Monday, February 11, 2013


Amnesty Coffeehouse: the evolution of a club and cultural event
The librarians are often involved in school activities beyond the library walls.  Here's an example of a cause near and dear to my heart:

It was the year 2000 and I was approached by two sophomore boys, asking if I would be the advisor for an Amnesty club.  These were committed young men looking to make a difference in the world and, moved by their passion and vision for what the club could accomplish, I signed on.  Petitions were signed, articles from domestic and foreign publications read at meetings, workshops, and bake sales helped raise money & awareness.  One highlight was a speaker from East Timor, along with a representative from the East Timor Action Network.  East Timor, after being under Indonesian domination, was seeking to become an independent country, and we had donated funds to ETAN to support their cause.  We invited students and teachers to the talk during lunch.  Over 140 people packed into the Miller Theatre and we had to turn people away, as our speaker talked about being assaulted and beaten by soldiers and her country beaten down by years of genocide and intimidation.  It was silent in the crowded room and students and teachers alike were stunned about a part of the world few knew existed.  How exciting that, several months after our program, East Timor became an independent nation! 

This spawned the Amnesty members’ desire to do more and we searched for other worthy causes and led to an 8-year relationship with the Nazoo Anna School for Afghan refugee girls in Peshawar, Pakistan.  Club members corresponded via fax with students (in English!) and our coffeehouse events, beginning in 2001, allowed us to send $2,000+ per year to provide
Huber-Mullins jam
 supplies and help pay teachers’ salaries at the school.  We had a group of Amnesty members who were talented craftspeople, so we sold handmade jewelry, knitwear, candles, t-shirts, etc. at our coffeehouses.  Parents attending coffeehouse made generous donations to support Nazoo Anna, a group assisting people affected by the Bhopal chemical accident in India, and another group fighting FGM (female genital mutilation).  Their generosity over the years has been remarkable.

Magician Rmax at the Magic Castle
often performed at Coffeehouse!
Coffeehouse began as a shout-out to the 1950s and ‘60s poets and folksingers, and we thought it would be an all-acoustic event.  Over the years, it morphed into its own entity.   There are still occasional poets and folksingers, some reading or singing their original work.  There have been violinists, magicians, comedians, and not-so-acoustic bands.  It’s all been wonderful—good work for good causes.  This year’s coffeehouse supports KIVA, an organization lending money to people in poverty-stricken areas of the world, so that they can start businesses of their own.  They repay the loans (individuals may donate as little as $25 at their website), so that others may start businesses and support their families.  Ms. McConnell is Amnesty’s advisor now and it is my hope that she has many satisfying years working with students who care about people and causes all over the world. 

Postscript:  Friday’s Amnesty Coffeehouse was a great success!  Congratulations to the Amnesty members and thanks to the talented participants for a fantastic evening!

Mrs. Hodge

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