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April in Maine

The flowers and trees have just started blooming, and it rains a lot. When it is sunny though, the temperature fluctuates between 40 and 70 degrees.  On warmer days, anyone not in class can be found outside reading, biking, hiking, climbing trees, and then jumping from them. One of the trees has a rope swing jump that has to be at least 14 feet up. I’ve done it three times, and it’s still really scary. Today we opened up the dock. This is what it looked like at sunset:


This past weekend I went canoeing with COASTAL, College of the Atlantic’s outdoor program.  We have a small cabin on campus with helpful equipment like tents, dry bags, and sleeping bags, so after packing up Friday night, we set off for adventure early Saturday morning. Although this was a trip for beginners, the winds stirred up 3-4 foot waves, and I struggled constantly to maintain any sort of direction. Our leaders were great though, and despite the cloudy windy cool days, we had a blast.

Highlights for me—skinny-dipping in the starlight (the smooth lake reflected the light of the stars so jumping in was surreal); listening to life dreams around the fire while warming up after the cold plunge; sleeping in a tent with my friends Annie, Andrea, and Bethany; waking up around 4am to the sound of coyotes and wolves howling in the distance and knowing that I had to leave the comfort of my sleeping bag to pee, although I only had to go 20 feet from my tent, I felt very vulnerable in the dark; the challenge getting back with the . Whew.

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature…”

I signed up for the trip sure that if I spent Saturday and Sunday outside, I would be more content to spend more time in class and working at the library. I thought the trip would help me focus. But in case you do not already know this, that is not how it works. Once exposed to the raw beauty of nature, it’s difficult to return to artificial temperature and lights.

Thoreau writes, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I need to go back. Soon.


Thoreau dedicates the second chapter of Walden to “Where I Lived, and What I Lived for.” Wow. How powerful is that chapter line? I’m trying to figure out where I live (besides in my head), and what I live for (besides love, or is that enough?). My class “Great Letters” is forcing me to collect my thoughts. We read letters from authors and notable figures, write our own, and read them out loud to the class. They are personal, but maybe I will share one sometime soon.

My teacher, Candice Stover, tries to cultivate more face-to-face interactions, and refuses to do e-mail. If we want to reach her, we have to call her at home before 10pm, and she promises she’ll call us back. We talk a lot about communication, and what we lose (and gain) with e-mail, facebook, the Internet and cell phones. More on this another time, I’m sure… She seems very skeptical about online privacy. Why do I post little journal entries for anyone in the world to read?  Because I know that my life is important and beautiful, and I love my life and want to share it with everyone. But it’s more than that… it’s personal. Writing on here reminds me of the story I write every day with every conversation, feeling, and decision that I make.

Other stuff I’ve been thinking about recently:

— No one can own land. The land, and all it’s fruits and vegetables and wild creatures belong to all of us, and us (humans) belong to all of them. We don’t get to do whatever we want.  How is this idea of owning land anything more than a faith-based ideology, kind of like money and our economy? Ah, so many thoughts that require much more explaining. The other night when my friend asked me how our economy law is different than religion, the only response I could think of is that people who believe in God and Jesus recognize very openly that it requires faith, unlike our economy and law, which people take for truth. Can we ever really own anything except our love and time and story?

— I have to choose my companions wisely, because they do rub off on me. I am blessed with wonderful friends, and often I see myself in them, and them in me. And now I want nature to be my friend. I need some of the simplicity and innocence to rub off on me, but what can I bring to the relationship? Only my life, devotion, and awe.

— I do not want to let time or my things own me. I try to do things intentionally and I avoid rushing. But never have I been more sure that I cannot do anything that will have me counting down the minutes. I wasted enough time in school (before COA) for a lifetime.

— I can talk to animals, and they can talk to me, and sometimes we can become friends, but they are kind of like people: each one is different and has a different personality, so I don’t think all of them want to be my friend. I’ve been reading up on this, and before you ask, no I don’t think I’m crazy.

