Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Live Here "Day of Action"

This is Mia K for the ILH Team writing to you.
Thank you so much for writing to I Live Here and offering to volunteer your time. We are blown away that you wrote to us and want to get involved. You are the reason why I Live Here is growing into a grassroots movement.

We never imagined that we would grow this large. We are a simple organization that doesn’t know NGO speak. We are learning. We are passionate. We do the work we do because we know it needs to get done and we know that our work is not done, but just beginning.

Right now, I Live Here is working to overhaul the Kachere Juvenile Prison, in order to give these kids a shot at a bright future. Run through our amazing team of local partners, we have a full time school, a permaculture program and prison garden, made a rammed earth kitchen made composting toilets and have a legal rights program. We run Kachere around the ideology of Permaculture.

Our next project is called, The I Live Here America Project. An online house for people to share stories of love, loneliness, the effects of the recession, living with a mental illness, being a single Mom, racisim, hope, being a new immigrant and not being able to speak the language, to being a soldier in the army abroad. There are endless possibilities here. Through the use of new media and social networking, our goal is to inspire activism through hearing stories that might have slipped through the cracks.

Here is why we are writing to you: We need your help.

We are hoping that you can join I Live Here in a pretty wild project- on June 27th 2010 wherever, whenever- connect to your community and tell them about I Live Here’s work. All over the world, people will work in solidarity with I Live Here, raising awareness, connecting to strangers, and fundraising to make beautiful dreams a reality. We urge you to come up with a cool idea that can raise money for I Live Here and get others involved in your work.

Here is the plan:

Before June 27th, create your own fundraisng plan where you have a set goal in mind. For example, if you get one hundred of your friends, co-workers, school mates to attend your event, charging twenty dollars for admission, you will have made $2,000.00 for I Live Here!! That’s pretty awesome.

Here are some ideas that we had for individual fundraisers:

-Private dinner/lunch party
- Sell home made foods
-Make cool neckalces
-Make home made-cards sets and letter kits
-Make bath salts/body srcubs
-Phone a thon.
-Teach a group of people a skill that they would like to learn – ie, yoga class, ballet class, painting class.
-Have a show with different muscians that you love.

Once you start planning, the fun will really begin.
All the money raised on this day will go to create the I Live Here America Project, in addition to continuing to grow our Kachere Prison program.
And: All donations are tax deductible
When you think about it, twenty dollars is the price of a movie and popcorn and a drink.

We will walk you through what I Live Here does and send you a little package about I Live Here. We will also have a training sessions and answer any questions that you might have about this effort. If done right, by the end of this day, we can begin the ILH America project and continue our work in Malawi. In return, your name will appear on the ILH America Site as a founding member. The top three people who raise the most money for ILH will receive a very special prize.

It’s a big dream. We know.
Many might think that this will never work.
We say it will.

That’s how we started I Live Here.

Mia and the ILH Team

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Returning to High School for the I Live Here Projects

When I was in High school I was sure of three things.

1.People were assholes

2. All blond girls had perfect skin

3. Todd L, for sure, didn't want to be my boyfriend.

This and a steady diet of saltines and oranges, led curiously to my burgeoning interest in human rights. In attempt to propagate this, I would skip school and hang out in Kensington Market, pretending to be older than I was. I collected Greenpeace stickers and bought food for homeless people.

Even though everything totally sucked, there were a few things that were still OK about school. Like, the first day back from summer vacation, where you could wear your new clothes and hope that everything would be OK that year. The way in which the frost stuck to the baby hair on your cheekbones, melting when you opened your locker. Staying up all night, devouring a book that your teacher had recommended, that would make you feel less alone.

High school was a place in which you felt wide and revealed in its exhilarating highs and lows.

All of the above comes back, as I walk through the halls of Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute located in North Toronto. Michael Laidlaw, a teacher at Lawrence Park, had invited me. I had not seen him since I was 10, as he had been my grade-school classmate, so was rather surprised when he stood in front of me at a book signing in Toronto last year. Months later he wrote to me, saying that he would like to work with my book, I Live Here, in his classroom. Many more months later, he wrote to me announcing that he was going to have an evening to support I Live Here at his school.

