Monday, October 17, 2016

The Motorcycle Diaries: Rwanda

It's OK, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Mom won't like this one.

"Be safe over there," she told me before I left home.

Naturally, I decided to rent a motorcycle and ride the dirt roads over the Rwandan mountains.

The iconic Guerrillero Heroico adorns the windshields of many cars and motorcycles in Rwanda, so perhaps my inspiration to zigzag the deeps ruts and jagged rocks came from a bit of subliminal messaging. That, and the fact that tourism here mostly caters to those whom Che Guevara would have despised.

Hey, I can see my house from up
here! No, the one in America.
I've had the white person, muzungu, experience in Rwanda. The swanky hotels and rooftop restaurants have welcomed me with open arms. Sometimes the manager of a stylish cafe in Huye brings in guitar so I can play it with him. I've seen the Kigali nightlife and the tourist traps.

One day I was told that I can rent one of the motorcycle taxis for just around six dollars per day. Riding trails on four-wheelers and dirtbikes was always one of my favorite passtimes in the US, and I also wanted to see more of this beautiful country and discover on my own.

My assistant, Irene, called up a driver and off I went.

Wanting to get the feel of the bike and make sure everything worked correctly, I decided to take the safer, paved road from Gasarenda to Huye before trusting myself to attempt the windy and rocky dirt roads that careen through the mountains and lack guard rails.

OK, not really. It was Saturday and I wanted to watch college football.

The instant I set off on my journey, mother came to punish me. By mother, I mean Mother Nature of course. It rained the entire one-hour drive to Huye and quit right when I arrived.

"Why didn't you just turn around?" one of my friends asked me.

Good news: the speedometer works.
Bad news: it's not in Freedom Units.
I told him that part of being American means that you don't miss football on Saturday. It doesn't matter where in the world we're sent, be it Africa or Antarctica, we'll find a way to watch.

Being soaked from head to toe an hour away from home and without a change of clothes, I had to think of a way to dry myself once the game was over.

"Oh that's right!" I said to myself. "I have a motorcycle!"

I paid to have the motorcycle for two days and wanted to get the most out of my money. My plan was to take any dirt road that I saw and just drive until I felt like turning around. Google Maps would save me if I got lost. My plans never go wrong.

On the bright side, road work doesn't last anywhere near as long.
The road north from Gasarenda seems to trickle down the hills like a stream after the rain. It's steep and slippery, but the payoff is worth the danger. The views from the backwoods roads are absolutely incredible, and the little towns along the way are reminiscent of the picturesque settings of fantasy video games I played as a kid.

When a reached a small village called Musebeya, I stopped for a drink before turning around. An ice-cold Coke would have been nice, but the lack of refrigerators in Rwanda don't allow for that. It's even ingrained in their culture; you have to specify that you want your drink to be cold when ordering at a restaurant or bar, as Rwandans prefer their drinks warm, even their beer.

If they had a gas station, they could do away with the tithe.
The term muzungu has come to mean white person, but its literal translation is "someone who roams around." As I was out "muzungu-ing," I remembered that there is a about a 15-mile dirt road to Kibeho near Gasarenda as well. It's sort of a pilgrimage site for many Catholics worldwide because of the Our Lady of Kibeho apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Kibeho is far out, but the church is able to raise money because of the number of people that come out, and it shows. The church grounds are beautiful and the building itself is large and modern-looking. It's a nice break from the bleakness that surrounds it.

Speaking of bleakness and reminiscence, my travels on the bike bring me back to Che Guevara once again. Much like the events chronicled in The Motorcycle Diaries, I experienced a much larger disparity of wealth than I've gotten used to. Children around Gasarenda are poor, but when you venture further away from the main road, there's a difference that almost can't be described in words.

I've seen many houses made from mud and logs. Kids carrying jerrycans filled with water pass by me on a daily basis while their parents work their hands to the bone in the fields. Further out, I could use the same words to describe the situation, but it's somehow worse.
This is a waterfall. I named it Carlos.

That's not to say that Rwanda isn't making strides. There's income inequality now, but Rwanda's upper class has only relatively recently emerged. Rwandans are very optimistic towards their future, and there are many NGOs that work to lift these people up. Also, the Kagame government seems to genuinely care about its less fortunate.

