As CWS’s executive vice president, Maurice Bloem assists and advises the president in the daily management of the organization, while specializing in managing strategy, research, monitoring and evaluation, and incubation. He is also the agency’s main representative to the United Nations. Bloem is the former country director and regional director of CWS in Indonesia/Timor-Leste. In that position, he led CWS’s multi-million dollar response to the tsunami and the earthquakes that devastated the region in 2004 and 2005 and directed the development and implementation of innovative HIV/AIDS programs and programs for youth. Prior to joining CWS in 1999, Bloem was project coordinator for an HIV/AIDS prevention project run by CARE Bangladesh. Before that, he was an advisor to the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh. A native of the Netherlands, Bloem earned a Master of Science degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Leyden in the Netherlands.
In 2011, Bloem started the 100-mile Walk, to raise awareness of issues around hunger and poverty. As part of the annual effort, Bloem Walks 100 miles in a single week, visiting programs supported and funded by CWS. In October 2020, he started a podcast called “Walk Talk Listen” (a spin-off of the 100-mile walk), an attempt to connect people and make this world a bit better by sharing opinions and experiences based on the belief that everyone’s perspective is true albeit partial. You can find the podcast at walktalklisten.podbean.com
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My name is Maurice Bloem and I am casting a blog to you titled: My Mom’s Grit
When my mom was four years old, she caught polio and was quarantined. Can you imagine being such a small child having to be all by yourself? She eventually recovered, but was left with a disability—her right arm was “dead.” She spent her whole life living with only one strong arm; it was something I didn’t realize until I grew up. She never complained about or mentioned it to me nor others. Even after spending three years in an internment camp during the second world war, another five years surrounded by Indonesia’s war for independence, and even after suffering discrimination in a country where she was a citizen (as my parents eventually moved to The Netherlands). She knew what it meant to have grit.
My mom knew what it was like to be in a situation where you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. This pandemic is the first time ever that I’ve ever experienced that, but for many of the readers and listeners of this blog, this is not the first immense crisis they have had to deal with.
The difference in experience and journeys is important to understand while we discuss this pandemic, something that affects the whole world. I have heard people say that we are all in the same boat, but we aren’t—we are in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. Many of the people my organization works with around the world know what it is to live with uncertainty. Without knowing what tomorrow will bring. So how is this pandemic any different for them? In the poorest neighborhoods in the US, the median household income is less than $35,000 and the COVID-19 infection rate is twice as high as in the nation’s wealthiest zip codes, where median income surpasses $75,000. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
As we continue to grapple with the ongoing, collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, we could all stand to cultivate more grit says Angela Duckworth, New York Times bestselling author and psychologist. Why? Because when bad things happen unexpectedly, part of having grit is being able to navigate those stormy waters, she explains. “Gritty” people tend to look for opportunities to learn and grow during challenging times. That means that when a crisis is over, they won’t be where they were before it all started—they’ll actually be better off. She also points out that “it’s never too late to develop grit, or gritty qualities like self-control, tenacity, and stamina because people never stop developing.”
So while the future might feel uncertain, and things are largely outside of our control, I have learned from my mom to focus on the things we can change, and understand the elements of our situation that are temporary. There are always things in our life we have control over, and that it’s in our best interest to focus on those things and frame our adversity in what Duckworth refers to as an “optimistic, resilient way.”
I’d like to end this little introspection with an invitation to engage—as we keep writing this new chapter in the story of our lives, we can control how this story evolves. Let’s continue to walk, talk, listen, but also to dance with joy, like my mom used to do when Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” blared from our stereo system.
You can connect with Maurice Bloem via email@example.com