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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 UNESCO (8)

Monday
Sep242012

“A Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future”: A United Nations Initiative  (REPORT)

(Illustration: Sarah Nguyen) (HN, 9/24/12) - On the International Day of Peace on September 21, United Nations officials, experts and a movie star gathered at UN headquarters in New York City to propose pathways to lasting peace and tolerance, particularly in the wake of violence triggered by a critical video portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.  

Two afternoon panels, called a “high-level” debate on “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future,” were hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  

UNESCO Director-General and conference moderator Irina Bokova called for renewed commitment by all to respect, tolerance and mutual understanding. The UN agency has announced an International Decade of the Rapprochement of Cultures for 2013-2023.

In denouncing current incidences of bloodshed and unrest as “deplorable and unjustifiable,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the full-capacity room that We cannot let the voices of extremists dominate the debate and inflame tensions. We need voices of moderation and solidarity, reason and respect – especially from religious and political leaders.”

“We must be relentless in standing for our values – peace, human rights and respect for all people,” he said.

The role of young people was emphasized. Earlier in the day at a youth assembly, the Secretary General Ban implored youth to “de-friend” -- borrowing a term from Facebook -- intolerance, and instead to use the hashtag “Represent Yourself” to tweet a message of peace and global understanding. 

(PHOTO: IAAP UN representative Judy Kuriansky with former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández/HUMNEWS)Former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández recommended that youth around the world participate in filmmaking, theatre, performing arts, sports, radio and television programs, oriented towards peace, non-violence and cultural diversity.

“How do you capture the mind of a 10-year old” about peace?” asked scholar and philanthropist Nasser David Khalili, Founder of the Khalili Collections of art and Chairman of the Maimonides Foundation which promotes peace and understanding among the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  An exercise he uses to teach tolerance asks groups to examine the skins of lemons, which are then placed back into a basket and mixed up. When asked to identify their own and unable to do so, the lesson becomes obvious that lemons, like human beings, are the same. 

The media came under critical eye.  While the UN Secretary General cited the importance of social media to promote dialogue and better communication, Fernández challenged new media to become either a "Brightnet.com" or "Darknet.com"

He described the choice as either serving hatred and insult to human dignity and cherished religious beliefs, as reflected in the recent circulation of the video about the Prophet Mohammed, or to become “the ideal catalyst for peace, knowledge, understanding, solidarity and pluralism in a new world order characterized for being borderless, wireless and interconnected.”

To accomplish this, Fernández recommended a new international legal approach to the use of cyberspace and global digital media, to “prohibit and punish blasphemy as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence toward something considered sacred.” The new laws would be binding on UN member states.

That communication is key was underscored by Arjun Apparadurai, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University.  Communication is even more important, he said, than information, which is subject to mis-information.  To be effective, communication must take into account the stark contrast between violence that spreads rapidly and virally, and peace that spreads slowly and gradually.

(PHOTO: Pictured from left to right former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UN General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic/Dr. Judy Kuriansky)Several presenters cited the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, which declares that "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." The phrase is also engraved in 10 languages on the Tolerance Square Wall at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.

Humorously noting gender bias in this phrase, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Lakshmi Puri made an impassioned appeal to recognize the role of women and girls as agents of sustainable peace in the context of the three pillars of the UN: social development; peace and security; and human rights. 

Pointing out women’s capacity for love and talent for consensus-building, her recommendations included that women and girls be involved in peace negotiations, included in political participation, and afforded economic empowerment. Condemning all violence against women and girls, she pointed out that peace is not an absence of violence but zero tolerance of violence.

“Gender justice is a means and an end to sustainable peace,” Puri said.   

Poverty was identified by several panelists as a major cause of violence. “Poverty and hunger make men fight,” explained Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  Other causes of violence he cited include dictatorships; resources, whether available or lacking, and “rivalry of great powers.”

The newly elected President of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Vuk Jeremić of Serbia, eloquently described personal distress over the destruction by the Taliban of the Buddha statues, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and symbol of peace.  Condemning such violence as “ignorance at the root of intolerance,” he called for the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means and a “new type of humanism,” emphasizing the vital importance of education and culture as building blocks for peace as “the fabric of daily life.”

(PHOTO: IAAP UN representative Dr. Judy Kuriansky with Forest Whitaker, actor & UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador/HUMNEWS)The role of religion was examined by Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate for Literature in 1986 and member of the UNESCO High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among Cultures. Noting dramatically that “religion has been used as an enemy of humanity – in fact as a crime,” he called for a stop to such “infantile efforts” to sabotage rational discourse.

