International Entrepreneurs: Moo Moo Farms

Identifying a problem or a need is always the first step in launching a successful new business. Whenever there is a demand, a need, or a void that needs to be met there is room for businesses to grow.

As missionaries living in Cambodia we all noticed the lack of dairy products within the country. We joked of how we would all turn lactose intolerant due to the quick change of our diets. Of course dairy products were existent among the markets of Cambodia but due to the fact that all milk was imported the prices were often more than we could all ever dream of paying. Only the really wealthy Cambodians could afford to go to “Swenson’s” the country’s high class ice cream shop where one cup of ice cream was worth as much as the average man’s daily wage.

It was a common joke for one of the missionaries to say that they would open up a dairy farm in Cambodia once they had a little money. I heard it many times and even said it myself! We all saw the huge void in the industry and thought it would be cool to bring the joys of dairy products to more Cambodians. Every time I heard this I smiled to myself and thought of how impossible it would be to get an operation like that to fruition. Laws barring Americans from establishing businesses, corrupt government practices, and local lack of knowledge of how to raise dairy cows all made it near impossible to get a business going. Furthermore the basic things such as money, land, and the fact that the climate simply wasn’t well suited for dairy cows survival all were factors that reminded us why there wasn’t a dairy farm already in Cambodia.

Clearly I didn’t have the entrepreneurial vision and spirit as two other missionaries serving in Cambodia because today there is a dairy farm in Cambodia that provides Cambodians with milk processed and distributed right within their country. Moo Moo Farms started as a dream but after hours and hours of work from Kenny Matthews and Matt Boyd it is now a reality. What most only joked and dreamed about these two went and did. Their ability to start and grow their own business is remarkable in and of itself but the fact that they were able to do it in a country half way across the world from the native land makes the story even more incredible! Moo Moo Farms stands as a monument to me and hundreds more that dreams don’t have to stay just dreams!

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Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival

My wife and I pride ourselves on being “foodies”. One of the first dates we did a “world food tour” which involved eating Ethiopian food at “The Queen of Sheba”, followed by a sampling of Asian baked goods from the Asian SuperStore, “Super Cao Nguyen”, and finally culminating with a quick trip to “Plaza Mayor” for some chili mango candy. From that day on we are always trying to find unique places to eat so we can sample food from all over the world! This last Valentine’s Day I even bought my wife a map so we could show off all the countries in which we have sampled food!

When I had about the Lebanese Heritage and Food Festival I knew I couldn’t pass it up! I was excited and eager to taste the food as well as learn a little about the culture. I was impressed by the wide selection of food items that were all homemade and was further excited when I learned there was a bake sale as well. The items in the bake sale were fascinating and I enjoyed asking questions about the contents of each dish or jar. One jar in particular seemed intriguing and I was surprised to find out that the jar contained balls of yogurt which were preserved by the oil they were surrounded by (upon furthering questioning I was told the yogurt balls didn’t even require refrigeration).

The night wasn’t over yet. After sampling the food, and yes tasting some of the desert from the bake sale, my wife and were treated to some traditional Lebanese music sung by some of the organizers of the event. As the music began there were many who began to sing and dance along. The night was a quick step into another region of the world that I had never before been. As we got home that night my wife and I went straight to our world map and were happy to pin yet another country to our list!

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Global Engagement Day: My Peace Corps Prep Course

As I was listening about the Peace Corps Prep Course I couldn’t help but think of my time in the LDS Missionary Training Center (MTC) where I spent 3 months prior to living in Cambodia for two years. The new Program at OU seems similar as it helps prepare undergraduates better acquire all the “Core Competencies” needed for their time in Peace Corps. You learn language skills, gain specific sector knowledge, gain intercultural competence, and develop leadership skills.

This is precisely what I did as I learned Cambodian (Khmer) in a full immersion program, became more aware of my purpose as a missionary, learned of cultural norms, and had opportunities to practice various leadership skills through the different assignments and responsibilities I had over the other missionaries that were in my assigned “district”.

