Bennette Dibben shared these reflections at the KC MO event March 12 for International Women’s Day. Bennette, a former PeaceWorks Board member, now serves as a volunteer staff member.

My childhood was far from idyllic, but I still grew inner strength from it. I’m #6 of 7 children. My mother went from housewife to working as a nurse’s aide around 1966 when our father left, for the last time, and she was left to raise us 7 children on her own. My younger brother and oldest brother are my only two living siblings now.

Three remaining children from the family of 7 children, from left: older brother Bruce Reed, Bennette Dibben, and younger brother John Reed at a restaurant in 2019.

In some aspects, our family was fortunate. We grew up in a time where our mother could go outside the home, earn a living, open up her own bank account, and take out a loan for a home without the requirement of a male signature. It was also a pivotal point in the welfare system where she was supported, not pulled down, when she worked outside the home for a living.

I won’t delve a whole lot into what’s happening in Ukraine. What’s happening in Ukraine is absolutely horrific! My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine. I honor the Russian PEACE Activists who are risking long prison sentences and possibly death by protesting the war their government is illegally unleashing on their eastern neighbors.

I wish the American people would open their eyes to the war crimes we are committing. It’s not just Russia. I personally can’t stand here and be silent on the role of horror and suffering my government is playing in Somalia, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and also Yemen, which was defined by the United Nations on March 11, 2017, as the greatest humanitarian calamity of the 21st century. In a recent political cartoon, a girl from Yemen, standing on the rubble of war, holds a Ukrainian flag, and the girl says, “Now They’ll See Us!” That cartoon was such a powerful statement on how people of color are being treated, being ignored—they continue to be treated as “less than” compared to the humanitarian love and outpouring to Ukraine. (Bennette shares these observations in this video.)

In addition, I stand with Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian activist, who in 2017, at about 16 years of age, was sentenced to 8 months in an Israeli prison because she stood up to an Israeli soldier in 2012, at age 11. She was protesting the confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh; I have no update on her currently. Because Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian, was “white passing,” her 10-year-old image was recently viewed 12 million times and accumulated over 800,000 likes as a “Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier.” As someone on Twitter very pointedly put it, “I guess Palestinian kids are only heroic when mistaken as European?”

According to the Congressional Research Service report on Feb. 18, 2022, the United States has provided Israel $150 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. At present, almost all US bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance.

Sunflower—By Brett Sayles, https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-sunflower-1454288/

In Ukraine, the sunflower, which is its national flower, stepped onto the international stage on June 1, 1996, when Ukraine decided to shut down all its nuclear sites. The country handed back to Russia about 1,900 nuclear warheads that it inherited from the old USSR.

My heart goes out to a woman who, on Feb. 25, 2022, confronted a heavily armed Russian soldier and offered him sunflower seeds – so that flowers would grow if he died there on Ukraine’s soil.

It’s an incredibly moving and powerful anti-war statement. If all soldiers carried sunflower seeds in their pockets, there would be fields of sunflowers that would grow. When the Ukrainian woman handed sunflower seeds to the Russian soldier, it wasn’t for monuments for the dead to grow from his pockets when he would lie down. It was for sunflowers to grow from his pockets to clear the air so that when he lies down he would be able to breathe in the land that he has occupied, whose air he would contaminate, and it was for him to save his own life which he would be making dangerous with Russia’s weapons.

The sunflower also sprang to prominence in 1988 when a group of anti-nuclear protesters in Missouri entered nuclear missile silos in a peaceful protest and planted sunflower plants. This peaceful protest was sparked off after growing pacifist mobilization against nuclear weapons. It followed the world’s shock and outrage at the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, caused by a flawed reactor. The explosion killed scores of people and years later has left the area a lifeless zone as a result of still-existing traces of radiation. The Missouri protesters planted the sunflowers in remembrance of the people who died at Chernobyl.

On another topic: Lack of period products is often considered an issue impacting women and girls in developing nations. I’m now learning that period poverty also exists in the United States.

Bennette, age 2, sits on the lap of her pregnant mother in this family photo from 1965.

An article that came out yesterday, Friday, March 11, in the Columbia Missourian, headlined a phrase I was unaware of: “period poverty.” I’m so grateful for Missouri State Representative Martha Stevens, who has been introducing bills since 2020 to counter this problem. In January 2022, Martha Stevens introduced HB 1842. It requires school districts to provide “period products” at no cost in middle schools and high schools and charter schools. It would go into effect in August 2022, but it’s not scheduled for a hearing or currently on the House calendar.

I also want to commend Mary Anna Henggeler, a program and policy specialist at Jackson County Health Department. She stated on KCUR on Feb. 25, 2022: “If a student doesn’t have the products they need and they can’t come to school, then that can be an issue where other students are in the classroom learning, and they could be potentially missing multiple days a month even, every year.”

And I commend Teresa Hamilton, president and CEO of Giving the Basics, a nonprofit organization that is Kansas City’s Hygiene Hub. Its goal is to provide menstrual products to 29 school districts every month, along with hygiene necessities for our young people in our community. In Teresa’s words,You cannot help a child learn if they come to school without that human dignity. They need to be able to have improved health, improved hope and dignity,” and with that, “you’ve set that scenario so that before they walk in the door, they’re locked and loaded to be so totally successful. Incredible. It’s a game changer.”

Ann Suellentrop created the video. © 2022, Bennette Dibben, Ann Suellentrop, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.