I am utterly blown away by what Micheal, colleagues and students did last night. I know it was not easy. This group put together an evening with song, video, music and dance in support of I Live Here. The talent is pretty mind-blowing and shows a level of sophistication that can only be a result of study, talent and reflection. Most importantly, they did something. How many people can say they even tried?

Peirson Ross, a Graduate of Lawrence Park, played four beautiful songs about love and travel. He spoke with the thrill of reflection about his years at Lawrence Park. This guy has soul and is one of those talents that will warm many cold nights ahead.

It is terribly moving to have I Live Here be the recipient of all of this.

So: Here is my shout out and hug to each of you. I hope you all go forward with courage and will to never give up no matter how silly you think that big dream is.

Rob Mancini, Scott Morrison, Connor Whitworth, Ryan Hill, Taylor Dale, Stephanie Long, Deven Glover, Lily MacLoud, Caroline Murchie, Brigid Allemang, Nicole Correale, James Boudreau, Ben Sussina, Eric Smith, Babk Taghina, Ryan lamers, Christina Wolf, Georgina Coward, Mike Hetherington, Miles McCraw, Jackson Walker, Annie Clarke, mark Edwards, Sam Yoannou, Olivia Luyt,, Justin Manofo, Duncan O'Donnell, Rebecca Pegano, Lauren McDougall, Andrea Eksteins, Dinah Finkelstien, Melanie Fingold, Alex Coles, Sydney Milgrom, Isabel Ungar, Brodie Marks, Sonya Molyneux, Sophia Zekiros, Rachel Kurzter, Courtney Dart, Jessica Campbell, Lee Stein, Emma Boynton, Greg Giannakis, Linda Llio, Charlotte Ann, Emily Bonnell, Alex Kapo, Issac Rain, David Milliken. Drassinower, Amal Mohamed, Peirson Ross.

A very special thank you and massive hug to a wonderful teacher and risk-taker, Michael Laidlaw.

Thank you for listening and rising above it all. Thank you for lighting a little fire inside of me.
Check out
Peirson Ross. This man is a talent.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It's mid-day and I am in the prison with the boys. We are in a circle. Two of the inmates act as translators. We are talking about music and sound, and how music can make one feel alive. I like to tell stories about great artists who were once in prison and used their experiences to create great art. I try to explain that Miles Davis once said, "Don't play the butter notes"- meaning: have no fear.

We begin. The hope is that the boys will write a song for the Holiday celebration in the next few days. There are some procedural things which need to be worked out. I am not that good at this stuff.

Among some gentle suggestions : please don't smoke your notebooks; can you pull your pants up so you are not naked; please don't piss in the gutter right next  to someone. I am starting to realize that the boys appear like they want the attention. I am learning slowly that this makes them feel cared and perhaps they are starving for this attention.

The process of songwriting is slow to start. Since we don't have instruments, we only use what is here: bucket lids, wet blankets, pencils, the ground, their bodies and their voices. The boys start to hum. One boy who looks like a boxer, punched in both eyes, starts to drum on a schoolbook, biting his lips. Another starts singing in a voice with an earthy grit that twists and turns you sideways. One boy starts singing an octave higher. The boys get up on their feet. Sounds join together, creating this melody of want. Some of the boys start to dance, closing their eyes, isolating each movement. Their dance is like jazz.  I stand back to watch.

The abundance in here blows my mind. Each boy in this group is crazy talented. Right now,  there is no more smoke from the stove in the courtyard. The sun is not blistering. I'm not worried.  The only thing I feel is this joy coming from the circle of sound.

One of the boys tells me that I should consider Kachere my second home.  They remember my name now.  The sweetness in this place reminds me that no one wants to be forgotten. I wish that everyone who reads this could experience what I am, because it reminds us of the joy of listening.

Dec 25, 2009
Mia K.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Musings on Hanukkah and I Live Here- Happy Holidays

Hello All.

While I was celebrating the 3rd night of Hanukkah tonight with family, I got to thinking, as I often do :), about I Live Here and how I got involved with ILH’s work. Incidentally, I found quite a few commonalities between the holiday of Hanukkah and I Live Here that I thought I might share with you. 