It's safe to say that I won't be replicating Che Guevara's subsequent journey.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dawod Visit Offers Students Global Perspective

By Alena Klimas, IIJ Programs Coordinator

This past week, Nivette Dawod visited Ohio University in the midst of election season and talked to students about reporting from a global perspective. Nivette came to Ohio after reporting directly from the first Presidential debate. Her articles on the election as a Swedish foreign correspondent have been featured in the magazine Aftonbladet. During her visit, I sat down with Nivette to talk about her experience as a journalist and her visit to the United States.

From the start, Nivette always knew she wanted to be a journalist but didn’t know how to go about doing so. She did her bachelors in Political science and after graduation found a magazine that Nivette felt very connected to. The magazine was founded by second generation immigrants in Sweden. Nivette submitted a sample story and before long she was working for the magazine full time. Ever since then, she has been in the journalism field.

Nivette’s passion for international reporting is in the Middle East. When she was growing up, Nivette did not feel like she could express her background. Nivette comes from Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. When she was younger she would hear the stories of their countries. However, she grew up in Sweden in Scandanavia far from these connections. When she was 18 she visited Lebanon for the first time. She felt like she “home for the first time” even though she had never been there before. The Lebanese culture embraces immigration and so for the first time ever didn’t feel like the odd one out. No one questioned her nationality and asked her where she was really from, common in Sweden. The feeling of home in the Middle East has stuck with Nivette and has shaped her career in journalism.

It was a “long ride” to report on the Middle East and Nivette had to push for the spot in foreign news. She always said “we should cover this, we should write about this”. Finally, her bosses decided this is good. Her work became bigger and bigger. She then received a fellowship from a Swedish radio. Nivette has since been to the Kurdish region of Iraq, working with the foreign correspondence Cairo, conflict in Israel/Palestine, and Saudi Arabia to cover the first women’s vote in municipal election.

However, for now, Nivette is covering the 2016 election in the United States. Athens, Ohio was one of her first stops in the US. She was happy to be in her first “college town”. Nivette also saw her first sorority house while walking on campus. She was so thankful to have visited our “nice little world”. Nivette was able to speak to an array of “inspiring” students and professors. She did a more extensive interview with WOUB with Professor Hodson. Over the weekend, Nivette visited the more rural part of Ohio. She drove to Amish country which was quite interesting for her. Then on her last day in Ohio, Nivette drove to Columbus to explore the Somali community there. She spent time with some of the community members and visited the more Somali places like the “Global Mall”. She was interested in seeing how the refugees had been integrated life in Ohio.
Ms. Nivette Dawod and Dr. Kalyango at dinner/reception with IIJ faculty and students.

Ms. Nivette Dawod is a 2016 fall fellow from the Washington-based Transatlantic Media Network and sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) in partnership with the Institute for International Journalism (IIJ) for the portion of the Ohio University campus visit.  Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, IIJ Director, says is very grateful to CSIS for their continued partnership over the past five years and the sponsorship of the fellows to explore important issues in the United States. Having Nivette Dawod on the OU campus gave students a more global perspective on the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. “We were so happy to have such a talented, interesting journalist on campus,” said some students. Nivette will continue on to other states and universities for her reporting on the U.S. presidential election. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Vietnam’s Regional Tensions & Growing Pains

By: Lucas Hakes-Rodriguez
Produced and Edited By: Sam Campbell

Workers at a site in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo via World Bank/Flickr.
The relationship between China and Vietnam is decidedly difficult. That’s putting it lightly.
In 2014, tensions between the two countries over a Chinese national oil company moving a platform into the South China Sea resulted in protests, and then riots, in Vietnam. This conflict in the hotly disputed waters has been ongoing, but it’s recently grown inflamed as China flexes superiority in the South China Sea, and thereby, in many countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.

But Vietnam is also developing because of China, as much as it would like to think it’s doing so in spite of its hefty neighbor to the North, who consistently provides official development assistance (ODAs) to Vietnam. This assistance is multifaceted, be it in the form of building factories, setting up company branches in-country, or mining its natural resources.

“I do hate what China has done to Vietnam.”

China is investing money in Vietnam so that Vietnam can help grease the big Chinese machine, which has been losing momentum as of recent. 

But the ongoing rout in disputed waters is dampening China’s scarcely-perceived good will towards the people of Vietnam. Many laypersons in Vietnam take issue with the Chinese government’s behavior. 

Phuong Do, a junior majoring in English language teaching methodology in Ho Chi Minh City, said, “One of the most strictly illegal actions that China has carried out in Vietnam may be the violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelago."

“I personally think illegal actions of China are morally unacceptable as they cause [sic] bad impact on Vietnam and China as well.”

