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Friday:  August 15, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in poverty (15)

Tuesday
Sep042012

Guyana, Suriname elected to key UN Committees for upcoming United Nations General Assembly (REPORT) 

(SOURCE: WorldAtlas) (September 4, 2012) - Set to make history, today both Guyana and Suriname were selected to chair two of the most important committees at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Guyana will serve as Chair of the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly for the 67th Session, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced.

In a related development, Ambassador of Suriname to the UN, His Excellency Mr. Henry Mac Donald, was today also elected to chair the Third Committee, making this the first time that two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) representatives will chair Main Committees of the General Assembly during the same session.

The General Assembly body stated:

"The Assembly today elected Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador George Talbot, by acclamation to chair the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee).  Ambassador Talbot is the first Representative of a CARICOM Member State at the United Nations to hold the position."

The Second Committee, which deals with a wide range of development matters, will have a full agenda of issues to consider, among them:  macro-economic policy questions, sustainable development issues, including follow-up to the Rio+20 conference, challenges associated with poverty eradication, globalization, international migration and development, and the situation of countries in special circumstances such as Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

(Video: UN promo for upcoming 67th UNGA meeting, 2012)

Guyana’s priorities for the upcoming session will include a focus on: food security and agriculture, poverty eradication, climate change related issues, and the developmental impact of inequalities both within and across countries as well as on greater effectiveness and efficiency in the conduct of the work of the Committee.

During Guyana's tenure, the Committee will also undertake the first quadrennial comprehensive policy review of the UN's operational activities for development.  Ambassador Talbot was nominated and endorsed for the post by CARICOM and by the Group of the Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC) which include 33 countries, equaling 17% of all UN members.

Additionally, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bangladesh were also elected to the Bureau of the Committee.

Ambassador Talbot, who holds a Bachelor's degree in Modern Languages from the University of Guyana and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a career diplomat with vast experience in multilateral affairs.

This year's gathering of the UN's world body of 193 nations will is set to convene in New York City on September 18, and will run for two weeks. According to earlier voting, Serbia's Vuk Jeremić was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly; and Jamaica was chosen as the first seat in the General Assembly Chamber meaning they will lead the chamber in order of speeches.

(This article first appeared in Demerara Waves.)

Friday
Apr272012

Hult Global Case Challenge 2011-Winners Announced (NEWS)

(PHOTO: Fmr US President Bill Clinton/HUMNEWS)(HN, 4/27/12) - Former US President Bill Clinton, whose organization the Clinton Global Initiative is partnered with the Hult Global Case Challenge, announced this year's winning student teams at last nights finals at the New York Public Library.  The winners are:

Energy: Team NYU Abu Dhabi to be partnered with SolarAid

Education: Team Carnegie Mellon to be partnered with One Laptop Per Child

Housing: Team Hult Business School, Boston campus to be partnered with Habitat For Humanity International

Stay tuned for a more comprehensive report on the ideas behind the students `step-change' innovations and for full follow-up coverage of the projects and NGO partners as they move forward.

----HUMNEWS

Monday
Mar122012

Bruce Springsteen's Call to Battle (ANALYSIS)

Picture credit: Lord Henry/Flickr

By Richard Pithouse

In 1975 Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's magnificent third album, crashed on to American radio with a dramatic lyrical intensity riding a rushing wall of rock and soul. Time and Newsweek put him on their covers in the same week and at 26 he found himself, along with Bob Dylan, as the newest avatar in the tradition of popular artists that, beginning with Walt Whitman and rolling on through Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and John Steinbeck have brought a sympathetic poetic attention to the lives and struggles of ordinary Americans.

Springsteen has redeemed that promise for almost forty years with a rare ability to match artistic integrity with popular success. He's brought an astonishing commitment to three hour long shows that offer audiences a sense of community and solidarity rather than the spectacle into which popular music has often descended. And his abundance of albums and songs have often allowed audiences to feel that the music is about them and for them, or about people who may seem different but are ultimately like them, rather than an invitation to worship at the alter of celebrity. Springsteen is cited as an influence by filmmakers, writers, actors and musicians from Run-D.M.C. to Ani diFranco.

Springsteen has twice recorded albums that have become part of the collective experience and memory of a generation. In 1984 Born in the USA, with the rousing chorus of the title track famously misunderstood by Ronald Reagan, became a national soundtrack to a moment. And in 2002 The Rising, drawing on Sufi devotional music and informed by conversations with families who had lost relatives to the attacks on the World Trade Centre, became the definitive popular attempt to make sense of 9/11. Springsteen has also recorded albums that were never designed for the charts but have an integrity and creative intensity that gives them a slow burning power that inspires people, and all kinds of new artistic work, year after year.

Nebraska, released in 1982 is a lyrically and sonically stark take on the underside of Regan's America. In 1995 The Ghost of Tom Joad, an exquisite album initially inspired by John Ford's classic cinematic interpretation of John Steinbeck's great novel, The Grapes of Wrath, marked a shift in the staging of Springsteen's characters from the streets of New Jersey to Southern California. The Marys gave way to Marias and the strategy for getting out changed from a fast car out of small town New Jersey to a slow walk across the desert and from Mexico into California.

Springsteen has become more politically committed as he has got older. His 2006 album, The Seeger Sessions, a rambunctious foot stomping jol of a collection of old folk songs that had been recorded by the communist folk singer Pete Seeger, was an important moment in that trajectory. Forging a direct connection to the popular radicalism of the folk tradition, often linked to the labour and communist movements, has enabled Springsteen to, like all the figures in the tradition stretching back to Whitman, develop a vision of America that is inclusive and directly committed to the struggles of ordinary women and men to win and hold a place in America. This willingness to contest the meaning of the American promise is critically important in a time when conservative elites are, in a manner that has collapsed into straight-up lunacy in the Republican Party, trying to tie patriotism into militarism, war, religious fundamentalism and the vicious scapegoating of blacks, gay people, migrants, single mothers and anyone else on to whom they can deflect popular anger.