As a woman, a writer, teacher and activist, I felt an affinity to the stories in the  I Live Here Anthology when I first read it last October. And as a Jew, I was incredibly moved by Mia sharing about her family’s history; the theme of global suffering and recollection of Holocaust certainly resonated. Deuteronomy 4:9 states: "Take heed...lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and...teach them to your children and to your children's children." This little line in the Torah always stayed with me from the time I was very young- the notion of the importance of memory, of recalling what one has seen in order to teach it to future generations.

The holiday of Hanukkah is about this retelling of history. We are obligated to share the miracle of the Maccabbi’s triumph and commemorate the oil lasting 8 nights by lighting our own Menorah candles for 8 nights and having children play with dreidels marked with Hebrew letters "נ(Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym  for "נס גדול היה שם" (Nes Gadol Haya Sham – "a great miracle happened there") . All of this is designed to remember and bear witness to what has befell us. Jews have survived through stories- generations to generations, passing on the traditions. Moreover, all great cultures and religions have their own stories as a means of sustaining their values.

Thus, I Live Here’s motto “Stories can change the world” has a deep meaning that I believe in. And because of my heritage, the memory of the Holocaust and how the Jewish people were silenced in Europe, as well as my father’s account of fleeing Romania with his parents as a little boy because the Communist and Anti-Semitic government, I feel a particular kinship in hearing the words and experiences of the displaced, the oppressed, the forgotten. For all those who are silenced, I will raise my voice and do everything in my power to help others raise theirs.  

I love what ILH stands for. I appreciate the concept of not calling a group of people victims. I love the ideology of giving people who tragically have so little control of their lives- because of disease, poverty, war, etc- the power to tell their stories. In Malawi, we are taking that ideology even further- giving the inmates of Kachere Juvenille prison power through legal rights, education, and permaculture.

The world is often a scary, unjust, miserable place…but there's beauty and there's hope and I think we all would like to be a part of something that makes the world the tiniest bit better, brighter and more humane. That’s what these stories do- they empower, they raise up, they inspire action.  

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and a beautiful holiday season to all! 

All My Best,

Erica Solomon

Director of Education

I Live Here

Saturday, December 5, 2009




Written by Mada Siebert, Permaculturalist

Kachere juvenile prison, a rectangular sloped dustpan surrounded by a flimsy wire fence and somewhere - usually near the gate - a guard hangs out with a Uzi. With real bullets I’m told. Rows of vegetables look quite pretty from afar, with boys in sparkly white watering and weeding. It is hot out. Really blisteringly hot. The building bakes and falls apart too slow to see with the human eye, but the evidence is there in the cracks and holes. 

How to interact with teenagers that have almost no interaction with strangers, nevermind, mzungu women (mzungu means ‘whitey’ – I often hear it from children, who love the oddity and will shout and come running for hugs and high fives, or in explanation to the littler ones that catch fright and start crying from the strange sight)? But the prisoners seem friendly, eager to communicate with the few English words they have. I don’t know what they are here for – some on remand for 3 years and counting for allegedly stealing a Nokia, some convicted of rape or assault. 

Why I am here is simpler - to practice Permaculture at the prison. Mia wants to create a mini ecosystem inside the prison through education, art and permaculture. Her holistic approach inspired me. Not just a bleeding heart here to fix on some feel good factor, but willing to deal with basic nutrition and emergency hygienic issues. So nutrition is where the permaculture came in, but it ends up touching and incorporating all areas of the prison ecology. 

The shortest definition of permaculture that I can give here is ‘a design method for creating sustainable human systems based on the relationships in nature’. Some genius some time ago worked out that if we need a more sustainable way of living we can look at existing systems that work (and nature works, could continue permanently, unlike our current set-ups) and take it from there. 

The main focus of my job at Kachere involves diversifying the crops so that inmates can have a better diet to enable them to make use of the education that will be offered them, fight disease better, and hopefully take away some life skills in the balance. In a county where 70% of the population depends directly on the land, these skills can come in very handy. It has to be mentioned that the land is becoming increasingly denuded; erosion causes 25 metric tons of topsoil runs off per hectare per year (Landcare Practices of Malawi by Trent Bunderson – quoting a statistic from World Bank). 

