  experience consisted of some first day mistakes like ordering a fresh cooked fish meal that was so spicy we couldn’t eat it  and paying too much for a few bracelets. But I was pretty happy with my $1 puchase of sesame candy that I consumed while reading my book. An African Football game broke out in front of us in the afternoon.  Even the 2 year olds here can kick a soccer ball like a champion. Note one of the  players in this picture.

Then it was off to tour Dakar. Caught a glimpse of the new African Renaissance Monument still in construction. So massive people will  have to spend the day to climb it.

Everything from donkeys and sheep, to vans packed with people and new jaguars crossed the street before us. The noise, confusion and constant traders approaching made it too difficult to pull out the camera in the market. So I will  just consider this as a “getting our bearings day”.

Thanks to Karim we did not pay too much for our Babaa Mal cd’s. Gotta catch some sleep and shake the jetlag for Goree Island tomorrow.

For those of you that have been waiting for the final touch on the embossing project. Here it is!

Another layer of plaster and one last stain coat and …VOILA ..Looks like leather!

Hmmmmm. Where to put this on a wall?????

This was a great day! I got to make homemade play dough with my adorable Godson, Gabe.

Here he is mixing up the luscious blue concoction made up of:

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup salt

1/2 cup water with food coloring added

1 tsp.  cream of tartar

1/2 tbsp. oil

heat slowly on stove mixing constantly until thick like play dough.

I also mastered uploading a video to utube  and a very important one!

I started a challenge on my facebook wall to get everyone and their friends to post my video and send  $1 to help raise money for the Ariang School in South Sudan. My ongoing project with the “Lost Boy” Gabriel Bol Deng. A true inspiration for my family and thousands of others. I hope you will accept the challenge.

In fact, little Gabriel’s mom ( pictured above on left with Gabriel Bol Deng and me) was the very first person to give $1. Thanks Rena Paris!!! I know the two Gabe’s are very confusing. So to clarify…. there’s little Gabe (play dough) and big Gabe (building schools in Sudan). So easy to get confused!!!!

More on embossing tomorrow!

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