Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Intern'l Correspondent Bec Hamilton visits OHIO

By Amber Skorpenske
IIJ Ambassador

Additional Reporting by Rachel Ferchak

The Institute of International Journalism (IIJ) proudly presents a prominent international correspondent, Rebecca Hamilton, to Ohio University from Mon., Feb. 28 to Wed., March 2. Ms. Hamilton is a Special Correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post. She will give students a series of presentations and lectures on Sudan, the promises and perils of citizen engagement. The main event is on Tues., March 1 at 5:10pm in Scripps Hall, Room 111 (Anderson Auditorium). She will also hold a forum for the "African Studies at Noon" series on Wed., March 2, at Yamada House, in Yamada Seminar Room (009).
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State)

Hamilton’s book, Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, is a multi-year investigation into the formation of U.S. and international policy on Darfur and the impact that the U.S. citizen outcry for Darfur has had. She has conducted over 150 interviews with policy-makers on Sudan within the previous and current U.S administration, within the UN, and within the Arab League. She has interviewed those deployed to Sudan with the Africa Union and has spoken to both the survivors and the perpetrators of the atrocities in Darfur.Hamilton has also been published in prestigious outlets such as Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Slate, Newsweek and The International Herald Tribune. She has also done work as a lawyer at the International Criminal Court.

Hamilton told the IIJ in an interview that her work in Africa started out of genuine curiosity. Hamilton had been a part of the “Save Darfur” movement when she was a student and had great expectations about what citizen-driven advocacy could achieve. “But traveling back and forth to Sudan, it was also clear that those expectations were not translating into results on the ground. So I wanted to understand why that was,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton attempted to reconstruct that process in an attempt to allow advocates here in the U.S assess the impact of the activism they were pursuing. She says that this would help in “working out how to do better in future situations of mass atrocity.”

The IIJ encourages students of all majors and disciplines to attend the two important public lectures: Tues., March 1 at 5:10 p.m. in Scripps 111 and Wed., March 2, at Yamada Seminar Room (009).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Government-backed programs help U.S. Jews move to Israel

By: Erich Hiner

Edited By: Dave Talmage

When American-born Liora Horwitz traveled to Israel in 2009, she thought it would be a short trip. However, her tour took a deeply personal and permanent turn.

In 2003 she visited Israel with the help of Birthright, a non-profit that provides free Israel trips to young Jews. She returned to Israel in 2009 for a second time studying Judaism and became extremely attached to the people and the land. “I guess you could say I was searching for meaning,” Horwitz said. “I really wasn’t expecting to stay for long.” However, Horwitz decided to stay in Israel and describes her second adventure as a spiritual awakening. It was “like growing up,” she said.

Horwitz’s story is not unique. Thousands of young American Jews visit Israel every year and many decide to stay.

That is due in no small part to youth trip programs like Birthright and Israeli government-funded efforts. The Israeli government encourages foreign Jews to visit and settle in Israel with the Law of Return, a piece of legislation passed in 1950 guaranteeing all Jews the right to visit Israel.

Israel: Discovering a New Home

Many Israeli Jews are actually foreign-born. While over three quarters of the 7.3 million Israelis are

Jewish, almost a third of Israeli Jews were born in the U.S. or Europe, according to the CIA World Factbook.


oung Jews' collective discovery of Israel has been aided by the expansion of youth programs and government-funded efforts to attract Jews to the country. Many such programs are designed to promote Jewish unity or “aliyah,” the practice of moving to Israel to experience one's Jewish heritage. The Israeli government encourages foreign Jews to visit and settle in Israel with the Law of Return, a piece of legislation passed in 1950 guaranteeing all Jews the right to visit Israel.Israel also issues special aliyah visas to visiting Jews who express the desire to settle in the country.

Birthright is the one of the largest programs that helps young Jews visit Israel. It is often the first step toward citizenship.

On these trips, students take 10-day tours of Jewish cultural sites. The program started 10 years ago with 7,000 participants and expanded to 30,000 by 2010. The organization’s goal is to increase enrollment to 50,000 by 2013.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently called Birthright an important tool for strengthening global Jewish identity. About a third of Birthright's funding comes from the Israeli government, which pledged in January to provide $100 million to the program over the next several years.

Esther Abramowitz, a 20-year Israel resident originally from the U.S., coordinates all Birthright buses in Israel and has overseen almost 1,000 buses so far. She said Birthright provides young Jews with a great sense of community that is difficult to find in the U.S. “I hear it all the time. ‘I was the only Jew in my high school. I never knew what it was to be Jewish,’” she said. “Students realize that they’re not alone; they’re part of something larger than themselves.”