Darkhan Myngbay, Minister of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan, affirmed his country’s support of UNESCO initiative for peace and non-violence. 

Academy-award winning actor Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, described his moving experience as an African American first visiting Africa.

“Being in Africa gave me a deep understanding of all humanity,” he said. “The connection amongst us all as crucial…We must always see the face of ourselves in others.”  Healing comes from feeling peace within ourselves, he said.

Whitaker, who won an Academy Award for his 2006 portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film, The Last King of Scotland, launched a new humanitarian project in Uganda, as well as in South Sudan, through his new Peace Earth Foundation that focuses on peace-building and community empowerment in areas of conflict. 

While he has appeared inn war-themed films, Oliver Stone's film Platoon and Good Morning Vietnam, the acclaimed actor emphasized his commitment to peace, evidenced in the International Institute for Peace which he co-founded.  The Institute at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, now under the auspices of UNESCO, develops programs and partnerships about issues such as poverty reduction, community-building, climate change, and the important role of women and spiritual and religious leaders in peace-building. Whitaker’s commitment to combat youth violence was inspired by growing up in dangerous South Central, Los Angeles.

Solutions to violence posed by the panelists highlighted education.  Other solutions, offered by Sachs, included the elimination of poverty and hunger, investing in development rather than the military, and term limits of leaders.

Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, when a world war was averted, Sachs quoted U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s remarks about peace, that "So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.”

In the Q and A session, a 12-year boy from Lexington Massachusetts, attending the session with his mother, asked “What can I do to change the world?”  Ms. Bokova’s answer punctuated the day’s events, as she advised, “Believe it and you can do it.”

--- Dr. Judy Kuriansky is the Main United Nations NGO Representative for the International Association of Applied Psychology and a member of HUM's Board of AdvisorsA licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Teachers College,she is world renowned as a humanitarian who has led workshops on peace, trauma recovery, crisis counseling and on her unique East/West intervention programs around the world, from Argentina to India, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Israel, the UAE, and Iran. She has worked in disaster relief and psychological first aid at Ground Zero after 9/11, after SARS in China, bombings in Jerusalem, earthquakes in Australia and Haiti, the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the tsunami/earthquake in Japan, information about which is on www.DrJudy.com. An award-winning journalist and accomplished author, she is a tireless advocate for media which sheds light.

Wednesday
Feb162011

Pakistan Deadliest Country for Journalists in 2010 - CPJ (Report)

(HN, February 16, 2011) -- Amid a rash of suicide attacks, Pakistan became the world’s deadliest country for the press in 2010. Journalists covering street protests are increasingly becoming targets. Credit: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

According to the annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Attacks on the Press 2010, at least eight journalists killed in connection with their work in Pakistan last year - constituting a significant portion of the worldwide death toll of 44.

The CPJ says Iraq, Mexico, Honduras, and Indonesia also ranked high for journalism-related fatalities. And for the first time, broadcast journalists accounted for the highest proportion of fatalities, overtaking their colleagues in print.

The worldwide toll reflected a notable drop from 2009, when a massacre in the Philippine province of Maguindanao drove the number of work-related deaths to a record 72. The CPJ is investigating 31 other deaths in 2010 to determine whether they were work-related.

Not surprisingly, Internet-based journalists constitute an increasing portion of CPJ’s death toll. At least six journalists who worked primarily online were killed in 2010, a CPJ analysis found.

Murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths in 2010, as it has been in past years. But murders composed about 60 percent of deaths in 2010, lower than the rate of 72 percent seen over the past two decades, the CPJ found.

Deaths in combat-related crossfire and in dangerous assignments such as street protests constituted a larger portion of the 2010 toll than usual, says the CPJ.

(With the ongoing unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, street protests are likely to account for a higher proportion of deaths and injuries among journalists in 2011. Earlier this month, Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mahmoud, 36, of Al-Taawun newspaper died of his wounds, inflicted from gunfire while taking photographs of protests from his balcony. And only yesterday, the media community was shaken when CBS News reported that one of its star correspondents - Lara Logan of 60 Minutes - was beaten and sexually assaulted while covering protests in Cairo recently. Several other Egyptian and foreign journalists have been injured, detained and harassed in the past weeks of unrest in Egypt).

One of the most dangerous professions in the world

Suicide bombings and crossfire in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, and Somalia accounted for the unusually high proportion, the CPJ report says.

