Friday, October 12, 2012

I have moved myself to Tumblr.  I like the layout, and I just find it easier to blog.  See ya there, folks!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world's greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.
Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil's National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.
It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as "a real genocide". People are pouring on to the Awá's land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known aspistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.
This week Survival International will launch a new campaign to highlight the plight of the Awá, backed by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth. In a video to be launched on Wednesday, Firth will ask the Brazilian government to take urgent action to protect the tribe. The 51-year-old, who starred in last year's hit movie The King's Speech, and came to prominence playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, delivers an appeal to camera calling on Brazil's minister of justice to send in police to drive out the loggers.
The Awá are one of only two nomadic hunter-gathering tribes left in the Amazon. According to Survival, they are now the world's most threatened tribe, assailed by gunmen, loggers and hostile settler farmers.
Their troubles began in earnest in 1982 with the inauguration of a European Economic Community (EEC) and World Bank-funded programme to extract massive iron ore deposits found in the Carajás mountains. The EEC gave Brazil $600m to build a railway from the mines to the coast, on condition that Europe received a third of the output, a minimum of 13.6m tons a year for 15 years. The railway cut directly through the Awá's land and with the railway came settlers. A road-building programme quickly followed, opening up the Awá's jungle home to loggers, who moved in from the east.
It was, according to Survival's research director, Fiona Watson, a recipe for disaster. A third of the rainforest in the Awá territory in Maranhão state in north-east Brazil has since been destroyed and outsiders have exposed the Awá to diseases against which they have no natural immunity.
"The Awá and the uncontacted Awá are really on the brink," she said. "It is an extremely small population and the forces against them are massive. They are being invaded by loggers, settlers and cattle ranchers. They rely entirely on the forest. They have said to me: 'If we have no forest, we can't feed our children and we will die'."
But it appears that the Awá also face a more direct threat. Earlier this year an investigation into reports that an Awá child had been killed by loggers found that their tractors had destroyed the Awá camp.
"It is not just the destruction of the land; it is the violence," said Watson. "I have talked to Awá people who have survived massacres. I have interviewed Awá who have seen their families shot in front of them. There are immensely powerful people against them. The land-grabbers use pistoleros to clear the land. If this is not stopped now, these people could be wiped out. This is extinction taking place before our eyes."
What is most striking about the Funai undercover video of the loggers – apart from the sheer size of the trunks – is the absence of jungle in the surrounding landscape. Once the landscape would have been lush rainforest. Now it has been clear-felled, leaving behind just grass and scrub and only a few scattered clumps of trees.
Such is the Awá's affinity with the jungle and its inhabitants that if they find a baby animal during their hunts they take it back and raise it almost like a child, to the extent that the women will sometimes breastfeed the creature. The loss of their jungle has left them in a state of despair. "They are chopping down wood and they are going to destroy everything," said Pire'i Ma'a, a member of the tribe. "Monkeys, peccaries, tapir, they are all running away. I don't know how we are going to eat – everything is being destroyed, the whole area.
"This land is mine, it is ours. They can go away to the city, but we Indians live in the forest. They are going to kill everything. Everything is dying. We are all going to go hungry, the children will be hungry, my daughter will be hungry, and I'll be hungry too."
In an earlier interview with Survival, another member of the tribe, Karapiru, described how most of his family were killed by ranchers. "I hid in the forest and escaped from the white people. They killed my mother, my brothers and sisters and my wife," he said. "When I was shot during the massacre, I suffered a great deal because I couldn't put any medicine on my back. I couldn't see the wound: it was amazing that I escaped – it was through the Tupã [spirit]. I spent a long time in the forest, hungry and being chased by ranchers. I was always running away, on my own. I had no family to help me, to talk to. So I went deeper and deeper into the forest.
"I hope when my daughter grows up she won't face any of the difficulties I've had. I hope everything will be better for her. I hope the same things that happened to me won't happen to her."
The Survival campaign reflects growing international concern over the plight of the world's remaining indigenous tribes. Earlier this year theObserver revealed how police were colluding with tour operators in India's Andaman Islands to run human safaris into the jungle heartland of the protected Jarawa tribe. A video showing half-naked Jarawa women and girls dancing in return for food caused outrage in India and around the world. Further revelations followed, exposing human safaris in Orissa, in India, and in Peru, where tour operators are profiting from the exploitation of Amazon jungle tribes.
Meanwhile, drug traffickers are posing a threat to other Amazon tribes. Last year a previously uncontacted tribe was photographed from the air close to the Peru-Brazil border only to go missing a few months later after a gang of drug traffickers overpowered guards protecting their land.
The Brazilian embassy in London referred requests for a response to the president's Human Rights Secretariat, which did not respond. However, Brazil has recently been able to point to research that shows it has been making progress in tackling illegal logging. The country's National Institute for Space Research estimates that 6,238 sq km of rainforest was lost between 2010 and 2011, down dramatically from the 2004 peak of 27,700 sq km. The same year, Brazil pledged to cutdeforestation by 80% by 2020.
The year-on-year fall last year was 11% and in March Brazil's forestry department raided and closed down 14 illegal sawmills on the borders of the Awá's land. Even so, the figures also show that two states recorded sharp rises in deforestation, and illegal logging is destroying the Awá's jungle at a faster rate than that of any other Amazon tribe.
In a statement, Survival urged the Brazilian government to give more support to Funai and to increase its efforts to shut down illegal activities in the Awá's territories. "Timing is crucial, and the timing of this is now, because while all hope is not lost an entire people are on the verge of being lost, most critically the uncontacted Awá. And we have a moral responsibility to act. EU and World Bank money has helped fund huge projects in Brazil that have exploited the Awá's land resources and made infrastructure ripe for developers."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Letters To My Daughters: A Memoir