But Springsteen's new album, Wrecking Ball, released on the 6th of March, marks a decisive shift in his public politics. It includes elements that have long marked his work - laments for stillborn dreams and lives that haven't been able to come to bloom as well as hymns to endurance and solidarity. But there are also striking differences with his earlier work. For one thing the musical pallet that he draws on in this album – which includes gospel, country, Irish jigs, hip-hop, drum loops and samples from Alan Lomax's recordings of American roots music - is broader than on any previous album. And this album, which is largely about men and work, is also a straightforward call to battle in the tradition of the radical popular culture of the 1930s. Springsteen has written martial calls to overcome before but they've taken the form of a call to personal escape or perseverance and community in difficult times. Here he issues a direct call to arms against a system where 'The gambling man rolls the dice/Working man pays the bills':

"Send the robber barons straight to hell,  The greedy thieves who came around
And ate the flesh of everything they found, Whose crimes have gone unpunished now"

In 'Jack of All Trades' he sings to keep up the faith of a man willing to do anything for a buck while 'The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin'. But there's also a new and more directly confrontational sentiment:

"So you use what you've got and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight"

Springsteen's work has been preoccupied with war since the drummer in his first band was sent to Vietnam and didn’t come back. He's often contrasted the prospects of returning veterans with the promise of America to implicitly raise the question of exactly who is fighting for what and for whom. In Youngstown, a lament to the world lost with the deindustrialisation of America on The Ghost of Tom Joad album, he had observed that 'Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do'. On Wrecking Ball this idea is fleshed out. He returns to his song My Hometown, another lament, this time off the Born in the USA album in which he sang that:

"They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back"

This time around, in Death to My Home Town, the lament has turned into an Irish rebel song, a war song backed by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine on guitar that declares that:

"No shells ripped the evening sky, no cities burning down
No army stormed the shores for which we'd die, no dictators were crowned
I awoke from a quiet night, I never heard a sound
The marauders raided in the dark and brought death to my hometown, boys
Death to my hometown
They destroyed our families, factories, and they took our homes
They left our bodies on the plains, the vultures picked our bones"

But while this album is a call to arms its militant will to confrontation, to ensure that 'the money changers in this temple will not stand', is also, in some respects, a symptom of regression. In Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen's sublime fourth album released in 1978, dreams and desires for a better life are posed against work. Factory, based on his father's experience of factory work, gives, in a little over two minutes, a searing critique of alienated labour:

"End of the day, factory whistle cries,
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.
And you just better believe, boy,
Somebody's gonna get hurt tonight,
It's the working, the working, just the working life."

Just over thirty years later Springsteen is singing that:

"Freedom, son, is a dirty shirt
The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt...
Pick up the rock, son, carry it on
What's a poor boy to do but keep singing his song"

He's not alone in this nostalgia for work as it used to be for people in union jobs before capital extracted itself from social obligation by stepping into a global arena while unions and elected representatives were left, at best, on a national stage. He used to lament exploitation and drudgery.

Now he sings a lament to the lives lost to the monster whose taste for flesh has no regard to skills or faith:

"We've been swallowed up
Disappeared from this world"

In the face of social abandonment exploitation often seems attractive and Springsteen's nostalgia is certainly not his alone. But this nostalgia is a mark of how much has been lost to the marauding alliance of politicians and capitalists that promised a brave new world for everyone and left devastation for the majority while they grew fabulously rich behind botox, designer labels, high walls and increasingly brutal police.

Springsteen supported the Obama campaign in 2008. He's indicated that he's unlikely to do the same this year and has made it clear that this album is both inspired by and for the Occupy movement. It's too early to say whether or not Wrecking Ball will become one of the Springsteen albums that marks a moment in time. But the first performance of some of the new songs at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem over the weekend was received with rapturous acclaim.

The bankers, who are still taking their bonuses but are starting to show some signs of panic – like paying universities to tell students that Ayn Rand is a philosopher and an important contributor to American literature, must be starting to get the sense that the tide is turning against the lie that we all have a stake in their wealth.

- Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. Originally published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS) under a Creative Commons License

Tuesday
Feb212012

G20 foreign ministers meet in Mexico; say `World is failing' (NEWS)

(PHOTO: Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano speaks during the opening of the G20 Foreign Ministers Informal Meeting in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur state, Mexico, 2.19/Xinhua, Shi Sisi)LOS CABOS, Mexico -- Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 (G20) on Sunday convened in Los Cabos, a resort town in northwestern Mexico, to discuss important issues including global governance, food safety, climate change and green growth.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, host of the meeting, said that frank and open dialogue would be held among G20 foreign ministers and officials from other invited countries at the two-day meeting from Sunday to Monday.

Mexico, which holds the G20 presidency this year, planned the meeting to "stimulate ideas" to promote the changes the world needs, said Espinosa.  "There are many important issues that affect the lives of billions of people across the world, on which the international community is failing to make any discernible progress," she said.

She called for progress to be made on issues such as eradicating famine and illiteracy, promoting green growth and sustainable development, and enhancing the rule of law.

The Mexican official, however, said the meeting, given its informal color, would not lead to any official documents.

"At this stage any results arising from these sessions will be mere recommendations for policy coherence among our countries and we do not intend to develop guidelines or formal documents to negotiate at the G20 Summit," she said.

According to the minister, the meeting have four major topics, namely the multilateral trade system, current global challenges, green growth and human development.

The meeting brought together 10 foreign ministers of G20 member economies, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. The Chinese delegation is led by Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu. Mexico also invited representatives from non-G20 economies and international organizations to participate in the meeting.

Los Cabos, the coastal resort where the G20 Summit will take place in June, has adopted strict measures to beef up security. More police and soldiers have been deployed at the airports and along the major roads to maintain order and check the vehicles.

--- this article first appeared on Cam11

Related:

Mexican Presidency of the G20

Mexico will chair the G20 in 2012 and host the Leaders’ Summit in June of the same year. By assuming the annual Presidency of the G20, as the second emerging country to do so at the Leaders’ level, and the first in Latin America, Mexico confirms its role as a responsible and constructive actor, both regionally and globally.

Mexico is firmly committed to achieving a successful Summit in regards to the agreements reached and their positive impact on the world economy. The Mexican Presidency will seek to follow up the agreements reached previously and will also work to make important contributions to these and other issues of the agenda of the G20. Moreover, Mexico will promote an active and engaged participation of non-members, international organizations, think tanks and the private sector in order to make the G20 dialogue as inclusive, open and transparent as possible.

With this goal in mind, Mexico has established the following priorities:

1. Economic stabilization and structural reforms as foundations for growth and employment.

2. Strengthening the financial system and fostering financial inclusion to promote economic growth.

3. Improving the international financial architecture in an interconnected world.

4. Enhancing food security and addressing commodity price volatility..

5. Promoting sustainable development, green growth and the fight against climate change.

Saturday
Aug202011

Employing the Poor: What Can South Africa Learn from India? (PERSPECTIVE)

A construction site near Cape Town. Job growth is slowing in most sectors in South Africa. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWSBy Saliem Fakir

(HN, August 20, 2011) One can take a cynical view of the world. In the absence of a fundamental restructuring of the economy, all we end up doing is tinkering with the art of state philanthropy both on the side of social safety nets and as far as job creation goes.