The only journalist to die in prison in 2010 was Cameroonian editor Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota - who was jailed after he and other journalists asked a presidential aide about alleged misuse of state oil company funds. Cameroon will hold Presidential elections later this year in a race which is expected to be turbulent.

"There's a price to pay for speaking out," Al Jazeera anchor Riz Khan says in the forward to the report.

The CPJ reports that at least five journalists were reported missing during the year, three in Mexico and one apiece in Sri Lanka and Ukraine.

In the report, the CPJ also took aim at international institutions for failing to defend press freedom. It chides UNESCO for wanting to present a prize honoring one of Africa’s most notorious press freedom abusers - President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. It also cited the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for awarding Kazakhstan, one of the region’s worst press freedom violators, chairmanship of the organization.

- HUMNEWS staff

Tuesday
Nov302010

Despite Gains More Than 1,000 Babies Born With HIV Every Day - UNICEF (Report)

(HN, December 1, 2010) - More than 1,000 babies are born with HIV every day - and many will die before age two if they do not receive treatment.

However, recent gains in access to treatment have been notable and are saving lives of women and children: last year 53% of HIV-positive pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries received antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV - up from only 15% in 2005. Over the same period the percentage of children under 15 who needed antiretrotrovirals and received them rose from just seven percent to 28%.Community child protection for children affected by the epidemic is improving - including for these AIDS orphans in Lesotho. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

Still - the figures reveal that just over half of pregnant women with HIV in developing countries get the drugs necessary to prevent their babies becoming infected. And only about one in four children under 15 needing ARV treatment receive it.

The figures were included in UNICEF's Fifth Stocktaking Report on HIV and AIDS and progress for children. Released yesterday in New York, it is jointly produced by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The report says that the number of young people aged 15-24 living with HIV is declining - from 5.2 million in 2005 to about 5 million in 2009.

And while the dynamics of the epidemic varies from region to region, in most women disproportionately carry the burden of HIV and AIDS - especially in sub-Sahara Africa.

For years, being "overshadowed" by the epidemic, children are now an integrated group in the response. 

"The story of how AIDS epidemic is affected children is being re-written. Children are now central to the HIV response and investments on behalf of children have had an impact," the report says.

The authors of the report predict that the elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015 "appears within reach."

"We have strong evidence that elimination of mother-to-child transmission is achievable," said Margaret Chan, WHO director general. "Achieving the goal will require much better prevention among women and mothers in the first place."

The report also found that:

- In many sub-Saharan African countries, children who had lost both parents to AIDS are more likely to be in school than before

- progress in decentralizing treatment access has been "unacceptably slow." The report notes that people living in rural and remote areas face many barriers to access - including costs and distance.

- Adolescents living with HIV are a "hidden epidemic." Many with HIV do not access treatment because they have never been tested.

- In Haiti, the January earthquake reduced significantly the number of people living with HIV accessing treatment. The Ministry of Health estimated fewer than 40% of people accessing treatment had been able to continue their treatment; many of the PMTCT service providers were affected.

- Globally, knowledge levels on the disease remain too low: only three countries have attained a level of knowledge 50% or more in both young men and young women (based on surveys between 2005 and 2009).

UNICEF says the big challenge will now be to reach those who fall through the cracks - mostly people who are amongst the poor of the poor and live in towns without HIV clinics.

"To achieve an Aids-free generation we need to do more to reach the hardest hit communities," said Anthony Lake, Unicef's executive director.

Jimmy Kolker, Unicef's chief of HIV/Aids, said: "Over the last five years children who were largely invisible from the Aids response are now at the centre of it."

In a separate statement before world AIDS day on December 1, UNAIDS Director Michel Sidibe said: "Nothing gives me more hope than knowing that an AIDS-free generation is possible in our lifetime.

Monday
Sep202010

Former Canadian PM Martin Blasts Donor Nations for Cutting Africa Aid

(HN, September 21, 2010) --- A former Canadian Prime Minister has blasted major donor nations for not honouring pledging commitments made five years ago to boost progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“One of the worst things you can do to a developing country is build up expectations and then not meet them.” Paul Martin told the Globe and Mail newspaper. “The effect on government budgets, on morale, on people who believe they are about to receive help, and then don’t, is in many ways worse than if it had never been promised.”

The MDGs were forged by world leaders 10 years ago to help lift the world’s poor out of misery by 2015. This week world leaders are in New York to review progress. Martin attended the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005 where leaders pledged to boost aid to meet the MDGs. At the time Canada pledged to double its annual aid contribution to Africa to $2.8 billion but the current government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper slashed the annual pledge to just $2.1 billion.