I just finished reading Letters To My Daughters: A Memoir (The Favored Daughter in the United States) and it broke my heart. I couldn't recommend it more. Anyone who wants to know more about the Taliban, women's rights, recent history, or life in general for the past 30 or so years in modern Afghanistan should read this book. You can also read the thorough review below.

By Licia Corbella, Postmedia News June 6, 2011

""Even the day I was born, I was supposed to die." Thus begins the first chapter of Letters to My Daughters, by Fawzia Koofi, one of Afghanistan's most popular members of parliament, in a memoir that grabs its readers by the throat and doesn't let go. Call it a death grip -after all, Koofi has literally run for her life on numerous occasions starting at the age of four when life in Afghanistan started to unravel after the Soviet Union invaded the rugged country in 1979.

Besides risks to her own life, her father, Wakil Abdul Rahman, an MP for the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which she now represents, was murdered, as were four of her brothers. "I have stared death in the face countless times in my 35 years, but still I'm alive. I don't know why this is," she muses.

Koofi was born the 19th of her father's 23 children and the seventh and last child of her mother -the second of her father's seven wives.

About one year before Koofi was born, her mother grew depressed after her husband brought home a new bride -a 14-year-old girl. That girl bore a son and Koofi's mother, who was six months pregnant herself, hoped that she too would bear a son to gain back the favour of her husband. It was not to be.

"Semi-conscious by the time I was delivered, (my mother) had barely enough energy to express her dismay at the news I was a girl. When I was shown to her, she turned away, refusing to hold me," writes Koofi.

"No one cared if the new girl child lived or died, so while they focused on saving my mother's life, I was wrapped in cotton muslin swaddling cloth and placed outside in the baking sun. I lay there for almost a day, screaming my little lungs out." Sounds horrific, but within a few chapters, it's impossible not to fall in love with Koofi's mother -Bibi jan -an illiterate woman described as the "kindest, most talented teacher in the world" who suffered terribly during her life.

"I recall watching in horror once as my father chased my mother along the corridor and began beating her," writes Koofi. "Once, my father viciously tore out a chunk of her hair during a beating. . Beating was a normal part of marriage," something virtually all Afghan women and girls expect to be a part of their lives.

Such passages reinforce what many Canadians believe about Afghanistan's medieval ways and its violence, but what this book accomplishes so beautifully is that it reminds readers of the humanity of Afghans. Despite the tragedy that has gripped the lives of almost every Afghan over 30 years of war, these are people with aspirations and sentiments not unlike our own.

