Sunday, October 25, 2015

Writing Prompts Galore!

As we go into the final week of NaNoWriMo prep, I've decided to dredge up some old writing prompts I created. Writers, if you need some inspiration, I might have just what you need. First is an archive of Prompt 2 Write from my Facebook Page: click here. A few of the photos are no longer available, but there is still a good list available. And for the ones without photos, the word prompt might be helpful. Second is a playlist of audio writing prompts that I created with the help of my sister +Nadia Wellington for the lovely +Parker J Cole's The Write Stuff Radio Show. Check out her website,, where she has archives of her shows. See the Brainspark Audio Prompt playlist below.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Warming Up for a Novel November

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Greetings, fair day-lighters! If you've been following my movements on social media, you've had some inkling of the fullness of the last year and five months. Before I get to the thing at hand let me give you the quick rundown:

  • My family and I traveled back to the South American jungles for several months (more on that adventure in our upcoming memoir).
  • I published my third novel: The Oyster Heart (click the title to go to the Amazon link).
  • The morning after we returned to our island home, my father died after battling a long illness.
  • I met my older sister for the first time.
  • My husband and I decided to put our varied experiences and talents to use by starting a business (more on this in due course).
  • Instead of just publishing a memoir, we started a Facebook Page for discussions and info related to our memoir, and to further process our experiences. You can view the Page and like it here:
  • We have a brand new babe in our home and she delights us every day.
  • I met my parents-in-law and two of my siblings-in-law for the first time.
Whew! We've been busy! So, even though I'm getting back on this blog horse after a long hiatus, I have been doing quite a bit of writing this year. To ramp up my efforts, I will be joining fellow fiction writers in next month's novel-writing marathon.  +National Novel Writing Month is approaching with the velocity of the Polar Express.  I failed to complete in 2010, but I aim to do things differently this time around.  Maybe some of my tools/helps will help you.

  1. Tablo (+Tablo Publishing) - I joined this writers and readers community about six months ago.  I love it! It's easy to use and they're good about responding to any questions you may have.  You can create books and determine how much or little you will share with the public.  You also have the option of uploading Word files or exporting your projects.  There is a NaNoWriMo 2015 group that you can join.  To get myself thinking about the book I'll be working on (I'm more of a pantser than a plotter), I've uploaded a preview with a cover I designed using Canva (+Canva).  See my preview here: The Doctor's Wife.
  2. FastPencil (+FastPencil) - I just found out about this platform this week. My main reason for using this is that it will make my life much easier when it comes to formatting my books for print. This platform also has a community and gives you the ability to collaborate, even when your work is not available to the public.
  3. I've subscribed to a NaNoWriMo List on Twitter. The particular one I'm on (I was actually added to this list, which is what gave me the heads-up) is curated by @KateSStark. This will give me another community of writers who are trying for the sometimes (often?) elusive 50K goal.
Beyond this, I am flexing my writing muscles ahead of time, by working on a short story or two and adding to other novel manuscripts I have in progress. If you'd like to read one of said stories, you can check out Vexation of Spirit. Are you challenging yourself with the 50K next month? What are you doing to prepare?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 7 (Missionaries in Training)

Not long after we arrived at Siparuta Mission Academy, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, and the girl from the village they claimed was their adopted daughter, left on a two week trip to Bethany Medical Missionary College, also known as the GAMAS resort (their nickname, not ours). They told us that when they returned they would be returning with some missionaries to do some work on SMA’s campus. When they came back we learned that these missionaries were part of a program called the Missionary In Training, or MIT, program. Later on, we learned that Granny’s son, Mr. McDaniels, who is the GAMAS board member in charge of education, just had an idea to find a use for all the former Kimbia Mission Academy students who were sitting around with nothing to do. While that is not a bad idea in and of itself, it was not executed in the best way. The program had no definite structure. It seemed like an off-the-cuff idea that Mr. McDaniels ran with. When the MITs arrived in Siparuta, the bulk of their time was spent renovating Granny’s house down in the village, doing MIT laundry (the young women) and cooking meals (the young women) for everyone living at SMA (MITs and SMA staff and on campus students). What they did do on campus was to build a septic tank for the house where we were living, which we were most grateful for, as it allowed us to have a toilet in our house, making our son’s potty training less harrowing.

When we spoke with Pastor W. James a month or so ago, we found out a few things. W. James had been made known to us as the Vice President of the Guyana Conference of SDAs; President R. James of the Guyana Conference of SDAs informed us that he was not the VP, but the Wills and Trust Director. We found out that W. James was the president of GAMAS. He did not know about that MIT program at all. He also was not aware that persons without CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) subjects were allowed to attend Bethany. Not surprisingly, he also claimed to be unaware of what we had gone through, stating that he was only informed that the two families—meaning ours and the Lawrence couple—could not get along. He told us he knew nothing of Pastor Ash’s trip to Siparuta to mediate, nor of the letter Pastor Ash wrote (see the end of Part 5) on behalf of the GAMAS board, on which W. James was carbon copied.

