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Nepalgunj: the paradox of success

Chantal Uwizera | Posted July 8th, 2011 | Asia

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The difficulty of regulating child labor in Nepal becomes obvious as one travels across the country. While in Nepalgunj, we were served by a waiter who was probably around the age of 12. He cleaned our tables, cleared away the dirty dishes, brought us water and took our orders, tasks that he performs many times throughout the day and into the night. His piercing eyes seemed to silently condemn us for enjoying the naan that was served to us. I couldn’t help but noticed how many children were working in teashops and restaurants in Nepalgunj. These children were not the ones we saw in the villages, playing and interacting with us. They were not Birendra, Samita, the children who shared with us their homes and their future aspirations of becoming engineers. These children working in Nepalgunj are no more than 14 years old.  Yet, the harsh conditions in which they are compelled to work in have prematurely aged them. I take this moment to contrast what the government has legally pledged to do and what I experienced while in Nepalgunj.

It is worth nothing that BASE and other nongovernment organizations, recognized that one of the leading causes of child labor is poverty and to that end have implemented many programs aimed at boosting the literacy rate and at providing economic development to many at risk communities. Additionally, the government has implemented many laws and amended other rules providing free education, prohibiting the use of child labor and, establishing the minimum age for work and employment.

Children free of child labor, Banke District
Children free of child labor, Banke District

Children free of child labor, Banke District

After a week traveling through the western part of Nepal, in mostly rural areas, I had for one moment forgotten about the pollution, the animals, the traffic, etc.  My scenery was instead replaced by mountains, rice fields, cows, buffalos and of course goats. I became inspired with the development that BASE is doing in the districts I visited. The child friendly village model is definitely working and I was fortunate enough to interact with rescued children and as stated in my previous blog, we collected paintings that will be assembled into a love blanket.  I returned to the city of Nepalgunj, a city with the record for the hottest place in Nepal (reaching above 104 degrees). Close to the Indian border, the city receives many visitors from both India and other Nepal cities, for business and touristic purposes.

Many international organizations (UN) and other NGO’s have their offices located in Nepalgunj. It definitely has a vibrant society, retail shops, restaurants, factories and hotels. If you are in Nepalgunj, you have to try the samosas, the best in Nepal.  There is the constant traffic and it has currently been exacerbated by the raining season which makes it almost impossible for travel. As typical of other Nepalese cities, the presence of the respect of all life that the Buddhist and Hindu religions inculcated in their followers is well and alive in Nepalgunj: all animals, I mean all animals, roam the street untouched. It is amazing to see the very narrow streets being shared by goats, donkeys, cows, dogs, and pedestrians, small and big cars in a somehow organized chaos!

I got a chance to talk to Dilli Raj Dhital, a member of the Nepal Bar Association and an expert on Nepal Human Rights. According to him, there are provisions in the National Constitution (1990 and 2000) and the interim Constitution that all pledge for the advancement of children and the right against exploitation with a specific clause that state that “no minor shall be employed to work in any factory or mine, or be engaged in any other hazardous work.” Additionally, the Nepalese government endorsed many international laws that indicate the government’s commitment to eradicate child labor. One of the international agreements is based on the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) ratified by Nepal in 1990. Under Article 32, state members “recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely […] to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

In 2000, the government even went further by raising the minimum age for hazardous work from 14 to 16 years old.  However, children under the age 14 are still prohibited from working and only those between 14-16 years can engage in light duty work or work that may not hinder their development.  Nepal is also one of the first countries to sign the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention Number 138. As per Article 1, by being a signatory to this convention, Nepal has the duty to “pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.

The government legally committed itself to end child labor; however the progress has been delayed with the lack of the implementation of those laws into practice. The very fact that child labor issues are handled by three different ministries:  the ministry of Labor and Transportation, the Ministry of Women and Child and the Ministry of Land and Property should be of concern.

If it is not the lack of available laws, then what needs to happen to save these kids from further exploitation?

The sad reality is that everywhere I went, even where I was staying, I contributed to further exploitation of children. At my hotel, I was served by a boy who was probably 10 years old. He was still working when I went to bed and woke me up in the morning with chiya (tea) at my door step.  With every dollar that I spent in a restaurant in Nepalgunj, I reluctantly accepted the normalcy of employing children. These children, according to the law are prohibited from working. Yet, Nepalgunj, a fast growing city in Nepal, thrives on the exploitation of these children, crippling the next generation. I left the city wondering  about the  factories I passed, and if there are any children working there and what the likely consequence of those chemical exposures can do to their bodies…

Nepalgunj may be a flourishing business center, but at what cost?