More Than A Religious Experience

While Birthright (which is officially non-religious) tries to get students in touch with Jewish culture, some of the contractors it works with prefer to stress religious identity.

Eli Deutsch is a lecturer and rabbi who works with youth trips. He was U.S.-born, but has spent the last nine years in Israel. He has worked with Birthright for two years. Many young Jews follow cultural norms without understanding their religious significance, Deutsch said. He strives to make them see that there is more to Judaism than rituals and customs. “There’s nowhere in the Torah that says ‘Thou shalt eat bagels and lox,’” he said. “Most Jews, from what they’ve heard of Judaism, is the ‘whats’ and ‘hows.’ Why should I have this in my life – that’s been left out of the picture.”

A Part of The Culture:

Israeli citizens who interact with Birthright participants sometimes witness the discovery process many visitors undergo.

Anat Hartmann, an Israeli native from Nazareth Ellit, was an Israeli soldier when she accompanied a Birthright trip in 2008. Hartmann said the foreign Jews she met felt “more Jewish” while in Israel.

“It’s the nation of the Jewish people,” Hartmann said. “I found it really exciting that people just want to be here.”

Other Israelis have made their livelihoods out of helping traveling Jews. Chaya Weisberg directs the women’s hostel for Heritage House in Jerusalem. She has seen many of them turn from being skeptical about Judaism to embracing Jewish religion and culture while on sponsored trips.

"There is something so dramatic and special about it that being exposed to it makes them want to connect to it,” Weisberg said. “It’s something deeper that’s very real.”

Birthright and programs like it are often just the first step for Jews seeking their roots in Israel. Many return for longer stays with programs such as MASA Israel, another program partly funded by the Israeli government.

Students traveling with MASA study in Israel and live among its people. The goal of MASA is to provide Jews with long-term cultural integration.

After returning to Israel with MASA, many Jews decide to become permanent Israel residents with the help of organizations like Nefesh B'Nefesh. The program also receives funding from the State of Israel and helps acculturate foreigners. It helps them find places to live and work and is many Jews' final step toward living in Israel.

Many Jews who travel to Israel with state-sponsored programs decide to stay, and rising enrollment and expanded government support suggest the programs are having their desired effects.

For Jews like Horwitz, being in Israel means discovering what it is to be Jewish. For her, it all comes down to one central idea. “I feel at home with the people, the land … My soul wanted to be here,” Horwitz said. “Israel is home.”

Sweet Living: Diabetes in Thailand

By: Lauren Nolan

Edited By: Dave Talmage

Imagine living day-to-day burdened with sensations of steady thirst, headaches, a continuous urgency to urinate, nausea and blurred vision. In addition to the discomfort these symptoms yield, many Thais cannot explain why they originated.

According to a study by the American Diabetes Association an estimated 10 percent of Thailand’s population suffer from these physical afflictions. Most Thais have no understanding of why they are suffering from these symptoms, but these numbers reflect direct cases of undiagnosed or poorly monitored diabetes.

Diabetes: Undiagnosed and Uneducated

The American Diabetes Association published a study in 2003 that concluded one-half of all diabetics in Thailand are undiagnosed. Many people native to Thailand say, education in big cities such as Bangkok and Pattaya-Chon Buri may be adequate, but education in rural Thailand is insufficient, particularly in regards to health. Henok Negash, a volunteer coordinator for the Peace Corps in Thailand said, “Health is not a factor taught in schools in rural Thailand.”

A Diabetes Friendly Climate

Yingrodge Kaetangkhuen, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Thai Army, knows first hand the hardships of living with diabetes. Both Kaetangkhuen’s mother and father were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Tipsukou Kaetangkhuen, Yingrodge’s wife, suggests the cause for undiagnosed and poorly managed diabetes as a result of a variety of shifting cultural factors and lifestyle choices.

Thailand’s lack of education on the disease, a shift in eating habits, which now focuses around highly processed, starchy and sugary foods, as well as exercise, or lack thereof, could all be responsible. “(Thais) have really been embracing fast food culture,” said Tipsukou Kaetangkhuen. “It is probably because, now, Thailand always seems to be on the go, and (the fast food) is convenient for this new lifestyle.”