— The economy. Wealth. What we value, and don’t value, and how ridiculous it all is.

— When I don’t write it usually means I’m learning or living too much to write it down. I also don’t have internet anymore. I can’t say I miss it that much. I think there will be a big movement beginning soon (if it hasn’t already started) away from technology and the instant information and (sometimes superficial) connection it brings. I want to slow time down, not speed up, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

All quotes for this entry are from Henry David Thoreau.

P.S. I am working on moving this to juliadesantis.com, a friend convinced me that if I didn’t claim it, someone else would. Apparently there are people out there who will buy your name, just to sell it back at a higher price? Anyway, now that I have it, I kinda want to use it because it gives me more freedom over layout. But if you visit now, be warned—it’s just a work in progress.

Last spring, 20+ of my friends from NYU spent spring break at the Village of Hope, a community for abandoned children. As a faith-based organization, they were open about their faith and agreed to not proselytize anywhere in Morocco; however, they were granted permission to share their faith with their children (as long as they did not try to convert them). The parents are not allowed to officially adopt because they are not Muslim, but they function as parents in every sense of the word. The volunteers, hailing from countries around the world, commit to living in the village until the children are grown. As you may know, I want to design my own sustainable village for orphans so Village of Hope holds a special place in my heart.

A few days ago, I received a text from one of my best friends who visited the orphanage last spring, “authorities have asked the parents to leave, we don’t know what will happen to the children, please pray.” Fearing for the safety of the children, as some have health problems like cerebral palsy, HIV, and asthma, many of my friends have started to act, contacting news media outlets, human rights organizations, and government officials. While here at the United Nations, I am trying to find the delegate from Morocco to share this information.

There is so much more that I want to discus about this—religious aid, the idea of proselytizing, and human rights— but it will have to wait until this Commission on the Status of Women is over (a whole other topic that I can’t WAIT to share about). Right now I just want to get this information out there. I am concerned about the whole proselytizing thing (I don’t really like the idea of anyone trying to convert anyone) but I am MORE worried about these kids. I used to read about things like this happening in the world, and never imagined I would have a personal (although indirect) connection to people suffering from discrimination while trying to do nothing but love kids.

Continue reading ‘Parents expelled from Morocco’

soldier on


I haven’t had any time to write as I’ve been preparing to miss this last week of the school term to attend the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as a youth delegate with SustainUS. Two thousand (2,000!!) women from around the world come to CSW at the U.N. headquarters in New York. The commission started last week, but my friend Matt and I had to finish up stuff here at school. Tomorrow we will join the discussions about the progress we have made towards gender equality and the empowerment of women. I can’t wait to update more about this, but until then, here are pictures of some women I love and our adventures in this beautiful world.

Rest in Peace Shelley Ann Lisbona 2/23/2010

My heart feels like it is bleeding right now, and I don’t really have any words. The pictures below are from the summer of 2006 when we went to Massachusetts together. I was one of the leaders on the team, and Shelley was one of my kids (but don’t forget, I was kind of a kid too). Shelley challenged me as a leader and really helped me grow. Death in this age of social media and networking is interesting (that’s definitely not the right word here). On Shelley’s page, people are writing letters to her. Part of me wants to write too as a way to make some sort of connection to her and to continue our relationship, but I feel too weird about it. However, I am reading what everyone else posts. What happens to your facebook page after you die? Will Shelley’s facebook page forever say, “i’m shelley. i fence. i sing. i spin flags. i love it all. and without my friends i would probably die.”

I love it all, I love it all, I love it all. I love it all too, Shelley. Except this. I don’t love this. This is scary. But not because of death. I truly believe you are in an amazing place that I cannot even imagine. You are in the arms of a loving God, and my soul smiles and longs to be with you there too. But this is scary. Last year you seemed completely fine, and when we were in Massachusetts, the fact that we wouldn’t have you into old age never crossed my mind. If it had, what would I have done differently? Would I have been more loving? More patient? More kind? More dedicated to appreciating every minute with you? I think so. I hope so. But I didn’t know, and that scares me. Who else doesn’t have a lot of time?  Ah. Here I go, talking to you through my computer. Well, if you can hear me, know that I miss you, and I love you, and I’m praying for your family, and, and, and, I won’t forget you, ever.