The benefits of Peace Corps Prep seem useful. As for myself I know I would not have been as successful upon arriving in Cambodia without the help of my teachers and all those that prepared me while I was in my version of a “prep course”. While I didn’t learn the language fluently in those few short weeks while in the MTC I was able to learn enough to understand how I could teach myself more once in the country. While I could never really grasp the significant culture differences until actually arriving in Cambodia, I was nonetheless ready to embrace whatever culture differences there would be.

All in all my experience preparing for my time abroad was tremendously beneficial to help me become integrated into the country quickly and efficiently upon arriving. More important than that, my time preparing was fascinating and got me more excited than ever to spend two years in Cambodia. The more you know, the more you can appreciate!

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Inside the Citizen Lab

Earlier this semester, I attended a very interesting lecture series on cyber warfare. The director of the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, Ron Deibert, spoke to us about the lab's work. The center focuses on digital security issues that arise from human rights concerns - this involves surveillance, censorship, mobile privacy, and many other topics.

What was very interesting for me about the talk was the intersectionality: the Citizen Lab combines methods from computer science, political science, area studies, and law to properly explore its work. Dr. Deibert made sure to emphasize that the lab is not an activist or advocacy group but rather a center for generating peer-reviewed research. The effects of this research have been impressively far-reaching, and reports are published and highly regarded by the community.

In addition to relaying some very interesting (and concerning) stories about real people affected by foreign-government-sponsored surveillance, Dr. Deibert left us with three observations about the current state of global affairs that appear threatening:

  1. The capacity to connect is outstripping the capacity to secure.
  2. Democracy is in retreat, and authoritarianism is resurgent.
  3. Today sees a booming surveillance industry with proven abuse potential.

These three ideas combined make for a pretty dismal view of the future - if nothing is being done to provide matched security to the heightened number of connected devices around the globe. For me, this event combined two huge interests for me - computer science and international studies - and brought up interesting questions about the ethics of computing, questions I will be pondering for a while to come.

 

My Last Post

Wow. It is difficult for me to believe that I will be a graduate of this university in just under two weeks. It is so cliche to say it, but the time has legitimately gone by in what feels like the blink of an eye. If there are any new GEFs reading this, PLEASE make sure to enjoy your time at OU as much as you possibly can. It will be over before you know it!

When I was applying to OU, seeing the new Global Engagement Fellowship program was a big pro for this university in my eyes. Since I was in middle school, I’d dreamt of studying abroad, and it was wonderful to see a university that promoted study abroad so heavily. I was overjoyed to be selected for this program, and I have been so blessed with all of the wonderful experiences that have come out of it.

I still maintain that studying abroad was the best decision I made in college. It was both incredibly fun and incredibly challenging. It taught me to use a foreign language effectively, to be confident in my ability to navigate in unfamiliar situations and places, and to see the world in a different way. Again, this all sounds so cliche, but this cliche exists for a reason. Studying in another country really does change you for the better, and if you are at all interested, I urge you to apply. OU has TONS of study abroad scholarships that make it financially feasible.

Every day, the international community gets more and more connected. No one country can exist as an island anymore, even if it wants to. Because of this, I am so grateful to this program for encouraging me to learn as much about the international community as I possibly could. Now more than ever, this knowledge is vital, and I’m leaving OU knowing that I am a much better-educated and more well-rounded person than I came as.

The moral of this sentimental story is that OU is amazing, the Global Engagement Fellowship is amazing, and studying abroad is even better. I am still having trouble coming to terms with leaving, but I take comfort in the fact that sadness at leaving means that I got to experience something truly awesome. Thank you to Bushra, thank you to Jaci, and thank you to all of my fellow GEFs for making these last four years unforgettable!

Mashrou’ Leila and Arab Culture

Music has always been deeply tied to a culture’s sense of identity, and it can simultaneously strengthen that identity and tear it down. A Middle Eastern group that seems to exemplify this sometimes contradictory nature of music is Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band formed in 2008. The group has gained significant attention, mainly due to its openly gay singer Hamed Sinno and often controversial song topics, which range from corrupt government officials to homosexual relationships. In these songs, the group is able to reflect popular sentiments (such as anger and frustration at the government) and shine a light on overlooked or ignored issues (like the treatment of homosexual persons), often in the same album. They both reflect the culture and refract it, showing the pain and struggles as well as the beauty. One of their songs in particular, “For the Homeland,” highlights popular criticisms of the Lebanese government, although it can be applicable to many other governments in the Middle East. It includes lyrics such as “they quiet you with slogans about every plot” and “you sell your freedom,” emphasizing the coercive and oppressive nature of the state. The lyrics are highly critical of Arab governments, which makes sense since this song is from their 2013 album, their most recent after the Arab Spring.