Promoting Human Rights, Eradicating Child Labor

Maelanny Purwaningrum | Posted July 7th, 2011 | Asia

It is widely known that child labor issue is about deprivation of child rights. In Nepal, particularly in the south-western tarai, it is much more complex than that. It is not only about child rights or right to education, but also tied closely to indigenous people rights, land rights, poverty, backwardness, even marginalization.

There are many rules and governmental bodies which focused on eradicating child labor in Nepal. In Child Labor Act of 2000, The Government of Nepal increased minimum age of hazardous works from 14 to 16 year old. The government has also set up Child Welfare Board under the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare in every district in order to disseminate and implement the rules and regulation in alleviating child labor. However, there are still so many child laborers are employed by high educated people, landlords, even governmental officials.

As a complex issue, I believe, child labor problem cannot be solved only by enrolling children to school while their family have nothing to eat, or punishing employers while parents keep sending their children away to work. It is not only about giving enough money or providing good job to the people. As Birbal Chaudhary, BASE Bardiya District Coordinator, mentioned that changing people’s attitude is necessary needed in this case. Apparently, it won’t be solved overnight, it needs time, it will involve various elements of the country, it requires a holistic yet effective approach to reach the goal.

Human Rights Based Approach to Child Labor

In development fields, Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is widely implemented. With regard to child labor issue, HRBA puts children in the center of attention. HRBA recognizes that children often forfeit their right to education and other rights to guarantee their holistic development irrespective of the kind of work they do, as well as the centrality of exploitation through work done by children. HRBA help to address this centrality and to identify the conditions and factors that contribute to this problem (Karunan, 2005). Additionally, the programmatic implications of such approach imply coordinated and multi-sectoral interventions in a variety of fields related to the effects of hazardous and exploitative work on children (UNICEF).

I found HRBA is being implemented by BASE.

Different from mainstream, HRBA applies bottom-up approach by highlighting family as the first line of protection for the child and rendering appropriate support and assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing duties in order to facilitate the capacity of the family to protect the rights of the children and their enhancement (Karunan, 2005). In line with that, BASE develops Child Friendly Village (CFV) project which covers more than two hundreds villages in five districts; Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, and Kanchanpur. CFV ensures that children in the area attend school and free from child labor. CFV aims at protecting children as well as supporting families and communities.

Empowering children is another key point of HRBA to child labor. In order to empower children to participate actively in the improvement of their lives, BASE helps children to organize by forming Child Club in every Child Friendly Village (CFV). Child Club involves school children and rescued child laborers. The formation aims at enhancing their capacity, increasing awareness of their rights and responsibilities in the community, most importantly, identifying child laborers, their living condition in their employers’ house, and advocating for their rights. Child Club leaders are elected in democratic way every 2 year. BASE facilitates them with training on leadership and advocacy. More info on CFV & Child Club can be found on Adrienne Henck’s blog.

BASE Child Friendly Village (CFV) Signpost in Burigaun VDC, Bardiya District  Photo by: Maelanny P
BASE Child Friendly Village (CFV) Signpost in Burigaun VDC, Bardiya District Photo by: Maelanny P

BASE Child Friendly Village (CFV) Signpost in Burigaun VDC, Bardiya District Photo by: Maelanny P

As Karunan puts it, “one of the reason behind the failure of conventional approach to child labor is its too narrow focus on removal and rescue operations of children in bondage and servitude in the worst forms of child labor, with too little attention and resources invested in providing sustainable alternative livelihoods for rescued children and their families, income generation, and improving the quality, relevance, and accessibility of education and the schooling system. The approach to combat child labor must, therefore, take this variables into account” (Karunan, 2005). In consistence with that BASE provides skill development and vocational training for youth and older rescued child laborers. Parents are also given the opportunity to join income generation program which consists of agricultural training and microcredit.

In addition, BASE supports 27 schools in its 5 working districts by facilitating toilet construction, building reparation, and furniture improvement, etc. BASE also develops several model schools which now being adopted by governmental schools in different districts.

BASE regularly conducts rescue and rehabilitation program as well as awareness campaign for child laborers. In doing so, Child Friendly Village Committees, Child Clubs, Youth Groups and partners are actively engaged. Generally, the rescue is held during Maghi Festival and Dasai Festival, big Tharu and Hindu celebrations when children usually return home to meet their family.

Earlier in this year, BASE started a cooperation with local government to improve Child Friendly Villages’ quality. BASE and districts government agreed to ‘match fund’. Each of them contributes around three hundreds thousands rupees to support various interventions in CFV that I mentioned earlier.

Having said that, I believe BASE approach is an invaluable contribution to sustainably eradicate child labor problems in Nepal.

(From various sources, Karunan in Weston, 2005; UNICEF research paper; BASE Annual Report 2010)

It is widely known that child labor issue is about deprivation of child rights. In Nepal, particularly in the south-western tarai, it is much more complex than that. It is not only about child rights or right to education, but also tied closely to indigenous people rights, land rights, poverty, backwardness, even marginalization.