This conflict between the two governments is unfortunate, in that the Vietnamese people typically don’t have hang-ups over the Chinese people themselves. “I do hate what China has done to Vietnam,” read a comment from Maily Dao, a software engineer from Hanoi, on the answer crowdsourcing website Quora.

“To be exact, [I hate the actions of] the Chinese government. However, as a person, I don’t hate the Chinese people, [because] most of them seem [sic] to be oblivious to what their government has done to neighboring countries.”

Indeed, China’s campaign of swallowing up nearby resources has relationship statuses set to “complicated.”

The Chinese government’s move toward corralling auxiliary income streams in international waters wouldn’t be so difficult to abhor in the minds and hearts of the Vietnamese if relations with China weren’t so beneficial to their development. 

Vietnam News reported that Chinese investment increased dramatically as of recent, from “$312 million in 2012 . . . [to] $7.9 billion in 2014.” In other words, many Vietnamese people see these money showers as Beijing trying to rub salve on the wound as it tears the skin.

The leniency of the Vietnamese government toward foreign investment in the name of rapid growth is allowing exploitative practices to slip through the cracks.

The rush to modernize Vietnam through foreign investment isn’t just a violation of sovereignty, argued Lee, a 21 year-old from Ho Chi Minh City who requested to have his surname and occupation withheld. 

The Taiwanese materials production company Formosa Plastics caused an uproar in April of 2016, when it illegally released toxic waste into the ocean in central Vietnam. “[The Formosa Company] used [the] sea for discharge.... the sea [became] very [polluted] ... [many] fish ... died … and [the] air [and] land [were polluted as well].”

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (Vietnam) called Formosa’s 2016 toxic waste dump “the most serious environmental incident Vietnam has faced.” The result of the Taiwanese company’s gross negligence was widespread protest of foreign investment. 

This outrage is a sliver of an ongoing trend across the globe: nationalist sentiments causing people to recoil at the destabilizing potential of globalization. Make no mistake. The Formosa Company’s ecological disaster was not a product of China. But the leniency of the Vietnamese government toward foreign investment in the name of rapid growth is allowing exploitative practices to slip through the cracks.

The tumultuous economic environment in Vietnam is not an easily mendable situation. While it’s unique in that it’s growing and developing, in the already globalized age (and at the heart of a region hotly debated over thanks to globalization), Vietnam has its limitations. 

Oil rig in the South China Sea. Photo via Chris/Flickr.
While the Government of Vietnam has a voice over what happens on land, its presence on sea has been riddled with issues as it emerges as a semi-developed state. In 2014, from May to August, Vietnam had conflicts with the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which built oilplatforms in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone proper.

While China played the role of earnest adventurer in its own economic region, many countries decried its actions. Vietnamese citizens were particularly livid while the Vietnamese government sent envoys to disrupt China’s unwelcome harvest. 

As China continues to apply pressure, the Vietnamese people’s sense of entrapment will only rise.

Lee claimed the situation caused his country much “stress,” and the talks with China in the aftermath were “meaningless,” as they did not convince China to do much of anything.

Ultimately, these growing pains are a sign that when relying on a regional power for support, expecting them to stop with the coddling when it’s time to “spread one’s wings” is fanciful thinking. 

In response, Vietnam is looking across the Pacific to Washington, which has been opening up to Hanoi thanks to President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia.” The Obama Administration’s increased challenges towards Chinese claims of regional control has manifested itself across Southeast Asia, as the President just concluded a tour of countries ranging from Laos to Thailand. According to NPR reporter Michael Sullivan, he skipped the Philippines, after Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, called Obama a “son of a whore."

The region in the South China Sea is volatile, as a myriad of nations claim ownership over islands and waters. Vietnam, though still developing, has barriers to break if it hopes to attain economic stability, independence, and congeniality comparable to real players in the global market. 

As China continues to apply pressure, the Vietnamese people’s sense of entrapment will only rise. And as the government continues to allow Chinese money to influence its decisions, it will continue to lose its grasp on an increasingly impatient population and a worldwide economic system that’s indifferent to leaving it behind.