However, Mashrou’ Leila’s songs focus on cultural topics as well, such as the treatment and experiences of homosexuals in the Middle East. Some of their songs, specifically “Shim el-Yasmine” and “Kalam,” deal explicitly with homosexuality, with lyrics like “I would have liked to keep you near me, introduce you to my family…be your housewife.” While many Arabic songs seem like they are being sung to men, since they are often conjugated in the male form, “Shim el-Yasmine” emphasizes this relationship, making it clear that it is one man singing to another man about their relationship.

As Mashrou’ Leila’s songs deal with controversial subjects, such homosexuality, many Arab countries have sought to censor them or limit their influence. Jordan was one such country, as they repeatedly gave the band permission to perform, and then banned the group. Additionally, Egypt allowed the band to host a concert, but after images appeared on social media showing rainbow flags in the crowd, the Egyptian police arrested seven individuals who attended the concert. Egypt’s musician union also denounced the concert and stated that it was considering banning the group from the country. The treatment of Mashrou’ Leila and individual’s reactions to their music can serve to reflect how Arab culture writ large views these issues. Music often reflects society, and Mashrou’ Leila helps hold a mirror to Arab culture in particular.

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First Amendment

I asked 6 people 4 questions about the First Amendment to see what they thought about it… I recorded our conversations and am writing what they said. Also, here are the questions I asked them…

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the freedoms? Explain.
  2. Which do you support, and which do you think are excessive or provide too much freedom?
  3. Do you recognize the law? (Note how many identify it as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and how many do not. Note the percentage from each age group.)
  4. Optional: If you are willing to do so, please share your political leanings—Republican, Democrat, Independent, not sure, disaffected, apathetic, or other.

Katherine Lorio: (Female, 19 y/o)

  1. She agrees with the freedoms because “I believe that everyone has their own opinions and they should be able to speak their opinion and live their lives the way the want to.”
  2. “I support all of these freedoms but freedom of speech and press need have some guidelines such as for freedom of press. I think that the press leans too far to the right for some press and too far to the left for others. It pushes the public into one and causes controversy and a lot of problems.”
  3. “It’s the First Amendment!”
  4. “Um you know I’m in the middle. I don’t really speak politics. If I were to vote right now for the Trump v Clinton election I would vote Trump because that was what I was raised for.”

Abigail Smith: (Female, 19 y/o)

  1. “I agree with all of these freedoms. I’m pretty sure that all people should be able to pick how they want to live and deserve to live freely. I think it’s fair for people to pick what they believe in. I feel like these freedoms are amazing for America based on our belief system. Sadly there are many countries where such freedoms are not even possible. I do also think that it’s okay that we have missionaries that try to share their view and freedoms like these.”
  2. “Well I feel like lately there’s been a lot of protests and just ‘rowdiness’. I don’t think that freedom of speech is being utilized the way that the writer’s of the Constitution and the amendments intended it to be.”
  3. When I asked her if she knew what this was she said she was not sure what amendment it was but did in fact know it was an amendment!
  4. “Well I am Republican and I voted for Trump. I went and voted. I should probably watch the news more but I do heavily weigh in on what my parents talk about regarding politics. Because I was raised in this era, I think I am more independent and not as Republican as my parents. I am definitely not crazy right.”

Hadley Clyce: (Female, 19 y/o)

  1. “I agree with the freedoms given because everyone should be able to have and uphold of the rights given by this law.”
  2. “I support all of them but sometimes freedom of press can get a little too out of hand for celebrities. Everyone is entitled to their own private lives just like everyone is entitled to their own freedoms.”
  3. “Yes! The First Amendment!”
  4. “Honestly, I don’t really care enough about the government. I feel as though college people should be involved but have so much time to grow into their beliefs before picking a true side.”