There are many rules and governmental bodies which focused on eradicating child labor in Nepal. Based on Children Act of Nepal, employing children below the age of 14 year old is a crime. The government has also set up Child Welfare Board under the Ministry of Woman and Children Affairs in every district in order to disseminate and implement the rules and regulation in alleviating child labor. However, there are still so many child laborers are employed by high educated people, landlords, even governmental officials.

As a complex issue, I believe, child labor problem cannot be solved only by enrolling children to school while their family have nothing to eat, or punishing employers while parents keep sending their children away to work. It is not only about giving enough money or providing good job to the people. As Birbal Chaudhary, BASE Bardiya District Coordinator, mentioned that changing people’s attitude is necessary needed in this case. Apparently, it won’t be solved overnight, it needs time, it will involve various elements of the country, it requires a holistic yet effective approach to reach the goal.

Towards a HRBA to Child Labor

In development fields, Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is widely implemented. With regard to child labor issue, HRBA puts children in the center of attention. HRBA recognizes that children often forfeit their right to education and other rights to guarantee their holistic development irrespective of the kind of work they do, as well as the centrality of exploitation through work done by children. HRBA help to address this centrality and to identify the conditions and factors that contribute to this problem (Karunan, 2005). Additionally, the programmatic implications of such approach imply coordinated and multi-sectoral interventions in a variety of fields related to the effects of hazardous and exploitative work on children (UNICEF).

I found HRBA is being implemented by BASE.

Different from mainstream, HRBA applies bottom-up approach by highlighting family as the first line of protection for the child and rendering appropriate support and assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing duties in order to facilitate the capacity of the family to protect the rights of the children and their enhancement (Karunan, 2005). In line with that, BASE develops Child Friendly Village (CFV) project which covers more than two hundreds villages in five districts; Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, and Kanchanpur. CFV ensures that children in the area attend school and free from child labor. CFV aims at protecting children as well as supporting families and communities.

Empowering children is another key point of HRBA to child labor. In order to empower children to participate actively in the improvement of their lives, BASE helps children to organize by forming Child Club in every Child Friendly Village (CFV). Child Club involves school children and rescued child laborers. The formation aims at enhancing their capacity, increasing awareness of their rights and responsibilities in the community, most importantly, identifying child laborers, their living condition in their employers’ house, and advocating for their rights. Child Club leaders are elected in democratic way every 2 year. BASE facilitates them with training on leadership and advocacy. More info on CFV & Child Club can be found on Adrienne Henck’s blog.

As Karunan puts it, “one of the reason behind the failure of conventional approach to child labor is its too narrow focus on removal and rescue operations of children in bondage and servitude in the worst forms of child labor, with too little attention and resources invested in providing sustainable alternative livelihoods for rescued children and their families, income generation, and improving the quality, relevance, and accessibility of education and the schooling system. The approach to combat child labor must, therefore, take this variables into account” (Karunan, 2005). In consistence with that BASE provides skill development and vocational training

for youth and older rescued child laborers. Parents are also given the opportunity to join income generation program which consists of agricultural training and microcredit.

In addition, BASE supports 27 schools in its 5 working districts by facilitating toilet construction, building reparation, and furniture improvement, etc. BASE also develops several model schools which now being adopted by governmental schools in different districts.

BASE regularly conducts rescue and rehabilitation program as well as awareness campaign for child laborers. In doing so, Child Friendly Village Committees, Child Clubs, Youth Groups and partners are actively engage

It is widely known that child labor issue is about deprivation of child rights. In Nepal, particularly in the south-western tarai, it is much more complex than that. It is not only about child rights or right to education, but also tied closely to indigenous people rights, land rights, poverty, backwardness, even marginalization.

There are many rules and governmental bodies which focused on eradicating child labor in Nepal. Based on Children Act of Nepal, employing children below the age of 14 year old is a crime. The government has also set up Child Welfare Board under the Ministry of Woman and Children Affairs in every district in order to disseminate and implement the rules and regulation in alleviating child labor. However, there are still so many child laborers are employed by high educated people, landlords, even governmental officials.

As a complex issue, I believe, child labor problem cannot be solved only by enrolling children to school while their family have nothing to eat, or punishing employers while parents keep sending their children away to work. It is not only about giving enough money or providing good job to the people. As Birbal Chaudhary, BASE Bardiya District Coordinator, mentioned that changing people’s attitude is necessary needed in this case. Apparently, it won’t be solved overnight, it needs time, it will involve various elements of the country, it requires a holistic yet effective approach to reach the goal.