Finding solace in nature

After finding out about her death, I went right to campus (I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to be alone) to find my best friend Sarah. I walked in the front door, hair dripping wet, clothes a mess, with a huge bath towel in my hand to cry into, and found her working at admissions. I do love COA and all of the mother figures on campus. Whether it’s Cherie behind the front desk or Amy in the kitchen or Donna or Sarah in admissions or Heather or Bonnie or Karen— they are all amazing. Heather told us about a secret beach and drew us a map, and Sarah and I decided to go for a walk to the other side of the island to find it. The weather wasn’t nice, but it was perfect.

So beautiful!

playing on the frozen river

On Death…

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

(On Death – Kahlil Gibran)

Ashoka U and TED

I am down here in Washington DC at the Ashoka U Summit. Ashoka U is the college program of Ashoka, the world’s “leading” network for social entrepreneurs (I’m not sure who gets to decide that they are the leading network, but that’s how they brand themselves). Ashoka U envisions a world where universities provide students with access to the resources, learning opportunities, role models, and peers needed to actualize their full potential as changemakers. This year, they’ve selected COA as a Changemaker Campus along with Babson College, the University of Colorado at Boulder, College of the Atlantic, The New School, and Tulane University. This weekend, we are meeting students and faculty from other changemaker campuses to exchange ideas and resources.

This afternoon we participated in a TEDx event at the Google Center. We heard from remarkable people with beautiful stories that I will hopefully share later. We also watched this video:

And because I’m too tired for words, I’ll share some pictures:

Google Center

new friend from Mauritius playing with legos

COA group

The Trash

Whenever I leave Mount Desert Island, I am always shocked the rest of the world does not always compost or recycle. I take it for granted that everyone I know in Maine has a compost bucket next to their trash and at least three separate buckets for metal, plastic, and paper products.

To be perfectly honest, before I joined College of the Atlantic, I don’t think I gave trash a second thought. But then I met people like my friend Lisa. Lisa, a first-year from Sweden, has made it her mission to understand trash and water. Trash and water are threads she weaves through her education (kind of like children and women are themes for me). In every class, she figures out the connections to water and trash. At one point this weekend, she joked that the majority of images on her computer are pictures of trash cans and disposal methods from around the world. Her passion for trash has inspired me to care too. Now whenever I go anywhere (especially conferences focused on making the world a better place!), I always check out the trash as well as the FOOD.

The Google Center prides itself on innovation and green initiatives so it’s funny (and sad) that all of the trash cans looked like this one:

The Food

For the most part, the food available was not healthy. As a group full of vegans, vegetarians, and those just interested in eating non-processed, chemical free food, we really struggled with meals. I know we weren’t the only ones walking around hungry.  My hotel roommates and I made a trip to Trader Joe’s to cook in our room and discussed how it’s “just not okay to serve BAD food at conferences focused on doing GOOD.” Bad food includes not only things with chemicals like MSG and BPA, but also animals who have been treated cruelly.

Whoever provides food for others must share where they got it from. If it’s organic or from a local farmer, broadcast it! Put it on the label next to the plate! Use every opportunity as an opportunity to EDUCATE.

I wish this wasn’t necessary, but right now healthy and nutritious food is considered “special.” Simply: it is not the norm. While it should be the other way around (bad food should have a special CAUTION label), it doesn’t work like that… yet. Although I’m too tired to write about it now, I look forward to a world with improved food and waste disposal systems. I have immense hope because I know a few incredible people working to make this world an actuality.