Back to the two-year MIT program that the GAMAS president knew nothing about. This had become a point of discussion between us and the SMA administrator and principal. They had stated repeatedly that the villagers did not want their children being trained to be missionaries. Yet all of a sudden, they wanted to stream all the fifth-formers into this new idea that Mr. McDaniels had come up with. So we asked them to clarify what the mandate of the school was: to prepare these students for CXC exams and beyond, or to get them to agree to join this MIT program. My husband pointed out to them that the school needed to have a primary focus, so he knew when he had met his objectives with his students. They kept vacillating between the two. We pointed out that they could not change the mandate of the school without informing the parents and allowing them to make a decision about whether they wanted to keep their children at the school. Doing this was deception. They got parents to enroll their children with promises of giving them a solid education and getting them four to six CXC subjects. They were not fulfilling that mandate, and now they wanted to change it without the knowledge of the parents.

But that was not surprising, considering how they tended to handle things generally. Parent-teacher meetings were more about Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and Granny telling the parents things than actual dialogs between parents and teachers. This was not only a concern for us; multiple parents expressed that they found that when they interacted with the Lawrences, they did not listen to them. Similarly, staff meetings turned out to be sessions to tell the staff what they were to do rather than have meaningful discussions about issues on campus.

Following the departure of most of the MITs, a vocational training program was suddenly implemented. This was approached with little forethought, as was also evident with the MIT program. Both were suddenly implemented without any planning into what skills and knowledge they wanted participants to accomplish, how training would occur or how trainers would ensure that trainees had gained the skills intended. In fact, letters went out to the parents on Friday, November 8 about the vocational program that was to start Monday, November 11. It stated that the students would be trained in Construction, Mechanics, Electronics, and Agriculture. The first set of classes began that Monday with no previous staff meeting and staff members and students were assigned to Grounds, Agriculture, Construction, and Food Preparation. Despite the fact that I expressed concerns that they were simply modifying the work program from the primarily dorm school that was Kimbia and calling it a vocational program for the primarily day school that was SMA, class titles were merely adjusted one or two times, but the approach didn’t change. The basic approach was to use the students to accomplish tasks on campus without ensuring that the students were learning the theory and gaining the practical skills, or even ensuring that the tasks were completed properly. In fact, the entire program was flawed because most of the teachers themselves did not understand how to do what they were teaching the students to do. Beyond this vocational training program, class times and teachers were shifted around quite a few times—again without informing parents or seeking their input.

In the midst of me writing Part 5, we found out about the plans for the current fifth-formers at SMA. Next month, they will all be enrolled in this MIT program. When Jermaine called W. James to find out what was happening with the MIT program, he informed him that it was now an approved program with forms that needed to be signed by parents and the local pastor. Note: the local pastor has somewhere between seven and nine churches in his district covering over 100 miles and doesn’t get around to Siparuta very often. He depends on Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence for reports about the youngsters in Siparuta. Mr. McDaniels will come for all six young women and carry them to Kimbia Mission Academy where they will spend six months. After that they will be taken to Bethany for another six months. Then they will be placed at one of the GAMAS projects as teachers/staff. This reduces the amount of missionaries GAMAS will need from outside, and gives them ultimate control over their projects. They are also guaranteed a regular volunteer work force.

We are very worried about what will happen to these young women. But how do we stop this? The young women do need a viable option post-graduation. However, the GAMAS/SMA system has already failed them. In January of this year, Jermaine had to use primary school books to teach the fifth-formers how to do fractions and decimals, since, over the years, the school had failed to lay a foundation for further Mathematical knowledge to be gained. Multiple pleas were made to the SMA Administration to extend the time in classes before allowing the fifth-formers to sit CXCs but this was sternly refused. To make it worst, little to no extra classes were done. Also in April, over the Easter break of three weeks instead of doing rigorous revision/preparation, the entire SMA staff left the school and journeyed to the other end of Guyana on a “mission” trip, leaving the girls to prepare themselves for exam and returning just a few days before their first exam. Though we and many others are praying for the girls’ success in their exams, the poor preparation they have received gives them a low chance of success. This has indeed been the case for many years and the village council and those at Amerindian Affairs have expressed concerns that a lot of students leaving SMA have a primary level education and have to go back to learning things from the basics. By placing these girls in this MIT program, that offers them no tangible future beyond GAMAS, not only would these girls have lost the value of their high school years, but also two or more years beyond. Also, let us consider what will happen when these girls and others like them are placed in classrooms to teach other students. How can they impart what they have never gained? Lest you think this could never happen, consider this. One of the current teachers at SMA has no CXC subjects. He like these six girls has the potential to accomplish much with their lives for God, but those in the system have failed them. What are we going to do to stop this cycle?

One way to help is to pray with us that God will intervene by overhauling GAMAS or providing a better option for these students. If you would like to help in any other way feel free to contact us.