Towards a HRBA to Child Labor

In development fields, Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is widely implemented. With regard to child labor issue, HRBA puts children in the center of attention. HRBA recognizes that children often forfeit their right to education and other rights to guarantee their holistic development irrespective of the kind of work they do, as well as the centrality of exploitation through work done by children. HRBA help to address this centrality and to identify the conditions and factors that contribute to this problem (Karunan, 2005). Additionally, the programmatic implications of such approach imply coordinated and multi-sectoral interventions in a variety of fields related to the effects of hazardous and exploitative work on children (UNICEF).

I found HRBA is being implemented by BASE.

Different from mainstream, HRBA applies bottom-up approach by highlighting family as the first line of protection for the child and rendering appropriate support and assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing duties in order to facilitate the capacity of the family to protect the rights of the children and their enhancement (Karunan, 2005). In line with that, BASE develops Child Friendly Village (CFV) project which covers more than two hundreds villages in five districts; Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, and Kanchanpur. CFV ensures that children in the area attend school and free from child labor. CFV aims at protecting children as well as supporting families and communities.

Empowering children is another key point of HRBA to child labor. In order to empower children to participate actively in the improvement of their lives, BASE helps children to organize by forming Child Club in every Child Friendly Village (CFV). Child Club involves school children and rescued child laborers. The formation aims at enhancing their capacity, increasing awareness of their rights and responsibilities in the community, most importantly, identifying child laborers, their living condition in their employers’ house, and advocating for their rights. Child Club leaders are elected in democratic way every 2 year. BASE facilitates them with training on leadership and advocacy. More info on CFV & Child Club can be found on Adrienne Henck’s blog.

As Karunan puts it, “one of the reason behind the failure of conventional approach to child labor is its too narrow focus on removal and rescue operations of children in bondage and servitude in the worst forms of child labor, with too little attention and resources invested in providing sustainable alternative livelihoods for rescued children and their families, income generation, and improving the quality, relevance, and accessibility of education and the schooling system. The approach to combat child labor must, therefore, take this variables into account” (Karunan, 2005). In consistence with that BASE provides skill development and vocational training

for youth and older rescued child laborers. Parents are also given the opportunity to join income generation program which consists of agricultural training and microcredit.

In addition, BASE supports 27 schools in its 5 working districts by facilitating toilet construction, building reparation, and furniture improvement, etc. BASE also develops several model schools which now being adopted by governmental schools in different districts.

BASE regularly conducts rescue and rehabilitation program as well as awareness campaign for child laborers. In doing so, Child Friendly Village Committees, Child Clubs, Youth Groups and partners are actively engaged. Generally, the rescue is held during Maghi Festival and Dasai Festival, big Tharu and Hindu celebrations when children usually return home to meet their family.

Earlier in this year, BASE started a cooperation with local government to improve Child Friendly Villages’ quality. BASE and districts government agreed to ‘match fund’. Each of them contributes around three hundreds thousands rupees to support various interventions in CFV that I mentioned earlier.

Having said that, I believe BASE approach is an invaluable contribution to sustainably eradicate child labor issue in Nepal.

(From various sources, Karunan in Weston, 2005, UNICEF research paper, BASE Annual Report 2010)

d. Generally, the rescue is held during Maghi Festival and Dasai Festival, big Tharu and Hindu celebrations when children usually return home to meet their family.

Earlier in this year, BASE started a cooperation with local government to improve Child Friendly Villages’ quality. BASE and districts government agreed to ‘match fund’. Each of them contributes around three hundreds thousands rupees to support various interventions in CFV that I mentioned earlier.

Having said that, I believe BASE approach is an invaluable contribution to sustainably eradicate child labor issue in Nepal.

(From various sources, Karunan in Weston, 2005, UNICEF research paper, BASE Annual Report 2010)

Tackling the Issues

Chelsea Ament | Posted July 6th, 2011 | Asia

Before running any type of interactive teaching activity, you always ask yourself… “Will it work? Will the level of participation be high or low? Will the message be well received?” Reflecting on my experience in Surkhet, the use of games and interactive discussion was indeed an effective method of teaching different aspects of reproductive health (RH). Without these types of programs, many of the participants would not have access to accurate information regarding sexual health.

One study conducted in Kathmandu found that adolescents’ knowledge on reproductive health and responsible sexual behavior is inadequate. Another Nepalese study, found that adolescents are engaging in risky sexual behavior, and although knowledge was greater regarding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS in schools than in the general community, the overall knowledge of all participants in all aspects of this topic was very low. According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), young people have the right to information about sexual and reproductive health. This way they can be empowered (have the information and knowledge needed) to make informed choices regarding their sexual health.