If the market is unresponsive to job creation due to its interest in rent seeking, then our government will have to continue doing what it has been doing for the last 10 years: escalate the level of public sector employment. This is more than the private sector is willing to commit to.

The public sector in South Africa is witnessing the largest growth in jobs relative to other sectors. According to the Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2011, the state, at all three tiers of government, employs about 1.9 million people or 14.1% of the working population. This is up from 1.7 million in 2008 or 12.6% of the working population.  

As job growth is slow in other sectors, it appears that the state is, by default, becoming the employer of last resort.

So serious is the situation that the state has had to, as of this year, create a special jobs fund to incentivise the private sector to employ more people who are mainly young black job seekers.

Whether it will work remains to be seen.

If South Africa is to go in the direction of the state being the employer of last resort and extend this beyond the professional class, we should be mindful of the lessons being learnt in India at present.

India has similar challenges to South Africa. It is also a country where a minority cashes in on economic growth while the majority trails behind barely making it from one day to the next. India’s problems are structural. Ownership and economic power is one-sided.

Close to 300 million people are excluded from the benefits derived from the country’s booming economic growth. 

Structural problems such land ownership, inequality, the inability of the poor to gain access to credit, wage disparities and barriers to entry into the job market still persist.

India’s problems are also exacerbated by its history of religious conflict, ethnic, caste and class divisions that reinforce the structural patterns, which continue to plague the country’s ability to create an economy that includes its poor in a meaningful way.

India has faced high growth but a slow down in employment growth.  For instance, at average growth rates of 6.7% in India in the 1990s, the rate of growth of employment was only 2.7%. Moreover, this still doesn’t tell us whether employment creation was permanent or not.

This gap between economic growth and the number of jobs created is an ongoing challenge for both India and South Africa, as it perpetuates the “growth with no jobs” scenario. Or to put it more starkly: growth accompanied by the destruction of jobs.

Where South Africa has used various grants and public works programmes and Brazil the Bolsa Familia, India has crafted a macro-intervention that is not too far off, yet somewhat different.

India came up with what is called an employment guarantee scheme or the employer of last resort. An explicit admission, at least, that capitalist industrial economies are unable to ensure total inclusivity into the mainstream economy.

Full employment schemes have been worked out before. One of the early pioneers was the economist John Pierson. In the 1940s, Pierson designed the US government’s employment of last resort scheme. Thus, India’s scheme was tailored using an old idea, but within an emerging economy context.

In 2005, India enacted the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The law guarantees 100 days of employment per year to a member of a household on a rural public works project. The scheme was initially targeted at 200 of India’s 600 districts, but was later expanded.

The cost to the Indian government was estimated to be about 1.3% of GDP. The wages set under the MGNREGA are according to the minimum wage standards of the country.

The main areas of target have been labour intensive work in environmental programmes like watershed management (similar to South Africa’s Working for Water programme), soil erosion prevention and similar initiatives.

India opted for the MGNREGA as it found that non-guaranteed public works wage schemes did not create a sustainable situation for individual or family oriented economic progress. Neither did it create greater inclusion into the mainstream economy. Its successes with regard to this were, at best, minimal.

Under India’s MGNREGA, the work secured on public works programmes is casual and manual. In rural areas, it is meant to fill a seasonal unemployment problem.

Work has to be provided within 15 days of a person requesting employment and it should be located within 5km of the distance from the project. If the work is beyond the 5km zone, the employee is given a travel and living allowance.

If no work is provided, the job seeker qualifies for an unemployment allowance, which is usually set at a third of the minimum wage.

The introduction of such a scheme has led to policy shifts in several areas. The first is creating the political demand for the right to work. Secondly, it forces state allocations to be made in the right place and with the correct audience because of legal obligation. Thirdly, the scheme allows some transition into the mainstream economy as those covered by it can borrow from banks or micro-finance institutions. Fourthly, the scheme expands household enterprises and builds assets. And finally, the right to work, in a sense, also forces more rapid deployment of funds and the building of infrastructure, which acts as a positive stimulus on the economy of rural areas.

This is the case because the state is in one way or another legally obligated to provide employment.

However, there are also challenges and problems that come with such macro-economic interventions, as India currently runs the largest programme in the world.

India’s employment guarantee scheme faces the same constraints as our proposed Basic Income Grant, which other centrally managed grant systems also face.

These programmes require good co-ordination and planning. Local demand from recipients has to be persistent and organized. And, local authorities have to be capable and properly governed.

Thirty years of prior experience in the State of Maharashtra has shown that while such schemes provide relief for the poor they have not led to fundamental shifts in the economy.

The level of poverty in the State of Maharashtra, compared to other states, remains persistent. Demand for unskilled wage work under the scheme has not subsided but rather increased, which further points to systemic problems within the economy.

The design of such a scheme has to answer two fundamental questions: Does it provide relief during difficult times or does it push people further behind the poverty line?

Given the complexities of implementing such a scheme without a fundamental restructuring of the economy, it is likely that such schemes will serve more as state welfare rather than a bridge into the mainstream economy.

One can tell a lot about whether a MGNREGA-like scheme will succeed by looking at what the poor are able to own in terms of land and other assets as well as the quality of educational and health services they have access to. In this respect, the MGNREGA and similar schemes are no silver bullet solution. 

Thus, in all this there is a crucial dilemma that cannot overlooked: this is the general problem of boxing poverty as a welfare issue, as well as the settling in of policy complacency and not doing enough to change the structure of the economy. If MGNREGA-like schemes are to succeed as transition tools, then economic restructuring must also happen simultaneously.

Fakir an independent writer based in Cape Town. This article is republished with permission from the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).

Tuesday
Mar082011

International Women's Day (Report) 

File photo (HN, March 8, 2011) -- Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, which was held by only a handful of  European countries in 1911 – where more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination.

Themes on politics, human rights, and gender equality continue to create social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide.

In the past century much progress has been made in gender equality – in 1911 only a few countries in the world allowed women to vote – New Zealand, South Australia (both self-governing British colonies) and the Grand Duchy of Finland - today that right is practically universal.

However, there are still many challenges for women and girls around the world. According to UN Women, the Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment for Women, almost two out of three illiterate adults are women, girls are still less likely to be in school than boys, and every 90 seconds of every day, a woman dies in pregnancy or do to childbirth-related complications.

Women, around the globe, continue to earn less than men for the same work. In addition and despite many high-profile advances, women still make up only 19 percent of legislatures, 8 percent of peace negotiators, and 28 women are heads of state or government.  