In the Globe interview, Martin doesn’t conceal his bitterness. “I set out a number and said its not subject to revision. When the Canadian numbers were revised down, that was reneging on our commitment. The ‘reclarifying’ of numbers, which Canada, Italy and France engaged in, is exactly the kind of thing that must not happen in the future.”

Many donor nations, including the United Kingdom, are blaming the ongoing world economic crisis for slashing aid budgets.

Earlier this year, the respected NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), harshly criticized major donor nations for cutting back funding on HIV AIDS prevention programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa. MSF said the situation has gotten so bad that so-called stock-outs in anti-retroviral medicines are occurring in some of the countries in which it operates.

Martin applauded the aid and other investments in the developing world made by the new economic powers such as Brazil and Korea. However certain recipient countries have not done enough to reach MDG targets, for example in education, Martin said.

One of the eight MDGs is to ensure that all boys and   girls get a complete primary school education. However, UNESCO counts 69 million children out of school - down from 103 million in 2000.

---- Reporting by HUMNEWS’ Michael Bociurkiw in Toronto

Monday
Sep202010

EXCLUSIVE: Study Finds Massive Failure of HIV AIDS prevention education in Africa

(HN, September 20, 2010) - As a major UN review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) opens today, a new study has cast doubt on the effectiveness of millions of dollars of donor money pumped into HIV AIDS prevention education in Africa.

Moreover, the study, supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), calls for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of all aspects of the delivery of HIV AIDS prevention education programmes in African schools.”

In short, the landmark study of 60,000 Grade Six pupils and their teachers in over 2500 schools in 15 countries, finds that students within most of the countries have “a generally low level of knowledge about HIV AIDS.” Only 20-40 percent of pupils reached the minimal knowledge level and less than 10 percent reached the desirable level.A remote classroom in southern Africa CREDIT: HUMNEWS

The results are nothing short of damning and its authors of the study by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) don’t hold back in their criticism.

“These research results should send major shockwaves through those governments, international agencies and development partners that have made substantial investments in HIV AIDS preventative education programmes for Africa.”

The authors point out that Grade Six pupils in Africa tend to be at a very vulnerable age and yet “their knowledge about HIV AIDS is clearly inadequate for the task of guiding their decisions about behaviours that will protect and promote health.

“This is not an acceptable outcome - given the extreme human suffering caused by HIV infection and the massive amount of effort that has been devoted to large-scale HIV AIDS prevention education programmes.”

Major donors for HIV AIDS prevention programmes in Africa include the Irish Government, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the UN and the Fast-track Initiative - which groups such donors as the World Bank, Australia, Canada, the US, UNICEF and the European Community.

Ironically, the study found that Grade Six teachers in Africa have very high knowledge levels about HIV AIDS. Said the study: “Almost all teachers in the SACMEQ countries reached the minimal knowledge level and around 80-90 percent of teachers in most SACMEQ countries reached the desirable knowledge level.”

The authors called for a comprehensive review of the delivery of HIV AIDS education programmes in Africa - and further research into explanations for the yawning knowledge gap.         

“For some reason the knowledge in the teachers’ heads isn’t being transferred to the students,” said a UN official in southern Africa, who cant be identified because he doesn’t have authority to speak.

In some African countries, teaching HIV and AIDS - especially with curriculum containing explicit HIV information - is a tricky proposition, because of conservative beliefs or opposition from the Catholic church. In Lesotho, for example, most schools are church-owned and some education materials need to be signed off by the bishops overseeing them.

Education experts in the region say reaching children as young as possible with credible, preventative education is critical if there is to be a hope of stemming the HIV epidemic in this generation. Children as young as 10 need to be targeted given that the age of sexual debut in many African countries is as low as 12.

In the SACMEQ study, students in Mauritius, Lesotho and Zimbabwe scored the lowest and those in Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania scored the highest. Yet even in Tanzania, the highest scoring, only 24 percent reached the desirable level.

SACMEQ studies are customarily seen as authoritative because the international, non-profit consortium groups the Ministries of Education in 15 countries in southern and eastern Africa. SACMEQ researchers used a recognized testing tool to probe students’ and teachers’ knowledge. The test has “a high level or reliability...and is suitable for placing pupils and their teachers on a common scale of knowledge about HIV-AIDS.”

According to UNAIDS, there are more than 20 million people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, and around 10 percent of these people are below 15 years of age.