Linleigh Alford: (Female, 20 y/o)

  1. “I agree with all of the freedoms. I think that it was put in place many years ago with a purpose.”
  2. “I support all of them. None provide too much freedom. Our county wouldn’t be how awesome it is if it weren’t for these freedoms. That’s why people move here so often.”
  3. “Yes, I recognize the law. I’ve always been more of a rule follower. They are put in place for the safety and protection of ourselves as citizens.”
  4. “I am more conservative. There are a few thinks that I think the far right conservatives are a bit too harsh about, but I definitely agree with many of the conservative outlooks and beliefs. A few democratic things I agreed with was the legalization of gay marriage and higher pay for teachers! But, I voted for Trump.”

Tracy Barkley-Ackley: (Female, 50 y/o)

  1. “Yes I agree with the freedoms– it is all I have ever known my entire life.”
  2. “At times, I have concerns with the freedom of press as in some instances, innocent victims are wrongly paraded in front of the world, only the be proven innocent in the long run. And the article is then rescinded on page 4 after the Toyota ad… I feel the liberal media has taken things too far.”
  3. “Yes, I recognize the law… whether I agree with a law or not, it is the law.”
  4. “I consider myself mostly Republican but am leaning more towards a pragmatist each day… Sick of the entire political party thing. Just want things better for everyone…”

Michael Ackley: (Male, 50 y/o)

  1. “Yes, I agree with these freedoms, but there are limitations.”
  2. “Freedom of press as long as they are not receiving government money. Freedom of religious- the government should not favor one religious over another. I agree with freedom to assemble as long as it is peaceful and abides by all laws and does not interfere with anyone who does not want to participate.”
  3. “It is the First Amendment.”
  4. “Republican/Independent– take care of yourself and everyone else later.”

Analysis:

Overall, the patterns that I saw were pretty much the same no matter the gender or age. However, with my mom and step-dad, since they are older, they are more aware of political things going on in this country and have true opinions. Oftentimes, we make our political opinions when we are older because we are able to actually decide on our own what we believe is right or wrong and not just what our parents believe. Also, since both my mom and step-dad have completed college and have degrees, they are more educated on these types of issues and have been exposed to all of these freedoms being tested and stretched.

Interpretation:

Overall, all of my subjects are supportive of the First Amendment as it has made this country what it is today. The patterns show that all of the people who I asked are Republicans and I believe that is mainly based on where/who I am asking. Most of these people are from areas where being a Republican is the norm and we all live in a tiny bubble that condemns anything that could be slight liberal.

Evaluation:

I think the way that my interviewees judged the freedoms were exactly what was to be expected in this era and age of political unrest. Overall, I saw that the common issue regarding all of these freedoms was freedom of press and speech. Freedom of press is a huge issue these days especially with our current president, as well as the fact that most press is liberal and decide that no matter what Trump does, everything is bad. They refuse to point out the goods that he has done and only the things that could shame him and make Trump seem like a bad president.

Engagement:

https://www.newseuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/

According to the First Amendment Center, most people nowadays find that Americans have too much freedom. Although I think that is sort of crap, I slightly agree. We think that we can speak however we want without getting harmed or without being deemed incompetent or disrespectful… which is so incredibly false. We have to respect everyone and especially our president. I was always told by my mom that even though I didn’t like Obama, I still had to respect him as he was the most important person in America… but those liberals fail to do the same in regards to Trump.

First Amendment

Corey Disler, 56

  1. “I agree with all the freedoms because it is important for citizens to have a voice in democracy and the direction of our nation. ”
  2. “I support all of these freedoms. I think that they are fundamental in what America is and why we are the nation that is so globally respected. ”
  3. “I do recognize these laws as those of the First Amendment.”

Riley Vann, 19

  1. “I agree with these freedoms, I think they are pretty basic and promised to us in the constitution.”
  2. “I agree with the freedom of speech, but I simultaneously feel as though that should not include hate speech. Especially when it comes to marginalized populations.”
  3.  “Yeah they are the First Amendment.”

Reece Henry, 18

  1. “I agree with those rights, the First Amendment… do people not agree with the First Amendment?”
  2. “Are people saying no to these questions? Yes I agree with all portions of the first amendment. I want to be a constitutional lawyer.”
  3. “ They are the rights provided in the First Amendment.”

