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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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Dear friends,

            It is hard for me to believe but I am leaving for West Virginia again in the morning for the eighth annual Mountain Justice Sumer Training Camp which will be at the Southern Appalachia Folklife Center from Saturday, May 19 – May 26th. This camp is full of workshops and trainings, networking opportunities, movement building, and action. If you can attend any or all of the camp, please do! There is more information online at www.mountainjustice.org.

            I will be leading several workshops in the next few days, and would love to see you there. Tomorrow there are two: Personal Sustainability, and Conflict Transformation, on Sunday I will repeat the Conflict Transformation workshop in the training for trainers track, and the next day lead a de-escalation training. All of the workshops offered this year look informative, inspirational, and well worth the journey. I wish I could stay all week! Instead, I will be heading south again on Wednesday since this next week begins the ten-day Work That Reconnects Intensive focusing on resilient communities here in the southeast with an emphasis on the local energy issues/impacts, here in North Carolina with Joanna Macy, Anne Symens-Bucher, and myself. I will be sure to report back after this incredible week.

            Mountain Justice Camp is coming at a powerful time, after last week’s Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice which took place in Charleston, WV. Women from throughout the region came to West Virginia to testify about the direct toll mountaintop removal coal mining has had on the region, on women’s health, on the future, etc. There were four topics covered, which were:

1.      Health Impacts on Women, Their Families and Their Communities

2.      Poverty, Economic Injustice and Lack of Economic Vitality

3.      Destruction of Communities and Social Disintegration

4.      Damages to Air, Land, and Water

The testimony was so powerful – every single one of us cried in the room. The impacts from mountaintop removal coal mining are so wide-spread, ranging from poverty to birth defects, de-population and out-migration, to despair, depression, rare cancers, lower life expectancy, etc. I was really struck by how much attention was given to the psychological health impacts of living near blasting, destroyed mountains, with toxic water, etc., as well as the physical health impacts. It was a hard day, but a strong one as well. There is such courage in truth-telling, and so much strength from sharing our stories.

The tribunal was fashioned in the same vein as ones held all over the world by the Feminist Task Force, to draw attention to critical issues of our time through women’s voices, while presenting to a jury, and then taking the testimony and recommendations of the jury to the United Nations, specifically in this case to the Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janiero in Brazil, and most likely through other avenues as well.

This tribunal was the first one ever held in the United States, and there is another in Chicago coming up. It was organized by the Loretto Community at the United Nations, The Feminist Task Force of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, the Civil Society Institute, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. The jurists were Lois Gibbs, community organizer from Love Canal, and now the director of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, Elizabeth Peredo Beltran from Bolivia, director of the Solon Foundation, and Grant Smith from the Civil Society Institute.

We all found out the next day that while we were meeting in the tribunal, Alpha Natural Energy, formerly Massey Coal, was laying out the plans to idle two of its biggest mines, that the movement in West Virginia has long been fighting: the mine on Coal River Mountain at Bee Tree, and one near Twilight. This is a big deal, and points to the further and urgent need of a full economic transition plan for the region as we deal with the long term health impacts left from an industry that is losing its profit margin as the price of natural gas drops.

I love you all and would love to hear what is going on in your work as well. I love being able to show up in this movement as an eco-chaplain due to your support, thank you so much.

I still live through donations and money from direct services – three years in! Wow. Thanks yall. Please continue to contact me if you are interested in hiring me for pastoral counseling, workshops, mediation/listening work, etc. through e mail, phone, website, etc. Please consider being a monthly donor or making a donation online at http://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html or in the mail through the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778. All donations go a long way toward sustaining this work, thank-you!

See some of you in person soon!


Love and Solidarity,