A UNESCO official who co-authored the study did not respond to email inquiries.

--- Reporting by HUMNEWS staff

Wednesday
Sep082010

(REPORT/INTERVIEW) "Reading is FUN-damental" - Twitter partners with Room to Read on World Literacy Day

PHOTO: Room to Read, India (HN, September 8, 2010) – Can you read this? 

Wehn yuo cnnaot raed, noe hruendd ftory ccrhaetars maen noinhtg. Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy:  http://t.co/W5UTbuB

Today, September 8th is the 35th anniversary of World Literacy Day.  Adopted in 1965, this year’s theme organized by UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) celebrate’s women’s empowerment through literacy and pays tribute to the women and men who work behind the scenes who help others acquire literacy skills.

One in five adults worldwide - 796 million - lack minimum literacy skills (reading and writing); with two-thirds of those being women and girls accounting for more than half of the 67.4 million out-of-school children globally.

Literacy rates are comparatively, a cause for celebration and the world has made progress since 1965 with now close to 4 billion literate people in the world.  However, literacy for all – children, youth and adults - is still a goal ahead to achieve.

In 2003, the United Nations proclaimed the ten years until 2012 the “United Nations Literacy Decade”, and has put literacy and education front and center as `Millennium Development Goal Number 2’ to be accomplished by 2015.  

A basic education equips children with literacy skills for life and the ability to learn further and grow intellectually.  Literate parents are more likely to send children to school and literate people are better able to access continuing, higher education; and jobs.  In today’s 21st century, `later literacy’ also means experience and understanding with digital languages and technologies but reading and writing remain the fundamental building blocks for development.  

The International Literacy Day global celebrations today focus on the transformation literacy can bring to women’s lives and those in their families, communities and societies and on the people and efforts who help them get there, such as the international organization `Room to Read’.

PHOTO: Erin Ganju, Room to Read`Room to Read’ was founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood, with co-Founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.  This year the organization celebrated its 10 year anniversary with the opening of its 10,000th library in Nepal; where the effort first began.   After a vacation to Nepal in 1999 allowed Wood to witness first-hand the country’s lack of educational resources, he and his co-founders launched a book drive for one school, and turned that one-time act of kindness into the basis of inspiration for a global education movement.  

Over the last decade, `Room to Read’ has increased its work exponentially to impact over four million children in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia through its worldwide network of more than 1,000 schools and 10,000 libraries filled with over 7 million children’s books. 

The organization works in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, and has empowered children with increased access to high-quality educational opportunities – including 10,000 girls this year who are attending school on scholarship.  

Known also for its innovation in technology and marketing, `Room to Read’ (@roomtoread) became Twitter’s first Corporate Social Responsibility partner last year creating a joint project to create `Fledgling’ wine (@fledgling) - a year-long first-of-its-kind social winemaking project in collaboration with the Napa Valley vineyard Crushpad. The Fledgling wines, a Pinor Noir and a Chardonnay, will benefit `Room to Read's’ literacy programs in India and will launch to the market on September 25. 

Additionally, Twitter and `Room to Read’ have teamed up on this International Literacy Day in order to show the world what someone who cannot read see’s, when they look at a page of words.  The `Hope 140’ effort will show viewers the scrambled message you see at the beginning of this article, and then unscramble the message to show the true words. 

"With the International Literacy Day campaign, we are asking the average Twitter user to experience, just for a minute, the disempowerment that one in five people in this world experience due to illiteracy," said John Wood. "Room to Read' is galvanizing a global movement to solve this critical issue and through Twitter's worldwide platform, we aim to not only raise awareness but to instigate action." 

On the `Hope 140’ page you’ll also find ways to buy `Fledgling’ wine, as well as how to donate to Room to Read’s publishing program which has created 433 children's books in 22 local languages and distributes them throughout its library network in Asia and Africa.  In honor of International Literacy Day and throughout September, `Room to Read’ will be producing the book "Unjani" or "How Are You," an original South African children's book written in Xhosa and English and a donation will be matched by a Room to Read donor.

So today, HUMNEWS, Room to Read and Twitter ask you to tweet for literacy and help others around the world to achieve the basic skill of reading - which can change people’s lives, forever.

Because if you can’t read this “Wehn yuo cnnaot raed, noe hruendd ftory ccrhaetars maen noinhtg. Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy:   http://t.co/W5UTbuB” – there is still a long way to go to total world literacy.

==============================================================================================================

PHOTO: John Wood, Room to ReadINTERVIEW WITH JOHN WOOD, Founder of Room to Read and author of the highly-acclaimed book,Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”.