Each chapter starts with a letter from Koofi to her daughters, Shuhra, who will turn 13 later this month, and Shaharzad, 11. While these letters are full of love, wisdom and advice, it is the narrative of Koofi's life that will keep you turning the pages. Reached at her hotel room during a visit to Ottawa on Thursday, Koofi is just as engaging to talk to as her book is compelling to read.

While Koofi says she has been keeping a gruelling schedule of media interviews and public readings on her cross-Canada book tour, she is accustomed to long days of travel, meeting with her constituents in the impoverished northern part of Afghanistan and tending to her legislative duties in Kabul.

But in Canada, where her life is not under constant threat by the Taliban, she says despite the hectic pace, she finds it relaxing. Koofi makes a point of thanking Canadian troops for their sacrifice and the positive difference they have made to her country. She mentions Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, who was murdered by the Taliban near Kandahar on Dec. 30, 2009: "The Taliban like to kill women. They think it will stop other women from having courage and working to change our country. But it was the women and children of Afghanistan who suffered the most under the Taliban and living under the Taliban is worse than death, so they will never be able to kill the resolve of Afghan women to make a better country for their children."

After Koofi's father was killed by mujahedeen fighters, her mother allowed her to attend school. It was there, while watching television, that she learned about British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi in India. But seeing those powerful rulers on television wasn't the spark that has Koofi vowing to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014. It was her parents -the musings of her mother and the political dynasty established by her father -who set her ambitions to lead.

Koofi is disappointed Canada's mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end and is gravely worried for her country.

Helping Afghanistan "is what I live for," writes Koofi at the end of her book. "And it is what I know I will die for." Here's hoping this brave woman has many more years of leadership before that happens. She might just change the world."

Licia Corbella is a columnist and editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Girl Who Silenced the World For Five Minutes
An incredible video. The following is the transcribed speech:

Hello, I'm Severn Suzuki speaking for E.C.O. - The Environmental Children's Organisation.
We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference:
Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg and me. We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future.
Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come.
I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard.
I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.
I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don't know what chemicals are in it.
I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants going exinct every day -- vanishing forever.
In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterfilies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see.
Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age?
All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I'm only a child and I don't have all the solutions, but I want you to realise, neither do you!
* You don't know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer.
* You don't know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream.
* You don't know how to bring back an animal now extinct.
* And you can't bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert.
If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!
Here, you may be delegates of your governments, business people, organisers, reporters or poiticians - but really you are mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, aunts and uncles - and all of you are somebody's child.
I'm only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil -- borders and governments will never change that.
I'm only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.
In my anger, I am not blind, and in my fear, I am not afraid to tell the world how I feel.
In my country, we make so much waste, we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, and yet northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid to share.
In Canada, we live the privileged life, with plenty of food, water and shelter -- we have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets.
Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with some children living on the streets. And this is what one child told us: "I wish I was rich and if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter and love and affection."
If a child on the street who has nothing, is willing to share, why are we who have everyting still so greedy?
I can't stop thinking that these children are my age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born, that I could be one of those children living in the Favellas of Rio; I could be a child starving in Somalia; a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.
I'm only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be!
At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us:
* not to fight with others,
* to work things out,
* to respect others,
* to clean up our mess,
* not to hurt other creatures
* to share - not be greedy.
Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?
Do not forget why you're attending these conferences, who you're doing this for -- we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying "everyting's going to be alright", "we're doing the best we can" and "it's not the end of the world".
But I don't think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father always says "You are what you do, not what you say."
Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words. Thank you for listening.

I'm Canadian, but it applies just the same.

This essay kicked its way home right into my gut. I've spent some time in Asia, and while there are certainly issues with people there as well, there is a much higher sense of community, belonging, and care for the well-being of others. For example: when carrying a backpack/grocery bags/big purse on the bus or subway, someone who has a seat will take them and hold them for you while you stand. They will not steal anything. The entire point is to make your journey more comfortable.

It is looking at the person in front of you, realising you can ease their discomfort, and doing it.

Read the whole essay
, it's worth it.

Here it isn’t every man for himself. Here people won’t steal from you on the bus. Here there is a general sense of people being connected by more than just breathing the same air. Take the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the way the Japanese responded to it. It was remarkable the way there were no reports of rooting or lawlessness when millions needed food and medical attention. Imagine if something similar to that happened in the United States, where we are anything but united...