Lorraine Bergeron, a traveler and pad Thai enthusiast, has spent many months in Thailand over the past seven years. Bergeron says numerous street foods, specifically the wok’s, use heavy oils and sugars. “Most of the curries, even the really spicy ones, are very sweet, which is what is great—and awful about it, and why I love it,” she said.

Tipsukou Kaewtangkhuen was raised farming in Lopburi province, 180 km (112 miles) north of Bangkok. “My family grew the vegetables and fruit we ate,” she said. “We knew where our food came from, did physical work to grow it and cooked it (from its most basic form).”

“MSG is added to almost all Thai street food, as is sugar,” said Greg Jorgensen, a resident of Bankok. Home cooked meals are no exception in escaping added sugars. “Whenever my (Thai) girlfriend cooks for us at home I have to tell her, ‘Go easy on the sugar,’” he said. “(Thais) put (sugar and MSG) in everything: beef stew, soup, spicy salads, etcetera.”

It’s clear food consumption and production may be a big player in the onset of Type 2 diabetes among Thais, but a shift from demanding agricultural work to more desk jobs in cities may also be to blame.

Being Diagnosed: A Shift in Lifestyle

It’s unknown if Thais will decide to alter their lifestyles in order to prevent Type 2 diabetes. However, once diagnosed, frequent blood glucose testing might be most valuable in healthy monitoring of the disease.

While Thailand’s universal healthcare system covers the costs of insulin for Type 1 diabetics and monthly visits to doctors for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics, it does not cover the cost of testing meters or testing strips. Consequently, some diabetics are only checking their blood glucose once per month; when they visit their doctor.

“There are many (Thais) you hear about who go blind or lose a limb because of lack of treatment,” said Kaetangkhuen. Unlike most Thais, Kaetangkhuen’s parents receive blood glucose testing meters at zero cost because he and his father are government employees.

Though there is no single strategy for the frequency diabetics should be testing blood glucose, the American Diabetes Association recommends regularly testing 4-7 times each day. Without knowing the levels of glucose in their blood, diabetics cannot accurately determine how many carbohydrates they should ingest for a safe, balanced diet. If too many grams of carbohydrate are ingested, blood glucose increases.

When blood glucose levels are high, also known as hyperglycemia, the body wants to rid the system of the excess sugar via urine. This is the reason for the “sweet urine” that Thais associate with diabetes. When blood glucose is low—hypoglycemia—diabetics experience feelings of physical weakness, headaches, sweating and anxiety. Long-term consequences of instable blood glucose take their toll on the body through vision problems, blindness, and kidney and nerve damage.

Combating Diabetes

Henok Negash is currently working through the Peace Corps on “Fighting Diabetes.” The project is aimed to provide adequate health training and equipment to diabetics in the Thamanao district, a sub-district of Chaibadan, 210 km (130 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

“This project is important in Thailand because the majority of Thais don’t have the opportunity to check their blood sugar,” said Negash. “They also don’t know the consequences of not knowing their blood sugar.”

Negash conveys that the primary goal in his venture is to reach the point where all the diabetics in his village will have the opportunity to test their blood glucose once each day, instead of once each month.

The “Fighting Diabetes” project started after Negash came to Thamanao with the Peace Corps to develop sustainable projects and teach Thais the skills to continue the projects on their own. Thamanao has a population of about 3,500 and 85 of those have been diagnosed with diabetes. The 85 were shocked to learn Negash is also diabetic.

“(The locals) commented that they think I look healthy and they wanted me to help teach them some things so that they could properly manage their diabetes,” said Negash. “I figured that I had the knowledge (of diabetes management) and if they were excited to learn, I would be excited to help.”

Photos courtesy of natala007 on Flickr.com and samitivejhospitals.com

The Impact of Soccer on Christianity in Brazil

By: Arushi Sharma

Edited By: Dave Talmage

It’s football, not soccer! Ask any one of the 200 million people in Brazil who live and breathe by the sport. The BBC has hailed football to be the most played sport in the world. Reports confirm that there are about 260-million registered “players” and more than 3.5 billion fans worldwide.

Religion and Sports

According to the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) census, Brazil is the second largest Christian country in the world (after the United States), with almost 78 percent of the population declaring Christianity as their religion in 2005.

There has always been a historical and symbolic relationship between religion and sports, especially football, says Dr.Richard Guilianotti, head of the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University. Guilianotti’s research focuses on sports, globalization, popular culture, qualitative research methods and social theory.

According to Guilianotti the modern game of football is said to have replaced religion as the institution that binds people together. Giving rise to states of emotional elation previously associated with religious ceremonies.