Terri Disler, 53

  1. I agree with the rights because without them our country would not be a working democracy.
  2. I support the freedom of press because it allows all opinions to be printed without government censorship. If this was not our right, we would never be fully informed.
  3. “These are rights guaranteed by the first amendment.”

Brenna Hibbs,  18

  1. “I would agree with these freedoms.”
  2. “I do not think any of them are excessive, I think it is how people use them that determines if people see them as too excessive or not.”
  3. “Yes, I recognized them as the first amendment.”

Analysis:

Everyone I talked to agreed with the freedoms of the first amendment. I think that everyone also agreed that it depends on your interpretation of the constitution and how people choose to use them on a day to day basis that determines what it means for them to be excessive or not. Overall, I think people agree it is a sufficient amendment and provides rights as well as security through the United States.

Interpretation:

The people I interviewed were in support of the first amendment because it provides us with basic freedoms they saw as fundamental to their rights. it is important to note that all my interviewers are citizens of America and knew the constitution and their rights given to them in the First Amendment.

 

Evaluation:

My interviewees saw the freedoms established in the First Amendment as necessary and proper, which was the goal of the Bill of Rights in the first place. I think that it is pretty incredible that all this time later, we as a nation can still agree that these are fundamental human rights and deserve to be protected as such. however, having grown up with the First Amendment and knowing it, I was expecting agreement on these rights.

 

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The Cold War and Beyond?

This past week, I attended a lecture by Dr. John Fishel, a professor at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Fishel’s talk was part of a three-part series that focused on the Cold War; part three was dedicated to “peacekeeping, the Islamist threat, North Korea, and the next peer competitor (China).” I found this lecture particularly interesting because Dr. Fishel was speaking from his own experience, or he was recounting the experiences of people he knew. For example, one of his former students was a leader when the United States was doing some peacekeeping work in Africa right after the end of the Cold War. He also told an entertaining anecdote about Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell chasing down Haitian General Cedras to discuss peace and work to avoid an American military invasion of Haiti. However, Dr. Fishel’s main point was that just because the Cold War ended, that did not mean that we were in a safer world. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia disintegrated and fought itself in several civil wars. Many other states fell to coups and dictatorships, with some resulting in bloody civil wars. Then September 11 happened, traumatizing the world. Not long after the United States began its war in Afghanistan which, at almost 17 years, is America’s longest war. The power politics and general climate of global fear did not end with the Cold War—it is still happening today.Image result for ou cold war and beyond

The Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Recently, the University of Oklahoma hosted a member of Amnesty International who gave a lecture on the Rohingya and the current refugee crisis in Bangladesh. Everyone has heard the news mention the Rohingya population, but I did not know all of the details and I wanted to learn more about the situation. This lecture seemed like a good place to start.

The lecture began with an in-depth look at the crisis, highlighting specific individuals and the horrific events they experienced. The speaker hoped to humanize the situation and give the audience an appreciation of the human costs of the crisis. While I knew that the Myanmar military was burning Rohingya villages and driving them out, I did not know that they were then clearing what remained of the villages and building on top of them. The structures varied, but many seemed to be either new military outposts, villages for different ethnic groups, or secure “villages” that the Rohingya might be forced into.

The lecture also informed me of the history of the Rohingya crisis, which did not begin as recently as I had thought. The conflict truly began in 1982, when the government passed a law that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and gave them a “half citizenship,” where they could not move around the country without a government-issued identification card. This eventually led to apartheid, where everything from schooling to medical treatment was segregated. The truly horrific acts began taking place when the general public began supporting the military in 2012. Since the worst of the violence in August 2017, over 671,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, meaning that over 80 percent of the Rohingya population have been driven out of their homes. While the infamous village burnings have largely stopped, the Myanmar army turned to forcibly starving the remaining population in the hopes of driving them out. This is mainly done by restricting the Rohingya’s access to rice, burning markets, and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are still living in a nightmare, and this lecture helped explain the issue, its history, and its what is currently happening. You can learning more from Amnesty International by clicking HERE and you can donate to the Rohingya refugees through the UN by clicking HERE.