The International Labour Organization (IOL) Director General Juan Somavia has said that “achieving gender equality remains a major challenge for the labor movement in the world because securing sustainable and equitable recovery and a fair globalization demand gender-aware responses.” Somavia made the statement while reacting to ILO’s latest report which disclosed that both women and men continue to feel the impact of the economic crisis, with the global unemployment rate for men standing at 6 percent in 2010 and at 6.5 percent for women.

Afghan women demonstrate for equal rights, photo courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

In some countries IWD is designated as a national holiday - Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia

In Armenia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, IWD celebrations were abandoned. Instead, April 7 was introduced as a state holiday for “Beauty and Motherhood”. The new holiday immediately became popular among Armenians, as it commemorates one of the main holidays of the Armenian Church, the Annunciation.

To celebrate IWD, Italian men give yellow mimosas to women. Yellow mimosas and chocolates are also among the most common March 8 presents in Russia and Albania. The mimosa’s bright yellow is seen as a symbol of vitality, joy, wisdom and warmth.

In Pakistan, working women celebrate IWD to commemorate their ongoing struggle for due rights, despite facing many cultural and religious restrictions.

In poor developing countries, especially is where we most often see gender inequality and abuses facing women daily.

photo courtesy of listgalorNicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn expose major abuses of women in developing countries in their book Half the Sky. They tell stories of women being victimized by their government, by their communities, by relatives, strangers until there is no where left to turn. However, what is inspiring about this book is that women who survived became business owners, activists, community organizers teachers, teachers, surgeons, and mothers who could show their children an example of a strong, valuable woman who is making a living, participating in household decisions, and respected by her husband and community.

60 percent of the worlds one billion poorest people are female; women work two-thirds of working hours but earn only 10 percent of the income.

Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, a humanitarian organization working to end global poverty points out that “women and girls bear the brunt of poverty and it is clear that women are our greatest hope for ending it.”

Gayle goes on to say that “for every year of education that a woman can have, she is more likely to have good health, to give birth to a child who survives and to send that child to school.”

Many organizations, such as the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 women and Exxon Mobil’s Women’s Economic Opportunity and more believe that investing early in a girl’s life, before she becomes a woman, only amplifies the potential of what she can do in life and yields a greater return for everyone around her. 

- HUMNews Staff 

Friday
Feb252011

Adolescents Neglected and Vulnerable Group - UNICEF (Report)

(HN, February 25, 2011) - While the world has seen impressive gains for young children, there have been too few gains in areas critically affecting adolescents.'The State of the World's Children 2011,' which is dedicated to investing in the development of adolescents to help break the cycles of poverty and inequity

More than seventy million adolescents of lower secondary age are currently out of school, and on a global level girls still lag behind boys in secondary school participation.

The findings are contained in the State of the World's Children Report (SOWC) - the flagship publication of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) released today. There are currently 1.2-billion adolescents - which the UN defines as anyone 10-19 years old - in the world today, and most are in Africa.

The demographic group has become much more visible due to the "youth bulge" in most regions - especially the Middle East and North Africa. Many find that by the time they reach working age, there are no jobs or few opportunities for waiting for them.

In fact, the continent has the largest proportion of children, adolescents and young people in the world. Almost half its population is younger than 18 years and almost two-thirds are younger than 25 years.

In Nairobi, UNICEF's regional director for eastern and southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy, said: "As the gap between rich and poor, men and women, urban and rural keeps widening, and inequality generates a 'nothing to lose' generation, paying more attention to adolescents and young people is especially critical for the African nations. ."

The report argues that without education, adolescents cannot develop the knowledge and skills they need to navigate the risks of exploitation, abuse and violence that are at height during the second decade of life.

In Brazil for example, UNICEF says the lives of 26,000 children under one were saved between 1998 and 2008, leading to a sharp decrease in infant mortality. In the same decade 81,000 Brazilian adolescents aged 15-19 were murdered.

“We need to focus more attention now on reaching adolescents -- especially adolescent girls -- investing in education, health and other measures to engage them in the process of improving their own lives," said UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake.

The vast majority of today’s adolescents (88 per cent) live in developing countries. Many face a unique set of challenges. Although adolescents around the world are generally healthier today than in the past, many  health risks remain significant, including injuries, eating disorders, substance abuse and mental health issues; it is estimated that around 1 in every 5 adolescents suffers from a mental health or behavioural problem, according to the SOWC.

With 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country. An increasingly technological labour market requires skills that many young people do not possess. This not only results in a waste of young people’s talents, but also in a lost opportunity for the communities in which they live, UNICEF says. In many countries large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked. By investing in adolescent education and training, countries can reap a large and productive workforce, contributing significantly to the growth of national economies.

Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.

“Adolescence is a pivot point – an opportunity to consolidate the gains we have made in early childhood or risk seeing those gains wiped out,” said Lake.

The choice of adolescents for this year's SOWC is a departue from UNICEF's long-standing focus on child survival - child and maternal health. UNICEF argues impressive gains have been made in that phase of the life cycle. UNICEF says there has been a 33% drop in the global under-five mortality rate.

"This shows that many more young lives have been saved, in most of the world ‘s regions girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school, and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and critical medicines such as routine vaccinations."

Adolescents face numerous global challenges both today and in the future, UNICEF says, among them the current bout of economic turmoil, climate change and environmental degradation, explosive urbanization and migration, aging societies, the rising costs of healthcare, and escalating humanitarian crises.

To enable adolescents to effectively deal with these challenges, targeted investments in the following key areas are necessary:

  • Improving data collection to increase the understanding of adolescents’ situation and meet their rights;
  • Investing in education and training so that adolescents have the means to lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their national economies;
  • Expanding opportunities for youth to participate and voice their opinion, for example in national youth councils, youth forums, community service initiatives, online activism and other avenues which enable adolescents to make their voices heard.
  • Promoting laws, policies and programs that protect the rights of  adolescents and enable them to overcome barriers  to essential services;
  • Stepping up the fight again poverty and inequity through child sensitive programs to prevent adolescents from being prematurely catapulted into adulthood.

- HUMNEWS staff, UNICEF

Monday
Nov292010

Eliminating poverty in Latin America one house at a time (Report) 

(HN, November 29, 2010) -- Today in Haiti there are 800 new homes that have been built since the devastating earthquake 10 months ago. All over Latin America slums are being turned into functioning communities.