Religion and The All Mighty Football

“Soccer is life here,” said Vinicius Pereira, a student in Brazil who claims he’s been playing football for as long as he can remember. “It is like religion. The feeling of absolute… joy you feel when you make that goal is almost spiritual.”

Pereira is a Roman Catholic and claims in Brazil it’s not uncommon to find churches praying for the local team. “My priest… when Sport Recife (the local football club in Recife) was playing for the Brazil Cup in ’08, that Sunday we spent almost 15 minutes just praying for our victory,” said Pereira.

A longstanding popular Mexican Catholic tradition on Candlemas, which marks the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, involves people dressing up a baby Jesus figure as a saint before presenting it for a blessing at their church.

But in Brazil, it is common to dress up Jesus in one’s favorite football jersey. “When the World Cup was on, there were so many Jesus’ with Brazil jerseys on, it was crazy!” said Pereira. “The issue comes when after the games people tend to either take them home, or throw them away… that’s the part I don’t like.”

Religion On The Field

Religion is still a key influence on many of Brazil’s most prominent football players. Deep personal faith carries players like Brazilian midfielder, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (better known as Kaka), who has always been extremely open about being a devout evangelical Christian.

Kaka’s high-profile commitment to his religion could serve as good news for church leaders. It’s thought that the identification of Kaka and his faith may be useful to religious leaders seeking to attract football’s youth.

When Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict’s successor, created The Clericus Cup in 2007, an international tournament for priests and seminarians, he stated he would aim at creating a Vatican City team to take on the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan. However, even Bertone would not argue that the stated aim of “reinvigorating a sporting tradition within the Christian community” is better served by Kaka and his T-shirt proclaiming “I belong to Jesus” or “God is faithful” stitched on to the tongues of his boots. However, FIFA has rules specifically banning players from making personal displays of religious or political nature. They have also sent a warning letter to the Brazilian football federation reminding them of the rules.

The correlation between football and religion is yet to be determined in Brazil but some students like Pereira feels the two are intertwined. “I’ve seen so many people here who say football is their religion,” Pereira said. “I mean the game gives them more than the religion ever did.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bandy: The Sport of the Swedish Soul

By: Jessie Cadle
Edited By: Dave Talmage

She proudly thrusts the picture forward, a dilapidated black and white photo in a simple black frame. In the image, a few well-dressed and elegant women ice skate wielding what seems to be field hockey sticks as they chase a small rubber ball.

“These are some women from Finland visiting the queen—Crown Princess Margareta—and they are playing bandy,” said Jenny Svender, who played bandy for 25 years and now coaches her daughter’s team. “They are in the Stockholm Stadium, which hosted the Olympic Games in 1912.”

Svender has the 1918 image framed in her home as a source of inspiration for her female bandy career in Sweden. A cross between ice hockey and soccer, bandy has been played in Sweden since 1895, she said. “It’s something in the Swedish soul that connects to bandy,” said Svender, who is a Ph.D student and part time teacher at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences.

How to Play Bandy: An Artist’s Game

While a highly competitive sport bandy is also known as an artist’s game. “There is so much ice and so much you can do with it,” Svender said. “It’s a game for artists who can really show the audience what they can do.”
Bandy is conventionally played outdoors on a sheet of ice the size of a soccer field, said Karin Redelius, who played bandy for 23 years, formerly served as a member of the board for the Swedish Bandy Federation and now teaches at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. 11 players comprise a team with one goalie. The objective is to score more points than the opposing team by shooting a small rubber ball into the opponent’s goal with a stick. Game play is divided into 45-minuet halves. Its rules and positions are herald from soccer. The sport is similar to hockey but players wear less pads and the goal is much larger, said Redelius.

The History of Bandy in Sweden: A Working Class Sport

“Bandy is provincial. It’s a local thing,” Redelius said. “It’s like in America; in some towns baseball is really big or somewhere else hockey is the thing.”

The sport of bandy originated in England and came to Stockholm in 1895. Bandy was originally known as “hockey” and played only by the upper class and royal family according to Jakob Öster, a member of the
Global Bandy Forum. In the 1920s bandy had spread to the working class districts and is still most popular in towns and provinces in northern Sweden, Svender said.

Today the game is primarily played in Eastern European countries, with the strongest rivalry between Russia and Sweden, said Daniel Grönqvist, a student in Stockholm. Events like World War One and England’s insufficient winters had stunted the sport’s popularity in Western Europe, said Eric Jonsson, Web Editor for the
Swedish Bandy Federation.