The right to know about: sex and sexuality, family planning (birth control), STIs, & HIV/AIDS
The right to know about: sex and sexuality, family planning (birth control), STIs, & HIV/AIDS

The right to know about: sex and sexuality, family planning (birth control), STIs, & HIV/AIDS

How does this relate to WRRP’s main issue of uterine prolapse? As stated by a WRRP staff member, “Talking only about uterine prolapse to this age group would not be effective. This issue is not a concern for them at this time in their lives. We must talk about their issues, and then introduce our issue”.

Thus, the strategy is to discuss sexual and reproductive health from the perspective of the adolescent, and then gradually bring up the issue of uterine prolapse and its causes, specifically early marriage. In Nepal, early or child marriage is defined as marriage before the age of 18. Early marriage is often one of the main causes of uterine prolapse, as it results in early childbirth.  In the school program, the topic of early marriage is introduced through the use of specific games and discussion. For example, participants are asked to share their life dreams and ambitions with the group. These types of activities encourage the youth to be confident in achieving their goals, completing their studies, and becoming independent individuals. The assumption is that if adolescents have a strong desire to continue their education and establish a career, it is less likely that they will choose early marriage over achieving life goals. The main challenge lies in that early marriage is a strong cultural tradition that is still practiced today.

Adolescent Reproductive Health Games
Adolescent Reproductive Health Games

The "Love Game"

What makes WRRP’s strategy unique is the use of interactive activities and games. Some RH education is provided in Nepali schools, but shortage of time, the taboo nature of sexual education, and lack of knowledge or comfort in teaching sexual health among teachers present a challenge. WRRP is conducting programs that involve the participants in discussion, provide interesting methods of conveying the message (games), as well as targeting the contributing factor of early marriage. This type of program can be passed on as a method of RH education to teachers and the youth leaders of different schools and communities, making it sustainable.

At the end of this week, I am heading to the East end of Nepal, where the mission will be to pick up where Kate left off in 2010… this time, I am travelling alone, on another grueling 12-hour bus ride to Lahan. Excited to see what adventures are in store! ;) (I seriously need to do a blog about my bus rides thus far!)

A Day in the Life

Samantha Syverson | Posted July 5th, 2011 | Asia

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This past Sunday Meredith and I went on a field visit with Maya and Indira from Parma. We visited a family in Sankheda to conduct interviews for a personal profile and gather facts for a property rights case study. Watch the video below to see what a day in the life of a peace fellow is like!

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Waste, waste, everywhere

Clara Kollm | Posted July 5th, 2011 | Asia

In Delhi, trash is part of the day-to-day reality; it’s on the streets, it’s in the rivers, it’s everywhere. Since this is not the reality I experience in the United States, it would be easy for me to divorce the waste management issues I see in Delhi as solely being India’s issue, but that would be a mistake. In fact, waste is one of the few things that ALL humans have in common. We may not see trash, but don’t be fooled! Issues related to waste management are rampant in the US as well. Here are some interesting articles about waste-related issues that caught my attention!

- According to this Grist article, half of the litter in the San Francisco Bay area comes from fast food!

- This New York Times article describes a conflict between affluent Upper East Side residents and nearby residents in a less affluent area about where to locate a waste transfer station. The article details how waste transfer stations are disproportionately located in low income areas and the class conflict that this breeds.

-There are new electronic waste rules for North and South Carolina that are outlined in this Huffington Post article. I found this one particularly interesting because the other Chintan intern, Abby, is working on India’s new e-waste rules because lots of e-waste is exported to India where waste-pickers work with it in abismal conditions.

- This Grist article describes how Austin, Texas could become the first city to have a no-packaging grocery store! If people generate less trash, then waste management becomes more manageable, and landfills don’t fill up as quickly. People often forget that with waste management comes questions about consumption (and over consumption) patterns.

- For those of you who are business minded, this article in the Sustainable Business Forum overviews how sustainability is essential for “high performing supply chains.” The article quotes an excellent paper written in the European Financial Review by Dr. Chris Laszlo and Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva (authors of a new book Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advange):

“the linear throw-away economy, in which products and services follow a one-way trajectory from extraction to use and disposal, can no longer be supported, as we are simply running out of things to unearth and place to landfill. Consumers, employees, and investors are beginning to demand socially and environmentally-savvy products without compromise, while radical transparency is putting every company under a microscope.”

Another issue that is intimately tied to waste management is water pollution. If you haven’t heard of the Pacific Ocean Garbage patch, read this. To give an overview, the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch is literally an aquatic landfill approximately the size of Texas (some estimates are much larger) that was discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Some say that this is the largest landfill in the world, and to think – it happened by accident. Trash from all over the world entered waterways where it just floated along and followed natural currents. These natural currents trapped the garbage in a large gyre, and created the landfill. The majority of garbage in the Pacific Ocean Garbage patch is plastic, read about the effects that plastic has on the ecosystem here.

