Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Neighbors Project

“In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” ~attributed to the Buddha

As Unitarian Universalists we affirm and promote the interconnected web of all existence.  In this modern world, hands from around the world make our daily lives possible from our clothing, food to even our homes.  With this connection, comes a great responsibility.  The World Neighbors Project seeks to balance our social justice ministry and fulfill our responsibility as world neighbors.


Evolution of the Trip:

The World Neighbors Project was inspired by the work of our member, the late Jodie Kacer.  Jodie Kacer was a longtime Unitarian Universalist who lived in Wisconsin and joined PUUC in 2010.  She connected her UU congregation in Wisconsin with an organization called the Masaai American Organization (MAO).  See here for more information on MAO

MAO is a nonprofit organization focused on helping women and children get access to healthcare and education.  MAO purchases crafts at a fair trade from cooperatives in Guatemala and then sells these products for a small profit in the United States.  The proceeds of these sales are used to benefit women and children in Kenya.  Then, products are purchased at a fair trade from women in Kenya and again sold for a profit in the United States.  These profits are used to benefit women and children in Guatemala.  Essentially, it is beneficial international trade.  MAO is not a missionary or religious organization, but is grounded in values shared by Unitarian Universalism.

After conversations with Rev. Robin and Jodie, the PUUC Social Justice Council decided to host MAO craft sales in December of 2011.  The craft sales resulted in the funding of a solar panel, which now powers a school in Kenya.  In the spring of 2012, Kennedy Lieberman, the daughter of two members MJ and Larry Lieberman, traveled to Guatemala to work for two months for MAO.  At Jodie’s request and after speaking with Kennedy Lieberman, Rev. Robin and Ann Marie Alderman traveled to Guatemala in the summer of 2012.  Rev. Robin reported her experiences to the Social Justice Council.  The Council talked about the potential for a project and after four months of conversation, decided to put together an exploratory trip.  In December of 2012, the congregation held it’s second craft sale, which has helped women attend school through funded scholarships.  In January of 2013, the Core Planning Team formed.  In February of 2013, the first general meeting was held and the World Neighbors Project was born.

Intention of the Trip:

The Core Planning Team has been charged with planning an exploratory trip for July 2013.  The intention of the planning trip is to familiarize participants with the region of Santiago, Guatemala and in particular the area for a potential project, Chuk Muk (located outside of Santiago).  Participants will return to explore whether a project in Chuk Muk is possible.  No commitments for a project have been or will be made before, during or immediately after the trip. 

The philosophy of this trip is grounded in an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multi-cultural viewpoint. Participants on this trip are going to listen and learn, rather than teach.  Participants will also complete service projects including volunteering in a school, elder center and hospital. Part of the belief of the core team is that in traveling to another culture, participants will better understand global citizenry, interconnected living and poverty in their own community and context.

Process for Post-Trip Exploration:

July 29, 2013  Exploratory Team Returns

Aug 2013  Team Meets with Social Justice Council to Debrief
Core Team meets with Social Justice Council, determines if any project is possible.  If SJC and Core Team determine a project is not feasible, craft sales may continue but exploration ceases.  If project seems at all feasible, then the following schedule begins.

Sep 2013  Social Justice Council meets
Open Core Team meeting held, all members are welcome

Oct 2013   Core Team develops a project plan.

Nov 2013 Core Team submits draft project plan to Social Justice Council.

Dec 2013  Core Team and Social Justice Council review proposal.  Social Justice Council sends back edits.

Jan 2014  Social Justice Council finalizes proposals; shares with congregation and Board of Trustees; Board reviews at January meeting.

Feb 2014 Social Justice Council receives Board of Trustees feedback; begins congregational meetings.

Mar-May 2014  Congregational informational meetings held (at least five)

Jun 2014 Proposal submitted at congregational meeting for a vote by the members

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. Why are we traveling to Guatemala?

A. While there are many places we could begin this work, the Social Justice Council began in Guatemala because we had a member connection and UU connections that assured of this organization’s credibility.

Q. Shouldn’t we be working on social justice projects locally?  There is so much need here.

A. Absolutely, this trip is not intended to replace local social justice work but to better balance PUUC’s social justice program.

Q. I can’t go on the trip, how can I be involved?

A. We understand it is not feasible for many members to travel to Guatemala.  Members can be involved by assisting with craft sales, core team planning or project planning.  In addition, some members have already come forward to donate funds in order to support others participating. 

Q. How many people are going on the trip?

A. Currently, there are 9 members plus Rev. Robin and an MAO representative, Lea Pellet.  There is room for at least six more individuals in the exploratory trip.

Q. How much does the trip cost?  What is the financial liability for the church?

A.  The approximate cost of the trip is 1,200.00 including meals, flight, lodging and transportation. There will be some fundraising efforts (brunches or bake sale) to defray the costs, but none of the church’s operating fund or pledge income is being used to support the trip.  Any financial liability for the trip would be a part of the Core Team’s assessment, congregational discernment and board review (see above).

Q. I didn’t think Unitarian Universalists were missionaries.  Is this a mission-based trip?

A.  No, we don’t plan on converting anyone. The trip is spiritual for participants, but not missionary in orientation.

Contact/Further Questions:

This info sheet is designed to give a brief introduction to the Guatemala exploratory trip.  Further questions should be directed to Core Planning Team members, Darla Davis and Virginia Gil-Rivas who can be reached at

Other members of the Core Planning Team include Mimi Davis, Amanda Howard and Rev. Robin Tanner.  The World Neighbors Project is an approved project of the Social Justice Council, who would also welcome any questions.  Amanda Armstrong and Brian Foster serve as co-chairs of the Social Justice Council.  They can be reached at Amanda Armstrong and Brian Foster

We welcome all questions and inquiries and hope this document serves as the introduction to an ongoing congregational exploration.

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