The group making this all happen is Un Techo Para Mi Pais (in English ‘A Roof for My Country’)

UTPMP working in Chile (photo: UTPMP) Founded in 1997 by a group of university students in Chile who were appalled by the country’s deplorable slum conditions and were compelled to take an active role in denouncing extreme poverty, Un Techo Para Mi Pais has grown and works in 18 countries today: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

UTPMP invites the society they work in to recognize the injustices of poverty and acknowledge its responsibility to address the lack of opportunities of the most marginalized families in Latin America and the Caribbean.

UTPMP headquartered in Chile coordinates the efforts of local offices, each of which shares basic goals and methods, while adapting the project to the particular challenges of poverty in each country working with local and regional government and community leaders.

The goal is economic empowerment. The “Trojan Horse” as director of UTPMP, Marisol Alarcon calls it, are the pre-fabricated modular homes that are each built in 2 days by 8-10 volunteers.

The modular homes, which are 18m2 (3m x 6m), with wood floors and sides and a zinc roof, are a way into the slums and provide a concrete solution that allows a family to benefit from a dignified and protected living space, which also generates a sense of property and motivation for saving money. UTPMP works with other organizations, different in each country, for clean wanter and proper sanitation in the homes or in the area. Additionally, the construction process builds bonds of trust between families and volunteers. Families participate in the construction of their own homes 100 percent.

UTPMP volunteers in Brazil (photo UTPMP) Volunteers, most of which are university students are from within the country that UTPMP works in. Marisol says “the idea is that the volunteers be from the country where the poverty is around them so that they want to continue to work with these communities – we are not interested in social tourism we are interested in eliminating poverty from within the countries we work in where the people who live in the country have an invested interest in seeing the change they bring about”.

In order to do this the homes are but the first phase leading to the second which is social inclusion through the implementation of training programs led by volunteers in areas such as education, healthcare, economic development, microfinance vocational training legal aid and others. Through this settlers begin to believe in themselves and in the strength of community organization allowing them to overcome their learned helplessness and participate in formal networks and democratic space.

The final phase is for UTPMP to help families, living in slums to develop their own sustainable community, with bonds between neighbors and links to external  networks. The community then works to prioritize needs, elect representatives, and brainstorm to find solutions they need to have for their own needs.

The current construction in Haiti is the first time UTPMP has ever worked in an emergency response environment.

UTPMP in the Dominican Republic (photo: UTPMP) The biggest challenge for UTPMP, when first arriving in Haiti, was getting enough volunteers. It is very difficult to ask people to help build a house for someone else when most don’t have a home themselves says Marisol Alarcon. She adds, “Haitians are used to not having a government work for them and are used to poverty even before the earthquake so getting them to volunteer to help others was a challenge.”

At the beginning, most of the volunteers came from the Dominican Republic and surrounding Central American countries to build homes in Haiti. Recently however, more volunteers are Haitian and they are seeing the difference they are making in their own country helping their neighbors and building a community.

In remembrance of the earthquake one year ago, UTPMP will build 1000 homes from January 7-17. “We will do this with 1000 Haitians and 700 other volunteers from countries all over Latin America and the Caribbean”, Marisol says.

The funding for the homes in Haiti and for all of the 18 countries UTPMP works in are financed from partnerships with businesses, international nonprofit foundations, and individuals. Some of their most important partners are the Inter-American Development Bank/Multilateral Investment Fund, Deloitte, Banco Santander, LAN Airlines, Chevron, Arauco, Dakar, and Young & Rubicam.

-          HUMNEWS Staff

Wednesday
Nov032010

(PEACEMEAL) `Tackling World Hunger Can Be Confusing. Addressing the Problem with Small Bites Might Make it More Manageable’

--- Commentary by Cynthia Thomet

You may not have heard about an individual named David Beckmann, president of the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Bread for the World, whose focus is to urge decision makers to “end hunger at home and abroad.” I hadn’t, until he was awarded the World Food Prize at the 2010 Laureate Award Ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa.

As a 501(c)4 organization, Bread for the World is a little different from other nonprofits, because of its ability to devote its time, resources and energy not only to educating decision makers about ending hunger, but also to advocating specific policy change, or directly lobbying policy makers on this issue. Beckmann recently published a book called, Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger.

In one commentary I wrote for PeaceMeal, entitled “Billions Undernourished” was on the eve of World Food Day, and I learned a lot about what world hunger means in a nutshell: nearly one billion people in the world suffer from chronic hunger. The 1 Billion Hungry awareness campaign by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations called upon us to tap into our anger over this piece of information and do something to change this sad reality.

One billion people is alot of people.

  

Rick Steves, a well-known travel guide writer and public television travel host, wrote in an inspired blog post about his recent trip—not to Europe, but to the World Food Prize ceremonies: “With all my travel experience, I've gained empathy for the struggles of people in developing nations, but my concern used to be confused and directionless.”

Indeed, humanitarians and world leaders are challenged with suggesting solutions and introducing policy to balance the forces that have wreaked havoc on the earth—from the natural disasters that have emerged as a result of climate change to the laws of capitalism that are still beholden to the cold realities of supply and demand, and the sometimes colder political motivations that tamper with the international trade economy’s so-called “invisible hand”.

Earlier this week, a headline in The Guardian announced, “Scramble to meet shortfall in food aid: Tens of thousands in Swaziland to miss out on food aid as lack of donor funding forces the WFP to cut assistance.”  

Tens of thousands. That’s a lot of people, too.

The article elaborates on some of the elements that complicate delivering food aid in Swaziland:

In one anecdote from Steves’ blog post, he describes a discussion panel about keeping young people interested in farming. When asked about this, Afghanistan’s minister of agriculture, Mohammad Asif Rahimi said, “Remember, in your society one percent of the people are farmers. In Afghanistan, 80 percent of our people are farmers. Encouraging young people to farm is not an issue for us.”

Still, the Guardian spoke with Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development who would like to see countries investing in agriculture, making the sector “more attractive to youth and less dependent on rainfall for irrigation.”

It appears that the causes of, and approaches to, addressing world hunger are as numerous as its victims. An approach that would seem reasonable in Afghanistan and Swaziland might seem ludicrous in the United States, or vice versa. But this should not stop you from taking at least one step towards doing good.

Campaigns such as “1 Billion Hungry” have the potential to raise eyebrows, but they also have the potential to overpower and devastate action with crushingly huge numbers that reduce the individual to feelings of helplessness—or directionlessness. As we approach the end of the year, please do not allow your concern to feel directionless. Hopefully, a growing awareness of our global interconnectedness can help us feel obligated to move into a future where undernourishment is just a scientific definition, not a human reality. 