With the growth of televised sports bandy has lost some fans due to the game’s speed and the inability to follow the small ball. This problem was one that helped lead to ice hockey’s growth as a sport, Redelius said. “I remember a humor show where they said bandy actually means ‘where’s the ball,’” Grönqvist said with a laugh.

Bandy’s Popularity in Sweden: It’s Tradition

The bandy world championship has been played 31 times since 1957, and Sweden has always come home with a gold, silver or bronze medal, according to Öster. 2011 marked the first time in 12 years that Sweden was not in the final round of the Bandy World Championship, Redelius said.

Bandy is estimated to be the fifth most popular sport in Sweden in terms of spectators, Redelius said. “In the United States you have the Super Bowl for American football, and here in Sweden, bandy finals—the Swedish Championship—is like Sweden’s Super Bowl,” Jonsson said. “It’s one match, the two best teams in Sweden, and it has around 25,000 spectators. It’s been played since 1907.”

In Sweden, students grow up playing indoor bandy, a sport derived from outdoor bandy but with entirely different rules, in physical education classes, said Sarah Cain, an American living and studying in Stockholm. “Many people are related to bandy,” Svender said. “If they didn’t play it, they have a grandfather or another family member who did.”

Women’s Bandy Participation in Sweden: Masculine Norms

“Only 5% of bandy players are women,” Svender said. “It’s still a masculine game.” After Crown Princess Margareta’s participation in women’s bandy died down until the late 1900s, Redelius said. However, the women’s team in Sweden won every Women’s Bandy World Championship, which has been played five times, Jonsson said.

Redelius worked with the
Swedish Bandy Federation to give women more funding, media attention and practice times as a board member, she said. Despite success women bandy players are sometimes stereotyped. “Many women who play bandy for a long time experience this: ‘How can you be a woman and still play bandy? You must be a lesbian,’” Svender said. “For a woman to be good at bandy, she must have masculine characteristics.”

Though Svender said this experience is less common now, it is still a struggle to play as a woman. However, compared to other countries that play bandy, women have the best opportunities in Sweden, Svender added. For Svender and Redelius it all comes down to a love of the game from history to the speed to the creativity. “It’s a beautiful sport,” Svender said.

photos courtesy of Erik Jonsson

Sudan's "Lost Boys" Contribute to Improving Medical System

By Alyse Lamparyk

Edited by Gina Edwards

With no clear channels of communication and difficulty accessing many rural villages in South Sudan, the medical system there is and has been in dire need of attention. Some individuals point to the upcoming secession from North Sudan as a source of hope that the country’s healthcare will improve.

State of Sudanese Health Care

Bismarck Swangin, Communication Officer for UNICEF’s Southern Sudan Area Program—whose headquarters are in the South Sudan capital of Juba—was born in the country and is passionate about changing the harsh statistics which citizens face, particularly children.

A 2006 survey conducted by UNICEF found that approximately one in ten children in Sudan die before their fifth birthday. Mothers are at risk as well; approximately one in seven pregnant women die due to pregnancy complications.

While the mortality rates are high, Swangin said the health system has improved in the last six years since the 2005 peace agreement, as the government’s capacity has been strengthened.

“The government of Southern Sudan, the people of Southern Sudan, are very receptive to training, are very receptive to ideas … and try to move the system forward” said Swangin. “Considering where Southern Sudan is coming from…a lot of progress has been made.”

Citizens in rural areas have trouble obtaining sufficient health services, and their plight has garnered more attention and aid from organizations across the globe. Groups such as the University of Calgary’s Southern Sudan Healthcare Accessibility, Rehabilitation and Education Program (SSHARE) teach doctors techniques ranging from disease treatment to performing surgery.

Foreign Aid Assists the Lost Boys

The Canadian university in Alberta began playing a part in 2006 when Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organization with headquarters nearby, contacted them to help 15 Lost Boys from Sudan return to their homeland. Upon leaving their homeland for Cuba they had been instructed by John Garang, a Sudanese politician and leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Southern Sudan, to return with medical training.

While living in Cuba they received medical training, but when the group relocated to Canada they were unable to practice medicine and, consequently, many had taken field jobs. Once the peace agreement was signed between North and South Sudan in 2005, the group of 15 reached out for assistance.

“Because they had been out of the medical field for so long, they required some medical upgrading,” said Ruth Parent, program manager of SSHARE.

