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