--- The author is Cynthia Thomet, a humanitarian, and co owner and doyenne of the award winning downtown Atlanta, Georgia; US restaurant, Lunacy Black Market.

Tuesday
Oct262010

(Report) Tackling hunger in Nicaragua 

(photo: UN News) (HN, October 26, 2010) -- In an effort to check rising rural poverty and hunger in Nicaragua, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping the country’s government to support small-scale farmers boost their production of beans, maize, rice and other staple crops.

The agency said that there are 52.5 million hungry people in Latin America, citing high food prices and the global recession as among the main reasons for the region’s increasing food insecurity.

Although Nicaragua has made strides in the fight against hunger and poverty, it is still the second poorest country in the region after Haiti. In 2009 the GDP fell by almost 3% due to decreased export demand in the US and Central American markets, lower commodity prices for key agricultural exports, and lower remittance growth – remittances are equivalent to almost 15% of GDP.

In Nicaragua, poverty is a rural phenomenon, with two out of three people in the country-side living on less than $1 a day.

FAO is working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the European Union (EU) to help farmers’ associations increase their yields through a two-year, €3 million scheme which will, among other activities, focus on the delivery of high-quality seeds as well as the provision of technical support and marketing assistance  

During the planting season which lasted from May to June, nearly 5,000 hectares of land were planted with improved bean, maize and rice seeds provided by FAO to more than 4,000 farmers.

No results are available yet, but looking back on the harvest of late last year, Leonard Fagot, the agency’s project coordinator, said he is optimistic.  At the time, FAO assistance led to productivity increases of up to three times the national average in the central area of Jinotega.

Drought and pests hit the department of Nueva Guinea in south-eastern Nicaragua, and yields remained slightly under average. Nevertheless, Fagot is looking forward to the upcoming season. Many farmers will come and work with us again.

Related economic information

The US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has been in effect since April 2006 and has expanded export opportunities for many agricultural and manufactured goods. Textiles and apparel account for nearly 60% of Nicaragua's exports, but increases in the minimum wage during the ORTEGA administration will likely erode its comparative advantage in this industry. Nicaragua relies on international economic assistance to meet internal- and external-debt financing obligations. Foreign donors have curtailed this funding, however, in response to November 2008 electoral fraud. In early 2004, Nicaragua secured some $4.5 billion in foreign debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and in October 2007, the IMF approved a new poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) program.

- HUMNews Staff (sources: UN, FAO, IMF)

Monday
Oct182010

Starved for Attention - India: Invisible 

One in every three malnourished children in the world are in India. In this documentary focusing on the state of Bihar, India Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and VII Photographer Stephanie Sinclair bring to our attention the magnitude of malnutrition in the world and the challenges of addressing the problem of malnutrition in a place like India where the problem is so large and more often than not goes unnoticed.

The “Starved for Attention” series produced by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and VII Photography captures frontline stories of malnutrition from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Mexico, and the United States.

Wednesday
Oct132010

(REPORT) The Origins of World Food Day

(Photo credit: Franco Pagetti/VII) Democratic Republic of Congo, 2009 (HN, October 13, 2010) -- October 16th has been declared World Food Day which is observed in remembrance of the launching of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1945.

In November 1979, the FAO’s member countries launched World Food Day (WFD) at its  20th General Conference. The Hungarian Delegation, headed by the former Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and Food, Dr. Pal Romany had suggested the idea of celebrating the WFD across the world and ever since, this day has been observed every year in more than 150 countries, highlighting awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger.

The Objectives of World Food Day are to:

  • Encourage the increase of agricultural food production and to stimulate national, bilateral, transnational and non-governmental initiatives to this end.
  • Catapult economic and technical coordination among developing nations.
  • Enhance and nurture the participation of rural people, particularly women and the under privileged, in decisions and events impacting their living conditions.
  • Expand public awareness of the issue of hunger in the world and who and how many people it affects worldwide.
  • Advocate the furtherance of agriculture technologies to the developing world.
  • Revitalize international and national collaboration in the combat against hunger, malnutrition and poverty; and support positive attention to accomplishments in food and agricultural development.

The Actual Worldwide Hunger Scenario Today:

According to the 2010 Global Hunger Index (GHI), out this past Monday on October 11th, malnutrition among children under two years of age is still one of the leading challenges to reducing global hunger and can cause lifelong harm to health, productivity and earning potential.

-       Malnutrition is the result of an inadequate intake of food, either in terms of quality or quantity and of the poor utilization of nutrients due to infections or other illnesses, or a combination of these two factors.

-       The state of malnutrition causes a lack of energy, protein and/or essential vitamins and minerals in human bodies.

GHI gives developing countries scores based on three indicators:

-       the proportion of people who are undernourished;

-       the proportion of children under five who are underweight; and,

-       the child mortality rate of a country.

The worst possible score is 100, but in practice, anything over 25 is considered “alarming”.

Since 1990 the overall level of the index has fallen by almost a quarter - two-thirds of the 99 countries counted in 1990 have reduced their populations' hunger levels.  Kuwait, Malaysia, Turkey and Mexico have been the most successful, cutting their scores by over 60%. Those where hunger has increased include North Korea, Comoros and Congo. Congo's GHI score fell by over 60%, the worst of any country.  Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia continue to suffer from the highest levels of hunger.

A New Committee on World Food Security Begins Now:  

A five-day high-level intergovernmental meeting of the newly re-formed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) began on Monday in Rome. The meeting takes place against a background of recent increases in international food prices which pose additional challenges to global food security including production, distribution and availability of safe, quality food stocks. 

“This week marks the launch of a strategically coordinated global effort to draw on the combined strengths of all stakeholders engaged in the fight against global hunger,” said World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. “With recent volatility in commodity prices and increased global demand for food this comes not a moment too soon. The reformed CFS has an opportunity and a responsibility to rally nations of the world to respond effectively, efficiently and coherently to provide vital humanitarian assistance when disasters strike and build long-term food security.”

The “Starved for Attention” Campaign:

In June of this year Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and VII Photography co-produced and presented “Starved for Attention,” a multimedia campaign exposing the neglected and largely invisible crisis of childhood malnutrition. “Starved for Attention” aims to rewrite the story of malnutrition through a series of multimedia documentaries that seamlessly blend photography and video from some of the most accomplished and award-winning photojournalists working today. “Starved for Attention” captures frontline stories of malnutrition from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, India, Mexico, and the United States.

Beginning today HUMNews will focus on a variety of global food issues and will feature a different “Starved for Attention” film each day for the next seven days.  

You can show your support for the millions of malnourished children around the world and demand that food aid meets the nutritional needs of young children by signing the “Starved for Attention” petition, here.

