Report from the President, August 2003


The last weeks have been busy. At the end of June there were the joint sessions of the Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) and the Friends Council on Education (FCE), and the end of July there were the annual sessions of New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM), and the first week in August the session of New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM). At all three of these gatherings I laid out a display of literature about BQEF, principally the newsletter and the leaflet, and I spoke with many Friends about our work. In speaking about BQEF I mention that it is both incorporated and under the care of Buffalo Meeting. I am generally asked hows and whys of my involvement, and in addition to telling the story of the Bolivia Study Tour and Quaker Bolivia Link introducing me to Bolivian Friends, I stress that this work of part of my search for what it means to be a Quaker.

The search for what it means to be a Quaker is, of course, not merely an intellectual game, though I suppose it is partly that. Being a Friend means, in part, being part of a community of folks who call themselves "Quaker", and since that includes the Friends in Bolivia, my search includes seeking ways to understand and relate to them. And to be part of the community of Friends in these gatherings I have attended, my search for community also includes offering them possibilities to relate to the Bolivian Friends and urging them to join in the effort. I met several Friends who have been to Bolivia in contexts where they did not encounter Bolivian Friends, such as with USAID. My experience with Bolivian Quakers has been limited—just four visits of two weeks each, and only half that time was with Quakers—but it is so much greater than most other Friends in the US that I am able to provide much information. And BQEF is able to provide a means of relating, a structured opening and channel in which others can move. In this connection the four young Friends who found BQEF as an avenue for volunteer service this year provide a vivid glimpse of possibilities. As an example of what I have learned from Bolivian Quakers I often tell stories, one of which is about a meeting with the Director of Colegio Emmanuel in El Alto, the largest and probably the best school under the care of Missión Santidad. I was discussing possible future developments at the school with the director and several teachers, and the secretary brought us all a cool drink. No one touched their drink for a minute or two, and then I picked up my glass to take a sip. Before I could do so, the director stopped in mid-sentence and gave thanks for this refreshment we were about to receive. It was an unforgettable moment, and shocked me into recognition of how much we in the north tend to take for granted.

There are some specific benefits for BQEF that emerged during these travels, though the long-term effects of spreading the word and distributing the literature are impossible to measure. Conversations with Irene McHenry at FAHE\FCE led to an invitation to BQEF to become a global affiliate of FCE, and I believe that we will be listed as such in the directory that is currently in press. At NYYM the Trustees approved funds ($1000) to help with my trip to Bolivia in October, and the Witness Coordinating Committee (WCC) approved a recommendation that NYYM name a representative to BQEF, with the expectation that that person will be appointed to the Board. WCC also approved a grant of $750 from the Peace Activities Fund to Buffalo Meeting for organizational work of BQEF (a large part of the specific costs for the newsletter and the filing fee for IRS Form 1023, the application for 501(c)(3) status). These are encouraging developments. Nothing similar was attempted at NEYM, but Jackie Stillwell, head of The Meeting School, expressed interest in possibly taking a group of seniors to Bolivia rather than to Latin America for their required month of service.

In addition to the copies of the newsletter and the leaflet that were taken from the displays at all three gatherings, I usually had some with me at meals and meetings, and handed out dozens in the course of conversations. Even without formal presentations at any of these gatherings, I am confident that many Friends learned of the work of BQEF. In conversations with a member of the FGC program committee I agreed to do a workshop at the 2004 FGC Gathering in Amherst MA on "Bolivian Quakers and Us."

Still on the horizon are two more important trips. August 22 is the date of a Board meeting in NYC (with at least two Board members connected by teleconferencing). It will be a big step, but there is nothing on the agenda that will soon relieve me of the major responsibility and legwork for BQEF. We will discuss hiring a staff person, but funds are not now available. The other trip is a trip to Bolivia to meet with Bernabé and persons involved there. It will have been fifteen months since having face-to-face meetings. I have been unsuccessful in getting others (or even one other) to accompany me, and I am convinced that having other Friends visit Bolivia is key to strengthening BQEF. But Sarah Kaufman (Haverford '03) will be there doing volunteer work with BQE-Bo and can accompany me for the week I am there. I will spend a week in Peru on the way to work on my Spanish.

There was no Friend officially visiting NEYM on behalf of FWCC, so I attended two meetings of the NEYM FWCC Committee, and introduced myself in a plenary session as a member of the Section Executive Committee. My workshop on "Servant-Leadership" was sponsored by the NEYM FWCC Committee.

NEYM sessions were held (for the first time) at Stonehill College, outside of Boston. An ominous note from NEYM is that for first time in over a decade the Friends planning to visit from Cuba were not able to get visas. There was some stickiness about visas for the FWCC representatives from Bolivia for the Section of the Americas meeting in March, but that was before Homeland Security took over INS. Whether this recent difficulty is directed specifically against Cuba or will impede visits from all Latin American indigenous people remains to be seen.

A check for $500 was received this month from London Grove Meeting (PYM). The meetings that have contributed to BQEF now are London Grove, Buffalo, and Live Oak Monthly Meetings and New York Yearly Meeting. There is now a direct affiliation with Buffalo Meeting, under whose care we operate, with New York Yearly Meeting, which are agreed to appoint a representative, and with Friends Council on Education, of which we are a Global Affiliate. The guidelines for becoming an affiliated organization of FWCC seem tailor-made for us, and I am recommending that we submit a request for such affiliation promptly. Goals for next year will be to increase the number of meetings that contribute, and to have appointed representatives from other yearly meetings.

A university colleague of mine said that this work with the Bolivian Quakers is real "mitzvah", which is the Yiddish equivalent of being Spirit-led. While we clearly have more organizational work to do, I am clear that we are moving slowly and steadily in the right direction.

Newton Garver

August 15, 2003