Q:  10 years on in Room to Read for you John. What is the most important thing you've learned about the world as you've been building Room to Read 

John:  Ten years ago, when I delivered that first load of books to children in Nepal, I had no idea that we’d be at the point we are today – impacting the lives of five million children and on track to double that by 2015. The big lesson for me is to dream big and share that dream with incredibly passionate, qualified and hardworking people to make that dream a reality. That’s what Room to Read is all about – we went from a handful of supporters (mainly friends and family) to a network of thousands around the globe.

Children’s education is an issue that crosses borders and resonates with people in every corner of the world – and it’s incredible that Room to Read is the convergence point as we lead a global movement to provide every child with the ability to attend school and learn to read.

Q:  Room to Read was Twitter's first corporate social innovation sponsor.  Talk about before Twitter, and after Twitter.  How has this, helped Room to Read better achieve its goals of literacy?

John:  Twitter has become a great vehicle to help us engage with our supporters and spread our message and mission to an even wider audience. Room to Read’s Twitter account (@RoomtoRead) already has close to 450,000 followers and with the 315,000 people following me @johnwoodRtR, together  we’re reaching almost half a million people around the world on a daily basis – which is outstanding! Many of the our  40+ volunteer chapter network around the world also maintain their own Twitter accounts – so we’re definitely getting the word out there.

Twitter’s unique format enables us as an organization to provide real-time updates and information to supporters – without greatly taxing our resources. We use it to thank our supporters and partners, give shout-outs to other organizations, and just to keep the Room to Read message alive and fresh.

We were also fortunate enough to be chosen by Twitter as their first corporate social innovation partner and because of that we’ve had the opportunity to experiment with creative ways to use the platform. In fact, for International Literacy Day on September 8, we have worked with Twitter to develop a creative way for people to understand the concept of literacy and what it’s like for the 776 million people in the world who still can’t read. At the same time, we’re asking the social network community to help support the publication of a new children’s book for the children of South Africa.

I truly believe that simply by getting the message out across the globe, we’ll rally more and more supporters in our battle against illiteracy – and Twitter is an incredibly platform that allows us to do just that.

Q: R2R has an intense focus on results, talk about how running an efficient and stable business, helps to achieve your goals for reading, literacy and education worldwide?

John:  We started Room to Read with some important basic business principles – that we would be efficient, accountable and results-driven. I strongly believe it’s necessary to take the best of the business world and combine it with the best of the NGO world – in fact, I tell our team that we want to run Room to Read with the compassion of Mother Teresa but the focus and tenacity of a blue-chip company.  

I don’t believe in the model of an NGO spending up to 40 cents of each dollar on administration and fund-raising. So, we keep our overhead low and run a tight ship. We do creative things, like getting our board members to donate frequent flier miles, and having volunteers in 40+ cities raise about a third of our annual budget. There are many small steps that together add up to create a very efficient organization. So, what you get when you make a donation to Room to Read is a very direct, very tangible result. We tell donors exactly how much it costs to build a school, publish children’s book, establish a library or to support a year of a girls’ education. In the long term, education in the developing world has been proven to be the best ticket out of poverty, so an investment in this area yields amazing long-term benefits.

Q: How does technology play a role in how you conduct business and measure results?

John:  It’s incredible how quickly technology evolves and allows us new and creative ways to communicate with our supporters. Using social media has enabled us to have instant access to millions of potential supporters across the globe – we can directly engage with them on a regular basis and develop a real connection more easily share our work across the globe and directly engage with people.

We also actively use technology to develop and track our programs as well. With Salesforce licenses generously donated by the Salesforce.com Foundation since 2007, we have built what we call our Global Solutions Database (GSD) that tracks all of our projects in nine countries as well as our operations in the global office. It’s the Room to Read mega-reference – which is key, because keeping results in key to our organization. Every project established by Room to Read across our nine countries is tracked in the system – we track implementation timeline, number of students and teachers, percentage of community contribution, etc.  The information collected helps guide our monitoring and evaluation team’s efforts, so we know if we need to boost our work in certain areas.  This information is then also used to provide more detailed information to our donors so that we can directly connect them to the project they’re supporting -- and in doing so, we keep our them excited about our work.

Q:  Can you talk about the importance of your local language education programs and books? Why was it important for teaching and learning?