Mission Gone South, Part 6 (Let’s Define Human Trafficking)

In my last post, I mentioned that the village council was concerned that the situation constituted a human trafficking case. They explained to Granny and the Lawrences that they couldn’t bring people in (especially from another country), ill-treat them, be making money from the work they’re doing but not pay them, then when they’re done with said people, put them out. Mr. Lawrence jumped up to tell the senior councilor that he didn’t know what human trafficking was and proceeded to give his definition, which could easily be gained from a popular understanding of trafficking in persons but was indeed incorrect.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) breaks down the legal definition into three components. Here is what they say on their site:

On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements;
The Act (What is done)
Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons
The Means (How it is done)
Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim
The Purpose (Why it is done)
For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.
To ascertain whether a particular circumstance constitutes trafficking in persons, consider the definition of trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the constituent elements of the offense, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.

The UNODC Country Profiles document states that “The current legislation on trafficking in persons in Guyana covers all forms of exploitation indicated in the UN Trafficking Protocol.” Also, on the UNODC Checklist for the Criminalization of Trafficking under the Protocol, “Servitude” is added to the Purpose element after “Practices similar to slavery”. Servitude is defined as “the condition of being a slave or of having to obey another person” or “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one's course of action or way of life”.

Now, based on what we were being told before we got to Guyana/SMA, we would not have expected what we found. By way of example, the house that only needed “furnishings” and “fixtures” turned out to be a shell. It had no windows or doors; we struggled with the campus cats a few nights and wondered what other creatures we might find in our house. We did not have much freedom to make improvements to the house. Everything Jermaine tried to do was met with resistance/reluctance and almost all the improvements had to be done by him personally, with little to no help. We finally got windows on our bedroom and a front door in December. Also, our primary reason for going to Siparuta was to work on meeting the medical needs of the area. Our intentions kept being thwarted. We thought we were going to help these villagers, not realizing we were being recruited just to teach at the school. While Jermaine was able to get a quick call to his father from another staff member’s phone, I did not speak to my family until December, after being inspired to ask that same staff member to allow me to send a text to my mother. Even after multiple expressions to them that my family didn’t even know if we’d gotten to the village safely, they hadn’t even facilitated us sending a text. Mrs. Lawrence would tell me about speaking to her mother who is in Jamaica, and would tell me how when she and her husband arrived they didn’t get to speak to their family for months. Mr. Lawrence offered to tether internet from his phone to Jermaine’s but there was rarely an actual opportunity created for that. Especially with Lights Out being at 8pm during that first semester. Mrs. Lawrence suddenly remembered near Christmas that she had an extra sim card that she wasn’t using, and that’s how we finally got in touch with family and friends and were able to get back online. We felt so cut off from everything before that. Another thing that cut us off was their extreme reluctance to assist us by budgeting for diapers for our children. They kept telling us, and were supported by their supervisor (Granny’s son, Mr. McDaniels), that based on GAMAS policy, diapers were not something to put on the budget and that as far as they knew missionaries used cloth diapers. Occasionally, they would purchase a pack of diapers after much asking and being reminded about the budget. They did not assist us to get cloth diapers until January. We were just being pressured to get sponsorship without any reliable means to contact potential sponsors. And even when my mother sent a package from the end of October—without being able to get in contact with us—to Pastor W. James at the Guyana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and messaged Mrs. Lawrence to let her know, they did not prioritize us getting said package. I had a hunch my mom sent diapers. And when we finally got the package in January there were diapers inside. I cannot begin to describe the nightmare we experienced especially during a particular four-week period. We couldn’t go anywhere because the children were constantly messing themselves. Yet we were being criticized by Granny for not going to church every time there was church (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and twice on Saturday), and being questioned by Mr. Lawrence almost every time we needed to pump water over to the house so I could stay on top of washing the kids’ clothes and our sheets. We were forced to potty train our son during that stressful time, which was made more challenging by the fact that we had to get him to the outhouse in time. We tried to potty train our daughter, but I think she was just too young. Even though, I found out afterwards that Amerindians tend to potty train their children by the time they’re about two months old. I didn’t learn that technique till we were living in the village.

The most major clashes that we had surrounded their constant attempts to control us and make us do what they wanted. We would sit down and have apparently amicable conversations expressing our concerns, but nothing would be done. And the longer we were there, the more we learned, and the more concerned we became. Till, eventually, they forced us off campus.

As much as we want to forget what happened and not talk about it, it’s not just about us. Our experience was not an anomaly. Other missionaries came to Siparuta who were run out of the village by Granny. There are other missionaries at SMA and within GAMAS who are not being treated properly. There is a pervasive mentality amongst the GAMAS administrators that the staff (non-administrators) are supposed to suffer, that that’s part of being a missionary. And what seems to make it worse is if the administrators had to suffer themselves when they came into the mission field. This notion was evident from the night we arrived, along with a Romanian father and daughter from Spain going to Kimbia Mission Academy. The accommodation made for missionaries just coming in and those from the interior needing to be in Georgetown for a while is the Mission House. To say it was dirty does not give a good picture of what it was like. But when you’ve been traveling for hours and have no other options, you’re just stuck with it. Beyond this, the villagers (inclusive of the students) in these various places are being taken advantage of and aren’t always being treated as a fellow brother or sister. As a couple of villagers said to us, how will they be towards us (villagers) if they treat their own brethren like that? In my next post, I’ll share what we found out about the GAMAS plans for those fifth-form young ladies I mentioned in Part 1.

“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” -Arundhati Roy