Despite the size of this issue, it is still relatively unknown so Plastiki (a boat made entirely of plastic bottles) and crew set sail across the Pacific in 2010 to raise awareness. Read more about this incredible journey here.

So remember, even though you aren’t in Delhi with me looking at the trash on the streets – you can still be learning about waste management and waste related issues. Just because you don’t see the problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that you aren’t unknowingly contributing. Here are some things you can do:

1) Stop using plastic bags because there is really no excuse to be using plastic bags anymore. Delhi has actually banned them to help with it waste management problems. If people in Delhi can do it everyday, you can too. Yes it takes a few times to remember to bring your reusable bags to the store, but here in Delhi if you don’t have them you have to buy new ones! Try holding yourself to that model and you’ll learn quickly.

2) Find out where your trash goes. Ask some questions about which transfer station your garbage goes to so that you can be more aware about space limitations and other issues. In MA we bring our trash directly to the transfer station (rather then have trash pickup) and that is certainly a cool place to go. If you haven’t ever been to a transfer station, it’s worth a visit.

3) Recycle. If you recycle, then those materials do not end up in the garbage, and ultimately end up being reused rather then going to a landfill or the ocean. If you have to use plastic water bottles, make sure to recycle them!

4) Vote for environmentally aware politicians on the local, state, and federal levels. With the presidential election coming up, make sure to consider the environment when selecting your candidate.

Read any good articles or have tips of your own? Post them in the comments!

Drawing my childhood..( the process of making a love blanket)

Chantal Uwizera | Posted July 4th, 2011 | Asia

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What would my childhood drawings look like? When I was little, my father used to ask me to draw him and his friends. He would beam with pride as he shows off my drawings, which I was told were nothing more than just four lines to make legs and arms and an oval shape for the head! My childhood upbringing was fortunately free of forced labor of any kind and I was left to use my imagination in drawing all sorts of images. I am returning from a week visiting four child friendly villages in Banke and Bardiya districts. The experience brought back good childhood memories although I am sure my attempt at drawing will be as mediocre as it was in the past!

Sunita Chaudary, 16 years old. child laborer at age 12. Rescued by BASE.
Sunita Chaudary, 16 years old. child laborer at age 12. Rescued by BASE.

Sunita Chaudary, 16 years old. child laborer at age 12. Rescued by BASE.

The process of making a love blanket:

A child transferring the image onto the cloth.
A child transferring the image onto the cloth.

A child transferring the image onto the cloth.

The project involves giving each child a piece of cloth with the hope that they would visually depict their lives: whether as a child right now or as a former child laborer. The pieces will be assembled into a blanket: the love blanket. Past fellows have created amazing blankets from Nepal, Congo, Peru and Bosnia. The concept of child friendly villages is a blanket itself, a place where the children are surrounded by love and protection and free to have a normal childhood and attend school. The blanket once wrapped around us gives us a source of comfort and protection. The same concept is used for the love blanket. The purpose of the blanket is to compile the stories of the children, including former child laborers, who all live in these child friendly villages.  The paintings show a certain level of innocence, imagination, hope and fear as they draw not only what they see on a regular basis but also improvise with the use of bright colors (yellow cows, red goats) which make the pieces more interesting.

The children fist practice on a piece of paper and then paint those images on a piece of cloth.  I suspect that this concept of drawing their experiences on a piece of cloth, relying on their imagination is a foreign concept. But the children never shy away from participating and you can see their excitement the moment that the BASE staff translates into Nepali our instructions and the purpose of our visit. The children giggle, laugh at each other’s attempt at drawing a person and copy each other’s concept. The innocence of the children is undeniably the same everywhere and transcends cultural boundaries. I myself used to rely on the school textbooks for inspiration on how to draw a dog or a house. Some children look with a blank face while others chew on their pencils, their mind pacing hoping to eventually land on an inspiration thought enough to translate into a picture.

The thoughts finally come together into pictures on their piece of paper and their mind goes somewhere else, a world they would like to imagine or for the former child laborers a world they would rather forget. Some of the children manage to draw their experiences; others draw obscure and dark images and others imagine trees being blue or yellow.

Birendra Chaudhary, 12 years old. was a child laborer from age 8. until he was rescued last year.
Birendra Chaudhary, 12 years old. was a child laborer from age 8. until he was rescued last year.

Birendra Chaudhary, 12 years old. was a child laborer from age 8. until he was rescued last year.

Ram Prasad Tharu and Berandra Chaudhary copying each other!
Ram Prasad Tharu and Berandra Chaudhary copying each other!

Ram Prasad Tharu and Berandra Chaudhary copying each other!