Hungry for Self-sustainability

How Haiti is Uniting to Build a Healthier, Independent Nation
By: Emily McIntyre
Produced and Edited By: Sam Campbell
Food Distribution in Haiti. Photo via FMSC/Flickr
When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince in 2010, the population was pushed deeper into its battle with extreme poverty. Thousands of people died, families were separated and the country’s free market economy plunged. Nonprofit organizations, charities and relief efforts flooded into Haiti for support, and though six years have passed since the earthquake, the country is still picking up the pieces.
Before the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti (CNP)/Kore Timoun (which means caring for children) was established in 1998, the acute malnutrition rate was an alarming 24 percent for the region of Léogâne, located in the Ouest Department of Haiti. 
Today, that rate has dropped to approximately less than 3 percent, said Taryn Silver the country program director of CNP. Focusing on the Léogâne area, CNP depends on female leaders called monitrices to teach the local communities how to be self-sustainable via Women’s Groups and Health Committees. Silver explains that monitrices play an especially instrumental role in treating women who are malnourished, pregnant or lactating. 
“They’ll talk about, like, ‘OK you basically need to eat an extra bowl of rice, or basically eating a little bit extra’ to get those extra calories while they’re pregnant,” Silver said.
Exclusive breastfeeding is also an issue in some communities as well, because not all mothers are well-nourished enough to do so.
“It’s not like they’re supplementing with formula or anything. They’re using food, or baby powders, and just regular powdered milk,” Silver said. “So what our monitrices will tell the women is ‘If you’re buying milk for your baby, no, you drink that milk. Use that extra money to buy extra food for yourself, especially while you’re breastfeeding.’”
In March 2014, CNP also started promoting the growth of Moringa trees, which have nutrient-dense leaves. Monitrices show mothers how they can incorporate them into their diet, such as adding them in soup.
Malnutrition affects Haitian children to the point where often times their hunger distracts them from learning at school. In Ouanaminthe, located in the Nord-Est Department of Haiti, is Institution Univers, one of the top ten ranked schools in the country. The Coalition of Children in Need Association founder Hugues Bastien started a farm to operate in tandem with the school’s lunch program.
The local crops grown there include sweet potatoes, mangoes, coconuts, cashews and limes, and they are harvested to feed more than 2,300 students ranging from preschool to high school.
A worker tends to his organic farm. Photo via uusc4all/Flickr.
“They were seeing not only kids who were malnourished, but even just because they were so hungry, they couldn’t learn. They couldn’t concentrate in class, and they didn’t have the energy to do what they needed to do,” said COCINA Communications Director Anna Lile.
COCINA also funds and supports Univers Medical Center in Ouanaminthe, which has become one of the biggest health clinics in the area. 
Aside from the wreckage following the tragedy, Haiti has suffered from massive deforestation within the past two decades. Part of the reason for this is producing and relying on charcoal for fuel, which requires cutting down trees Deforestation has also forced farmers to abandon or give up agriculture, because not enough profit is being collected from their crops.
“With deforestation, there’s more malnutrition and… there’s often no rain because there are often droughts,” said CNP Program Manager Rose Elene Veillard.* “Locals grow gardens, and the gardens can’t produce anything."
When it comes to a balanced diet, the best recommendation for Haitians with limited access to a variety of foods is to choose the right foods based on what is available. Cost has been a major setback when it comes to shopping for meals at the markets or grocery stores in Haiti.
“They’ve almost created this generation of ‘We live off of aid.’ The people don’t want that. They want to be a strong, proud country.”
Silver explaied that Haiti is frustrated with the food shipments that constantly pour in from other countries. “It puts a lot of people out of business,” she said. “When you go to the market in Haiti to buy rice, you can buy a bag of American or Taiwanese rice for maybe half the cost of Haitian rice.”
Cassandra Jean François, a member of SOHASAN (Solidarité Haitienne de Sécurité Alimentaire et Nutritionnelle) stressed that a major challenge with external aid is that there are no laws for food regulation in Haiti.
“But everyone needs access to food,” she said.*
Tania Bernard, Accounting Manager and official of Haitian Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (le Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle, or MENFP) agrees; she thinks that instead of the U.S. and other countries shipping metric tons of food as a form of aid, they should lend assistance in helping to reform the nation’s economy.
“So the help we need in Haiti by precisely related to this issue of food insecurity is first domestic production,” Bernard said. “I think the development of our country must first go through projects…  agricultural reform projects, projects that are taking shape in the rural section, with farmers and with communities in order to arrive at large-scale development of our national economy.”
Lost in the whirlwind of governmental reform, the Haitian population can only hope to make steps toward becoming a more sustainable nation once their new political leaders take office.
“They want to have hope for their future. They know that their country is broken, and they want to be able to take care of themselves,” Lile said. “They’ve almost created this generation of ‘We live off of aid.’ The people don’t want that. They want to be a strong, proud country.”

*Some quotes translated by the author.