Vagina Day


Excelsia by Sonya Stratfull (click to go to her Etsy shop)

Last night, I watched College of the Atlantic’s production of the Vagina Monologues. The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler, shares real stories from women around the world, and it made me laugh and cry and feel every uncomfortable emotion in between. It started out like this,

“I bet you’re worried. I was worried. That’s why I began this piece. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them. I was worried about my own vagina. It needed a context of other vaginas-a community, a culture of vaginas. There’s so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them-like the Bermuda Triangle. Nobody ever reports back from there.” – Eve Ensler, Vagina Monologues

And continued with girls telling stories about hair, pleasure, and sexual abuse. The play also raises awareness and funds to help end violence against women. Near the end, a video projector came down and showed a video about women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The war in the DRC has ended, but the violence against women continues, and that’s what I want to focus on today because my mind will not be quiet.

Oh, where to start… Do I tell you how many have been killed? No, I can’t because I don’t know how many have died. I’m not sure anyone does. I will say that the estimated numbers are similar to those associated with the Holocaust.

Do I share about the women who have been raped with guns? Or those forced to watch their young children as they were raped? Or those who had their babies torn out of them and set on fire before their eyes, and then asked to hold them while they burned?

I wonder how it would be different if I changed the language from the passive to the active (I’m taking Advanced Composition right now so I notice these things).

What about the men raping women with guns and other blunt objects? Or the men who force parents to watch as they rape their young children? Or those men who tear babies from mothers’ wombs and set them on fire before the families eyes?

These are very different questions. I know that 1/4 of women are sexually abused before they are 18, but how many men sexually abuse women? And why? What outside (and inside) forces create this behavior, and what can we all do to help heal these hurting men?

Neal. A few years ago in South Africa I became friends with a guy named Neal. He was pretty nice and worked with the community center. When we met, my gut said, “be careful, he’s safe, but…” When he shared his story later in the week, he talked about life in a gang, the women he raped, and the man he killed (the man slept with his gf—shot him 17 or so times).  Then he talked about life in prison. Did I mention I liked this guy? Did I stop liking him after? For a bit, yes, I think I hated him for a moment or two. But after he finished talking, I walked up and gave him a hug; he had tears in his eyes when I pulled away. The hug helped me forgive him, helped me humanize him. But I did not forget, and thinking about Neal now, I know it’s not enough to end violence against women. We need to work towards a world where every creature, man or woman or child or animal, can live free from violence.

We are all capable of evil. Our brains can be manipulated while we are still in the womb by what our mothers eat and inject into our tiny bodies; our behavior determined by how much our caretakers touch us during infancy; our ability to love dictated by how we are loved. And of course there’s hunger, extreme poverty, and the need to belong.

But we do have some ability to choose our actions. Anthropologists call this agency, and Christians, free will. While some men destroy women, others devote their lives to healing them. What will you do? You can either be a light and shine on the invisible and broken, or you can be part of the darkness. There is no middle ground.

Violence against women, from a male perspective. (Definitely read ALL of them).

Stop Rape in the DRC

Panzi Hospital – A hospital in the DRC dedicated to providing care to women.

The City of Joy – A community for survivors to heal.

I am an Emotional Creature – A book about young girls around the world.

The United Nations in the DRC – Because I’ll be heading back to the UN for the Commission on the Status of Women (yay!), I checked out their Mission in the DRC. As of December 31, 2009 they have 20,509 total uniformed personnel and 648 UN Volunteers. These people hail from… wait for it… Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, France, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Yemen and Zambia. DOES THIS NOT BLOW YOUR MIND? There are people from over fifty countries working in the DRC to help bring peace and stability to the region. Whether or not it’s working is a different question that I do not have the energy to research, but when else in the history of the world have people from around the world come together for peace?

The Olympics – Continuing on the same theme… people from around the world coming together to play games? Oh gosh, I love it so much. The opening ceremony was beautiful (kind of reminded me of Avatar), but the moments of silence for the young boy who died struck a negative cord with me. Please don’t get me wrong, his death is tragic, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record: what about all the people dying every single day from hunger, dirty water, and preventable diseases? Can we have a moment of silence for them?

  • Assisting the transition to democratic rule