- Written by HUMNEWS Staff

Thursday
Jul082010

While Prosperous South Africa Cheers, Impoverished Lesotho – Next Door - Weeps

(HN, July 8, 2010) - Bole Makeka stands by her souvenir stand near Maseru’s newly-renovated stadium and waits - and waits and waits and waits. There are few customers in sight to purchase any of her t-shirts with World Cup team logos.

Asked how sales are going, Bole, who is hopelessly poor and uses an abandoned van to prop up her wares, shrugs her shoulders and displays empty hands.

One of the least-developed nations in the world, the land-locked kingdom of Lesotho is entirely surrounded by World Cup host country South Africa. In the run-up to the month-long, world's biggest sporting event, Bole and her countrymen had high hopes they would be beneficiaries of the millions of tourist and investment dollars flowing into Southern Africa. Bole Makeka, one of the thousands of people in Lesotho complaining of a lack of World Cup business. (HN, 2010)

Government officials here hoped that minor infrastructure upgrades - coupled with the country's natural beauty, proximity to the host nation and low costs - would lure soccer teams and tourists alike. There were also attempts to position Lesotho - which brands itself as the highest nation in the world - as an ideal place for athletes looking for high altitude training venues since no part of the nation exists below 1,500m.  

"There was a belief in Lesotho that thousands of visitors would come during the World Cup," said David Hall, an analyst who also manages a hilltop lodge in Morija, 45 km south of Maseru. “But we have only had a trickle.”

Lesotho's capital, Maseru, is just over an hour’s drive from Bloemfontein - one of the eight South African cities chosen to host World Cup matches.  One joke going around is that you can hear the vuvuzelas as far away as Maseru whenever a match is being played in Bloemfontein.

"Prior to the start of the World Cup we actually had very high hopes that Lesotho would benefit. But very unfortunately we have seen the opposite of that.  As people came from overseas we believed that is where the money would come from,” said Norman, a college professor in Maseru.  “But unfortunately we have not seen as many of them as we had expected."

Several sources in Lesotho interviewed by HUMNEWS said that instead of benefitting from the World Cup frenzy, Lesotho has actually been badly sidelined, even economically damaged.

The biggest complaint is that tens of thousands of people have had their cross-border travel privileges revoked due to a last-minute South African ruling in June mandating tighter border screening.
 

What that means in practical terms is that Lesotho citizens heading to their wealthier neighbour are unable to use the temporary document that normally gives them nearly unfettered access to South Africa. Travellers with Lesotho passports can still cross, but most people here don't carry a passport and applying for one means a lengthy wait - not to mention a hefty price tag.A concealed camera shows people lining up to cross the Lesotho-South Africa border. (HN, 2010)

Norman, the professor, said he believes the tightened border restrictions means that fewer South Africans are coming into Lesotho and that means tourists too. 

With about half of the people here living below the poverty line and with one of every two adults unemployed, the temptation to head to South Africa for better paying jobs is high. After customs revenues from South Africa, remittances from Lesotho nationals working in South African mines and other businesses is an important contributor to the nations’ coffers.

One Johannesburg-based book writer told HUMNEWS that his housekeeper - a Lesotho national - is stuck in Maseru for the entire duration of the World Cup because she had the misfortune of visiting home just as the new rules were introduced.

And getting a passport on a moment's notice is almost impossible. There is said to be a backlog of 250,000 passport applications at the Lesotho issuing office, which is only capable of processing just 6,000 passports a day.

One local businessman said the South African government's decision to tighten border controls was made in response to pressure from FIFA - which reportedly feared undesirables and soccer hooligans flying directly into Lesotho and then crossing unscreened into nearby South Africa.

However when asked by HUMNEWS whether this was the case, South Africa’s Trade Minister, Rob Davies, said the host nation had actually made it easier for southern Africans to visit. He added that neighbouring countries also have a responsibility to take advantage of opportunities created by the World Cup on their own. 

Mope, a sales representative at one of the major mobile phone operators, said that Lesotho is also losing out from its own citizens - those who can travel - going to Bloemfontein to catch some of the World Cup fever.  "They should be spending money here at home but instead they are going to South Africa and opening their wallets there." she said.

One of the poorest countries in southern Africa, Lesotho can least afford to take a financial hit from the Games. The country of 1.8-million has one of the highest HIV infections rates in the world - almost one of every three adults carries the virus - and one of the lowest life expectancy rates. Moreover it suffers enormously from a brain drain problem.

Ironically, the games have long-since been promoted by FIFA and South African Government officials as "Africa's Games." The 2010 games mark the first time the competition has been held on African soil and the so-far successful hosting has sparked new talk of Africa making a bid for the Olympics. 

Indeed, South African officials can hardly contain their exuberance when asked about what the Games will do for their nation. South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said recently the World Cup will add 0.4 percent (R38bn) to GDP this year.

But asked whether he thought the Games were truly African, the book writer replied in one word: "bullshit” - adding that, even in the host nation, there are tens of thousands of people who will not benefit, perhaps even lose money.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson said many street sellers in South African host cities have been moved from their customary spots to make room for the Games - and to satisfy stringent FIFA marketing rules. 

So harsh was the treatment of street vendors that Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has publicly urged Brazil and other countries hosting major sporting events to take away lessons learned from the 2010 World Cup and ensure better treatment of vulnerable small businesspeople.

Most people in the service industry interviewed by HUMNEWS in Johannesburg and Cape Town said they could not attend any matches - due to long working hours, the difficulty in actually obtaining tickets and the high ticket prices.

--Reporting by HUMNEWS' Michael Bociurkiw in Maseru, Lesotho.

Thursday
Jun172010

`Soweto’s Children Find Play, Protection - and Food - Amid World Cup Uncertainty’

(HN, June 17, 2010) - The winter sun is blazing outside as about 20 children draw, play and chat inside a huge white tent in the middle of Johannesburg’s sprawling Soweto Township.A young boy at the Safe Play Area in Soweto shows off his drawing

The set-up is one of several so-called `Safe Play Areas’ supported by UNICEF and other organizations to keep vulnerable children protected from those who prey on young victims. They are situated in remote, fenced off areas of the public fan parks for the month-long World Cup here in South Africa. 

Visiting the historic township yesterday was highly symbolic as it coincided with International Day of the African Child - a public holiday to mark the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising, when mass protests were sparked over a government decision to enforce education for Afrikaans.

But yesterday a festive atmosphere could be seen everywhere in Soweto’s public fan park. Children blew the iconic vuvuzelas in unison, while gigantic loudspeakers and videos screens relayed key moments from a match the previous evening.