John:  When we started building libraries we soon realized that many of the children’s books in our libraries weren’t being used by the children – most of them were in English, which is not the primary language for most of the students. At that point, we decided to develop our Local Language Publishing program, to produce and distribute books in local languages. The books are written by local authors, many of whom attend our writers’ workshops, and are illustrated by local artists. We also publish the books locally, so in addition to providing books for the children, we’re helping to support the local economy.

Many of our books have won prestigious awards – but more importantly, they are incredibly popular and effective tools in teaching children to read. Not only is the language something the children can understand, but the stories and illustrations are culturally relevant and speak to the children’s life experience.

Q:  Helping children get the habit...how easy is that?  And what have you heard years on, about how this simple act, changes their lives? 

John:  I believe children have an inherent desire to learn, so if you give them the tools and the right guidance, they can’t wait! With our focus being now more directed on literacy and gender equality in education, we’re developing new programs to teach reading more effectively so that it does become a skill and a habit for millions of children. Our teams in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal are already having great success in the pilot phases of their literacy programs, so we have high expectations to see literacy rates jump dramatically in the next several years.

How does reading change a child’s life? This is probably most dramatically illustrated when you talk about educating girls. No offense to my gender – but it is amply documented that when you educate women you have spillover effects to the next generation which are substantially larger.  When you educate a woman, you educate the next generation and all subsequent generations.

There is an increase in health and nutrition for the whole family, higher income levels for the woman and overall improvement in the quality of life for a community. For only $250, you support a girls’ education for one year. I believe that’s the best investment one can make when trying to effect global change.

Q:  What's next for R2R and for you?

John:  For the organization, Room to Read's long-term goal is to help over ten million children to gain the lifelong gift of education by the year 2015.  We’re well on our way to meet this goal – by the end of 2010, we’ll have impacted the lives of over five million children. But we’re also looking to increase the quality of education through improved teacher training and additional materials – we want the educational opportunity to be the best it can be. We’re also looking to expand our Girls’ Education program and provide even more life skill training – girls thrive when they’re allowed to develop self confidence and academic skills – and we want them to go out and conquer the world!

Geographically, we’re looking to add programs in Africa fairly soon and have been researching opportunities in Central America as well. The sad fact is that there is a long list of countries ripe for Room to Read, but we have to be sure we have our resources in place before we take the next leap – but we’ll get there!

As for me, this is it!  I want to see to it that Room to Read meets its goal of reaching 10 million children within the next five years. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked, but it’s also the happiest I’ve ever been, and I can’t imagine doing anything else! Every morning, I feel like the luckiest person alive because I get to make a difference in the lives of children

Wednesday
Aug042010

UNESCO Names New Heritage Sites in Marshall Islands, Tajikistan and Kiribati

The 34th session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO ended yesterday in Brazil. A total of 39 sites were considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.
It inscribed sites in Saudi Arabia, Australia, India, Islamic Republic of Iran and, for the first time, a site in the Marshall Islands to the UNESCO World Heritage List. A cultural site was added in Tajikistan, and a new natural site was added in Kiribati.

Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands)© UNESCO/Eric Hanauer, Bikini Atoll

In the wake of World War II, in a move closely related to the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States of America decided to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago. After the displacement of the local inhabitants, 67 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958, including the explosion of the first H-bomb (1952). Bikini Atoll has conserved direct tangible evidence that is highly significant in conveying the power of the nuclear tests, i.e. the sunken ships sent to the bottom of the lagoon by the tests in 1946 and the gigantic Bravo crater. Equivalent to 7,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, the tests had major consequences on the geology and natural environment of Bikini Atoll and on the health of those who were exposed to radiation. Through its history, the atoll symbolises the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise. This is the first site from the Marshall Islands to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

 

Sarazm (Tajikistan)© UNESCO/Ainura Tentieva, Sarazm

Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, is an archaeological site bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium BCE to the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean.

 

Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Kiribati)© UNESCO/Gregory Stone, The Phoenix islands

The Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA) is a 408,250 sq.km expanse of marine and terrestrial habitats in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The property encompasses the Phoenix Island Group, one of three island groups in Kiribati, and is the largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world. PIPA conserves one of the world’s largest intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, together with 14 known underwater sea mounts (presumed to be extinct volcanoes)  and other deep-sea habitats. The area contains approximately 800 known species of fauna, including about 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. The structure and functioning of PIPA’s ecosystems illustrates its pristine nature and importance as a migration route and reservoir. This is the first site in Kiribati to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
- Staff, UNESCO
Tuesday
Aug032010

“Broadband Liberation” (PERSPECTIVE) 

--- by Shashi Tharoor

NEW DELHI – In July, I was among 30 men and women from around the world – government ministers, bureaucrats, technologists, and strategic thinkers – who gathered at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva to discuss how broadband can transform the world for the better. This “Broadband Commission” met under the Chairmanship of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and the Mexican communications mogul Carlos Slim.