The most reoccurring images are the Nepali flag, a house, water pumps, things all too familiar to them. As the images start to take form, from a paper to a cloth and added colors, the children’ faces bloom with joy and excitement in anticipation for the final product. The pieces that they produce all tell a different childhood experience. They are all colorful with the popular color being yellow and pink. I am excited to see the final product. My hope is that the blanket will tell the stories of Nepali children, and serve them justice in explaining their daily lives, their struggles, their experiences and most importantly their longing to have a normal childhood.

Advocacy gone wrong: The Miss Landmine beauty pageant

Ryan McGovern | Posted July 3rd, 2011 | Asia

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Generally speaking, I consider myself rather well informed on topics dealing with landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO). I would never call myself a subject matter expert, but there are usually very few major developments within mine action that slip by me. So it surprised me when I came across this rather sensational story of a Norwegian theatre director who has organized two beauty pageants featuring female landmine survivors from Angola and Cambodia. According to the creator of the “Miss Landmine” beauty pageant, Morten Traavik, the goal of the show is to raise awareness of the landmine problem and to empower its female victims while challenging traditional notions of beauty. As you could imagine, reactions have been mixed. Some have applauded Mr. Traavik’s innovative form of advocacy while others have been appalled. (This story is several years old at this point, but has resurfaced due to a new documentary film that recently opened. Check it out here)

The debate is rather straightforward. People against the Miss Landmine pageant would likely be opposed to any type of beauty pageant. It objectifies and exploits women, and suggests that being physically attractive is the main contribution that women can make to society. Dr. Jean Chapman who was a guest writer on the blog politicalminefields.com made an interesting observation echoing the main critiques against the show. She pointed out that men with disabilities have totally different avenues to empowerment. For example there is Oscar Pistorius (The blade runner), who is known as the fastest man without legs. He’s a double amputee from South Africa, who with the aid of carbon fiber prosthetics can run nearly as fast as world class Olympic sprinters. She cites a slew of other athletic events mostly catering towards men with disabilities that provide a healthy and inspiring way to empower persons with disabilities. Naturally she scoffs at Mr. Traavik’s beauty pageant, asking the question, “Is the only option for women amputees their objectification?” Furthermore, there are imperialist undertones within the show, which involves a privileged rich European male coming to developing nations and propagating what he considers empowerment, advocacy, and beauty.

Promotional photo for Miss Landmine Angloa Pageant
Promotional photo for Miss Landmine Angloa Pageant

Promotional photo for Miss Landmine Angloa Pageant

Judging from the comments that most people leave on blogs and news sites about this topic, supporters of the project seem generally inspired by the courage of the landmine survivors, generally agreeing with the pageant’s motto, “Everyone deserves to be beautiful”. Other supporters simply don’t see the harm in having such a pageant. After all, nobody gets hurt, the women all supposedly volunteer for the event, and the mine action sector gains the attention of the international media. Also the winner gets a cash prize and is fitted for a state of the art prosthetic limb.

I myself had mixed feelings about the Miss Landmine pageant, but I eventually came to the conclusion that this is a terrible idea, although not for the reasons stated earlier.

Certain topics within international development and humanitarian action go in and out of vogue, leaving the public’s consciousness when something more chic comes along. We the public, have in general, very short attention spans. So every once in a while, something dramatic and sensational is exactly what a cause needs to recapture the world’s attention. The Miss Landmine pageant almost fits this model, except I’m very skeptical about the supposed awareness it actually raised. While many stories in the media that reported on the show paid some lip service to the landmine problem, it was mostly concerned with the controversies involved with the pageant and its creator Mr. Traavik. The terms Bizarre and Circus were probably the most common words used by writers to describe the pageant, which isn’t something I would deem beneficial when dealing with landmine and UXO survivors. It indeed grabbed the spotlight for a short while, but mostly the light was cast on the pageant organizer Mr. Traavik, which I suspect was the entire point all along for him. While I believe the pageant ultimately failed in its stated goal of advocacy and empowerment, I’m more perturbed for a different reason.

Participants in the Miss Landmine Cambodia pageant
Participants in the Miss Landmine Cambodia pageant

Participants in the Miss Landmine Cambodia pageant

This show was a colossal waste of resources. The first pageant, Miss Landmine Angola in 2008 was sponsored by the US government as well as other development organizations. The 2009 show, Miss Landmine Cambodia which was eventually held in Norway, received funding from the Norwegian government and other donors. I can only speculate as to how much it costs to run a beauty pageant like this, but I imagine it wasn’t cheap since it required funding from a number of different government and non-government organizations. The final prize for the 2009 show winner was a custom prosthetic limb. I have to wonder, that instead of wasting money on a frivolous beauty pageant so a small elite group of people can pat themselves on the back, if all of the 20 participants could have been fitted with prosthetic limbs. I imagine they would choose this rather than the feeling of empowerment they gain from parading around in evening gowns and swimwear. This money could have been put to good use in so many other ways. Even if it didn’t go to landmine survivor assistance, I can think of a million different worthy causes that could have made a huge difference with just a fraction of the funds.