On closer inspection, the garden at Kachere is pest-ridden. The soil is degraded – leached and eroded. Wastewater festers in ditches. There is barely any diversity, and the compost pits are full of plastic waste and toxic looking stuff. In stead of just sticking more things in the ground, I will be looking at the entire prison site as an ecosystem that can be advanced into a healthy, diverse, resilient, and abundant one, and to do so will start only be facilitating the design process while the officers and possibly the inmates design a new system. 
This is exciting, so much can be done here and so little is needed for big change!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Make A Difference

Hello Everyone,

I heard a quote the other day, which has stayed with me: “it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.”

As you can see from our last update about Kachere, we are now building a school for the boys. It’s terribly exciting to be part of something so special. I can’t wait to show you all the drawings of this school. We view this as a chance to make a sustainable model, using recycled materials and local innovative design techniques.

Since we remain grassroots, your help remains central to why we are here today. As we try to imagine what our ideal school would look like, one of the first things that we think about is the importance of books that had an impact on us growing up. Since many of the kids speak English and will be learning English, I hope all of you will consider donating some of your favorite books and help us in building a library in Kachere. Additionally, we are looking for art supplies for roughly 100 children to use.

Here is a basic list of what we are looking for:

colored construction paper, tape, glue, paintbrushes, paint, and pencils.

If anything else comes to mind, please feel free to send these to us. If you wish to send a message to the boys that we can hang in the classroom, I know that they would appreciate this very much. If you decide to donate, please make sure I have the materials before the 11th of December. I will take these donations with me when I leave for Malawi on the 13th of December.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions and seeing what we all can come up with before I leave.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and consider donating.

The address to send supplies:

Mia Kirshner and the ILH Team c/o Monica Guzman

1990 Bundy Drive #200

Los Angeles, CA 90025


My Very Best,

Mia and the ILH Team

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Holidays from the I Live Here Team!

Hi everyone!

As the holidays are upon us, we realize that this is an important time to thank you deeply for your support. Thank you for buying the book, for joining our facebook pages and to those that donated, thank you for making our projects possible.

We launched our first project in Malawi on September 11, 2009. A date very important to me because of how it changed the way in which I see the world. September 11, 2009 marked the start of a long, but important process of transforming Kachere Juvenile Prison into a miniature eco-system. Our program is founded on the principal of permaculture – systems of agriculture designed to be self-sustainable. In practice, this means, building a community teaching garden using local seeds and compost. This garden is is intended to provide additional nutrition for the children of Kachere and intended to give them farming skills upon release. Permaculture makes you realize that you don’t need to reply on big seed companies to have a farm that flourishes. Most importantly, you don’t need to spend a lot to do a lot. We have a wonderful team of permaculturalists who are passing on the extremely valuable skills to the children and the officers of Kachere. When you are in presence of the permaculture teachers, it makes you realize that there are so many easy ways in which you can grow your own garden.

I am terribly excited about the humanure toilets that we are using. They are simple wooden boxes. After being used, the waste is covered with dirt, which kills the pathogens. This waste will then be composted and eventually used as a fertilizer. Additionally, we have installed clean drinking water stations in each cell, in addition to hand washing stations. I am told that the kids love them and find them easy to use. It’s a small but important milestone for us.

We work with a local group called PASI, whose job is to examine the case of each child in the prison and make sure that their legal and human rights are upheld. Additionally, twice a week, PASI will teach legal rights education.

Finally, the most difficult decision that we faced is where to put our school. After much deliberation, we have decided that we will build a very basic school on the grounds of the prison. This appears to be the best way to create an environment of stable learning.

The school will follow the Malawian Government curriculum and teach standards from 1-8. Our goal for this classroom is to emulate the school most of the children wanted to have when growing up. Warm, inviting, nurturing and creative. We want these kids to have dreams and see them through. Our goal is for as many of these kids as possible to attend University.

I am leaving for Malawi on Dec 13th to oversee the start of the building of the school. I am going to take very basic school supplies with me.

I hope so much you will consider donating to help us buy these school supplies and books. There has never been a juvenile prison with a school such as ours and we hope you will join us in the creation of this groundbreaking project.

We will be sending you a list of what is needed for the school and keep you updated on the progress of our work.

I look forward to sending you pictures and stories of what is to come. I know its not going to be easy and we will see many bumps along the way. That said, looking back at where we were and were we stand now, these bumps have made us stronger, better and more determined.

Please send us comments, questions and your thoughts..your support means so much!

Have a beautiful holiday.


Mia and Erica & Judy