The ITU, a United Nations body, established the Commission in partnership with UNESCO, and the joint chairmanship was no accident. The UN recognizes that if the information revolution is to advance further, it will take a public-private effort. As ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré has put it, “In the twenty-first century, affordable, ubiquitous broadband networks will be as critical to social and economic prosperity as networks like transport, water, and power.”

The Swiss writer and playwright Max Frisch once dismissed technology as “the art of arranging the world so that we need not experience it.” Today, however, technology is essential to effective participation in our world. And, although mankind cannot live by technology alone, the information revolution has liberated millions of people.

Information is liberating in the traditional political sense of the term: the spread of information has had a direct impact on the degree of accountability and transparency that governments must deliver if they are to survive.

It is also liberating economically. Information technologies are a cost-effective form of capital. Estonia and Costa Rica are well-known examples of how information-access strategies can help accelerate output growth and raise income levels.

Some of the least developed countries, such as Mali and Bangladesh, have shown how determined leadership and innovative approaches can, with international support, connect remote and rural areas to the Internet and mobile telephony, thereby helping to liberate subsistence farmers who were previously tied to local knowledge and local markets. Likewise, mobile networks are delivering health services to the most remote areas of India.

One successful UNESCO initiative is the creation of multipurpose community telecenters throughout the developing world, providing communication and information facilities – phone, fax, Internet, computers, audio-visual equipment – for a wide range of community uses. India’s Unique Identification Number project, under the capable stewardship of information-technology pioneer Nandan Nilekani, will enable access to government, banking, and insurance services at the grass-roots level.

There is no doubt that the Internet can be a democratizing tool. In some parts of the world – and certainly in most of the West – it already is, since large amounts of information are now accessible to almost anyone. But the stark reality of today’s world is that you can tell the rich from the poor by their Internet connections.

Indeed, economic development nowadays requires more than thinking only of the poverty line; one must also think of the high-speed digital line, the fiber-optic line – indeed, all the lines that exclude those who are not plugged into the possibilities of our world.

But the digital divide is no immutable gap. On the contrary, the technology gap between developed and developing countries, measured by levels of penetration by personal computers and information-technology and communications services, has narrowed markedly over the course of the past decade, with rapid growth in mobile phone and Internet use. The average level of Internet and mobile-phone penetration in the rich world in 1997  – 4.1 Internet users and 10.7 mobile phones per 100 inhabitants – was reached in developing countries only five years later.

By contrast, the average level of fixed-line telecommunication penetration in developing countries is nearly 50 years behind the levels of the West. Not surprisingly, it was in Africa – not Europe or America – where the cell phone first overtook the housebound handset. More Africans have become telecommunications users in the last four years than in the entire twentieth century.

The Indian story is even more remarkable. When I left India in 1975 for graduate studies in the United States, the country had roughly 600 million residents and just two million land-line telephones. Today, India holds the world record for the number of cell phones sold in a month –20 million – and for the most telephone connections made in a single month in any country in the history of telecommunications.

The growth in mobile-telephone technology demonstrates that the digital divide is shifting, and the focus of development efforts must change with it. India, for example, has 525 million mobile phone users and fewer than 150 million people with Internet access, so using mobile-phone technology as a tool of e-governance has become vital. This calls for creative means of effecting information transfer and making and receiving official payments by telephone.

Security is a key area of concern today in e-governance – both physical security, in an age of terrorism, and cyber security. Using technology to deliver security will become even more important in areas such as information sharing, disaster management, and data-privacy standards.

Information and communications technology is a powerful tool to address underdevelopment, isolation, poverty, and the lack of political accountability and political freedom. But people need access first and foremost. High-speed broadband Internet access can improve everything from transport management, environmental protection, and emergency services to health care, distance education, and agricultural productivity. Delivering these benefits to ever more people will require resources, international cooperation, and political will.

--- The author is a former Under Secretary General of the UN and former Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India. An award-winning novelist, he is currently a member of the Lok Sabha, India’s parliament.

Copyright:  Project Syndicate, 2010.  www.project-syndicate.org

For a podcast of this commentary in English, please use this link:  http://media.blubrry.com/ps/media.libsyn.com/media/ps/tharoor22.mp3