In the end, I can think of one benefit from the Miss Landmine pageant experiment. While it didn’t necessarily raise meaningful awareness of the landmine and UXO problem, it did show some weakness in worldwide survivor assistance, one of the main tenets of the ICBL’s Ottawa treaty. If it takes something like a beauty pageant to get the world’s attention, then clearly not enough is being accomplished.

Commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in India

Meredith Williams | Posted July 1st, 2011 | Asia

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the reading down of Section 377 in India, but the fight for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and particularly transgender individuals has barely begun. While the Delhi High Court decriminalized sodomy between consenting adults in private two years ago, conservative groups have appealed the decision in the Supreme Court of India, and oral arguments for the appeal are scheduled to begin on July 11th. LGBTI advocates are hopeful that the Delhi High Court ruling will be upheld, but until the Supreme Court issues a decision, nothing is certain. And even if the Supreme Court does uphold the High Court’s decision, it will simply be decriminalizing certain sexual acts.

As a comparison, eight years after the United States Supreme Court finally decriminalized sodomy in all 50 states and US territories in the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas, LGBTI individuals are still fighting to enjoy the same rights as other US citizens. 10 states plus the District of Columbia (and hopefully soon Rhode Island) issue same sex marriage or civil union licenses. In other words, only in 1 of 5 states can homosexual couples enter into marriage or a similar union, something that traditional heterosexual couples can enter into or end at almost any time. Numerous other obstacles for LGBTI individuals also still exist, including issues with obtaining and using the same identification documents as other citizens, getting access to health care, and obtaining and guaranteeing child custody.

This post is not meant to rain on the parade (literally and figuratively) of the queer community in India, because this is a day for celebration. However, it is important to remember that this incredible achievement is just the first step in ensuring that LGBTI individuals enjoy the same human rights that are guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution of India.

Preamble to the Constitution of India
Preamble to the Constitution of India

Spotted in The Times of India

Samantha Syverson | Posted June 30th, 2011 | Asia

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For better of worse the media in India seems to latch onto stories that are, or even just seem to be, about anything involving the LGBT community. Last weekend we went to a screening of I am by Sonali Gulati. You can read more about the film and the issue of coming out in India in Meredith’s recent blog. I just wanted to share this fun item quickly. Here I am in the “Baroda Times” section of The Times of India. The caption under my photo reads “European guest looks on.”

First Day of School

Clara Kollm | Posted June 30th, 2011 | Asia

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a ribbon cutting for one of Chintan’s schools. The school is the most recent addition to Chintan’s “No Child in Trash” program, and is made from entirely re-usable materials. The school itself is beautiful and is a beacon of hope for the community, not to mention one of the only buildings with electric fans on the premises.

When I talked to the 3 teachers for some 60 students, some of the challenges that the No Child in Trash (NCIT) initiative confronts daily became evident. For instance, the children are all extremely different - they are different ages, they speak different languages, and they have had different levels of exposure to education - which complicates the single classroom setup. Many of the waste-pickers are immigrants and only speak Bengali or another regional language, so the students find themselves learning Hindi and English at the Chintan schools. Further, while this school itself is wonderful, the facilities are still extremely basic. Specifically, there are no floors. The children and teachers alike sit on thin carpets that barely contain the dirt beneath them. Remember how hard it was to pay attention to the teacher in school? Now try image paying attention with a rock sticking into your behind.

Here is a short video that includes some community reactions to the new school

At the event, I had way too much fun pretending to be a professional photographer; here are some of the most powerful images from the afternoon; to view the abridged set of photos, click through to my Flickr page here!


You would never realize it from the number of photos I ended with, but I was very hesitant to take pictures. It was my first time with the community and I didn’t want to intrude by taking photos of people’s homes and children. I was also extremely uncomfortable about potentially promoting my own version of “slum tourism” after reading an insightful and articulate blog by Kristen Maryn, an AP Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya. However, after a few hours and some rough translation, the camera came out and stayed. Parents actually asked me to take pictures with their children, and the kids were giddy when they saw their picture on the digital screen. Many of the residents actually took out their cell phones and started taking pictures of me! If it goes both ways, it can’t be that bad? Right?

What do you think, would you ever be a “slum tourist” and pay to see poverty? Would it matter if you became a “better” person after the experience? I highly recommend Kristen’s blog, and the articles that she linked, for some interesting perspectives. Here are the links again for your convenience: Kristen’s blog, “Slumdog Tousism” - NYT, “Rich, Famous, and Living in a Slum” -Wall Street Journal, and “Poverty as Entertainment” - Daily Nation.

Fellow: Clara Kollm

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