The `Safe Play Areas’ have also served an unintended purpose: to keep children fed during the four-and-a-half weeks that they are out of school. Because schools are closed nationwide for the World Cup, many students are missing out on the daily crucial hot meals that are routinely provided at many educational institutions.

The `Safe Play Area’ in Soweto provides one hot meal to the several dozen children - who average about eight to nine years old - dropping in each day, said Carol Bews, Assistant Director of Johannesburg Child Welfare, which has received funding from UNICEF to run several areas at public fan parks where thousands gather to watch World Cup matches on giant, outdoor screens. “With the schools being closed for four and a half weeks children are going to go hungry during this time.”

At the public fan park in Soweto, there is enough capacity for up to 30,000 visitors and officials worry that in other locations, children can end up separated from their parents and are easy prey for traffickers and others. Those wanting to enter the `Safe Play Area’ are provided with blue wrist bands, with their name and parent’s phone number scribbled on.

 “We need to ensure that children are safe. There is a potential for children getting lost, abused or neglected,” says Bews. She added that amid the festivities of the World Cup, some parents may have had too much to drink and are unable to provide proper supervision of their children.

One group of siblings that dropped in yesterday – a child aged eight and two other’s two six years old - said they only had one living parent.  As in other parts of Africa, HIV/AIDS is a common factor in the premature death of parents, leaving many children orphaned or with just one parent.

The children who visit the `Safe Play Area’ do more than play. Bews said they are offered awareness sessions on such topics as “stranger danger” - to help better equip them for dealing with potential predators - such as child traffickers.

In a place like Soweto - where poverty levels are high - there are many families headed by only one parent. Says Bews: “That means children have to become almost adult-like at a very young age. We see young children looking after younger siblings....children who are way too young to take on that responsibility.”

Bews said grave cases where children require special child protection services are referred to entities that have specialized skills and programs. Many of the child protection services in South Africa are provided by non-governmental organizations such as the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society.  

It only takes a short time in South Africa to realize how soccer flows through the veins of almost everybody here - both young and small.

In a place like Soweto - densely populated, containing about one-third of Johannesburg’s population and with high unemployment of up to 50% - soccer provides a glimmer of hope unlike anything else. Many of the drawings created by children the day we visited - on the evening of the crucial match between South Africa and Uruguay - anticipated the competition and included the South African flag with pride.

Bews said that because soccer does not require special shoes or equipment, the game is accessible to anyone. She recalled seeing two groups of children at a squatter’s settlement in downtown Johannesburg play with makeshift soccer balls that were made of metal bottle tops and plastic Coke bottles.

“We have seen that children can really lose themselves in soccer. They become children again, which is really important. And they’ll play with anything at hand,” said Bews.  “They learn how to deal with life through soccer. They learn how to deal with conflict, how to be a team player, how to win, how to lose. And it’s something that equips them for life.”

Of course the Soweto `Safe Play Area’ has its own fenced-in soccer pitch just to add to World Cup excitement.

--- Reporting/photo by HUMNEWS staff in Johannesburg, SA

Friday
Apr232010

Dominican Republic Field Notes: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – as seen through the eyes of a young American”  

- By Nick Popow

(Map courtesy Lonely Planet)

(HN, April 23, 2010) -- Arriving from the new world to the old - in my case from New York to Santo Domingo - is always a jarring experience.  It was March, and I stepped out of the plane, and into the sweltering Dominican heat I was surprised to see a lavishly decorated, modern airport, with every wall covered with beautiful photographs and artwork, almost like a museum. This was not what I expected after reading about the country’s rampant poverty. It’s as if the excess luxury of the airport was a facade, an attempt to compensate for the poverty of the rest of the country.    Las Américas International Airport, Punta Caucedo, Dominican Republic (courtesy, FLICKR)

Santo Domingo is a historic city steeped in 500 years of rich Caribbean culture, originally founded by Christopher Columbus’ brother Bartholomew in 1496.  Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city was even named the 2010 Cultural Capital by the American Capital of Culture.  

But you don’t have to travel far from the gleaming airport to witness the widespread poverty. According to recent official data, more than a third of the country’s population lives in poverty and almost 20% live in extreme poverty.  In rural areas, poor people constitute over half of the population.

Near Caso de Campo, Dominican Republic

My trip to this Caribbean nation with other students was to help the less fortunate and upon arrival we crowded into a few buses and set out for our hotel.  As we traveled through the barren countryside, the heart of the country unraveled before my eyes. We passed through a fishing village, consisting of scanty huts and dirty shamefaced children, who wandered slowly, aimlessly. On the way to renowned luxury resort area of Case de Campo, we traveled through the dirty, crowded streets of a city littered with trash and filth.  

Not all that has gone wrong in this country is visible to the naked eye. The U.S. government has consistently documented reports of discrimination and abuse of Haitians living here.  With no effective government protection against such treatment, Dominican’s of Haitian origin have become the poorest of the poor.  My class and I had the opportunity to meet with some of these fragmented families while visiting schools and hospitals along the Dominican coast and one mother I met in a children’s hospital explained how her twelve-year-old son had been beaten to a pulp in his school playground - simply for being darker than his peers.  Another Haitian girl I met while visiting a private Dominican high school lamented about discrimination, and the fact that she was the only girl in her grade that hadn’t been asked to a school dance.

But amidst the poverty I was astonished to find hope and joy, especially among the children.  In one small fishing village we visited I met an orphan, Manuel who I won’t soon forget. 

Author Nick Popow, with Manuel in the Dominican Republic

About 8 or 9 years of age (he couldn’t be certain), Manuel had a perpetual gleaming grin, which never left his face, as he foraged through the scraps and junk behind his house, searching for a new toy to play with.  Finally he found it – a half-chewed and rotting corn-on-the-cob, and a couple pieces of wire.  Manuel stuck the pieces of wire into the corn to form arms and legs and wrapped a dirty cloth around the top to make a bandana.  When he completed the doll he shouted with excitement and proceeded to run around in circles while holding it aloft.  Although this boy and many of his peers had barely any material possessions or opportunities they appeared to me to be much happier than my American peers who have virtually everything they could want.

In the midst of the apparent misery of their surroundings, these children possessed a kind of happiness and humility that is rarely found in America.  As I stared into Manuel beaming brown eyes, I began to reflect on what true happiness really meant.

--Nick Popow is an 18 year old student at Timothy Christian School in Piscataway, NJ, who will be attending Rutgers University in the Fall.  He has hopes to study journalism in college and wants to keep travelling the world!