For nine months the Lost Boys increased their medical knowledge at the University of Calgary. A residency program in Kenya followed, in order to allow the doctors to work directly with patients carrying similar diseases and illnesses they would encounter back home.

The Lost Boys Return Home

Then, in 2008 and 2009, they returned to their homeland and were welcomed by the entire government of South Sudan and their people. Dr. Moses Rech and Dr. Ajak Abraham were among the 15 doctors to come home.

Around the time of their homecoming, Parent said statistics reported a total of 50 permanent doctors working with South Sudan’s population of 10 million.

Rech said that, upon arriving, there had been fears of war breaking out in response to the referendum. He was living in a place where lots of vandalism occurred and the security was poor, but he did not second-guess his choice.

“It was not for the money that I stayed there,” said Dr. Rech in an email. “My help was needed.”

Dr. Rech currently works at Kurmuk Hospital in the South Sudan State of Blue Nile, near the border of Ethiopia. Along with one other doctor and a staff of 34, Samaritan’s Purse calculates that each month the 100-bed hospital provides more than 300 inpatient and 600 outpatient procedures.

Dr. Abraham is also putting his skills to use. He works at the Memorial Christian Hospital in the village of Werkok, just outside of Bor, which is about 125 miles north of Juba.

His days are busy, as be sees between 56 and 70 patients daily, and can be challenging when the arrival of medicine is delayed due to their rural location. Additionally, Werkok’s flat landscape floods yearly.

The hospital was a result of David Bowman’s Grand Rapids, Michigan organization, Partners in Compassionate Care. Having cared for five Lost Boys with his wife, Bowman wanted to continue supporting the region. Relying solely on donations, the group has kept the $10,000 a month operation running.

“They have deeply impacted my life,” Bowman said.

The contributing organizations had an impact on the lives of the Lost Boys in that they helped them obtain their goals.

“Since they were young they’ve had in their minds that they’ve had a mission to complete,” said Parent. “It’s been very fulfilling to see them return to South Sudan and practice their skills.”

And the University of Calgary did not forget about the doctors. Since November 2009 they have held weeklong medical camps twice a year in South Sudan and shared new techniques.

“We would wake up in the morning to see hundreds of people waiting to come into the hospital and get medical care and many of these people had walked for days to get there,” said Parent of a camp in Werkok, just outside of Bor.

Educating the communities

Along with providing life-changing surgeries, the doctors have also focused on reaching out to communities to dispel myths and instruct people on the importance of washing their hands.

“They are becoming leaders within their communities. They are having a role in government and healthcare in their country,” said Parent.

For Rech it can be frustrating to work in the current medical system, but he knows the efforts to create a viable infrastructure need to begin on a grassroots level.

“We are hoping to achieve substantial progress in the near future if our government is committed to work[ing] for its people,” said Rech in an email.

With 98 percent of votes cast in favor of the secession, Southern Sudan is set to become its own country on July 9. Until then, the people will focus on strengthening their own infrastructure.

Photos courtesy of UNICEF.

Growing up Fatherless in Duarte Melendez

By Sarah Tharp
Edited by Gina Edwards
SOYAPANGO, EL SALVADOR -- In the municipality of Soyapango, El Salvador lies Duarte Melendez, one of the most gang-ridden, violent and impoverished communities in El Salvador. It is home to 250 families as well as members of the most dangerous gang in the country, the MS-13.
Two years ago in 2009, the government incarcerated 85 percent of the men residing in Duarte Melendez to rid it of murders, robbery, extortion and the selling of illegal weapons and drugs. This left hundreds of children fatherless, and their wives without means of income.
“The mother has to create a plan to support the family and most of the time it has to involve their kids selling things on the street and other jobs,” said Daniel Menjivar, director of the Center for the Complete Development of Children and Their Families (CEDEINFA), a non-profit organization based in Soyapango.

Education and working concerns
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, many children in El Salvador beg in the streets as a result of their fathers' incarcerations. Not only do they lose their opportunity to get an education, but they also often fall victim to sexual exploitation and prostitution.
One family of the Duarte Melendez community impacted by the arrests of 2009 was the Lemus family. When Merlin Lemus was 18 years old, her father was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the murders of several men, taking with him the family’s sense of the protection and financial security.
Merlin had to quit school to help her mother work and care for her siblings Oscar and Silvia and her elderly grandfather.
Prior to the arrest, her mother Silvia sold homemade snacks and fruits in the community. The financial pressures of having a husband in jail forced Silvia to start selling tortillas in the morning as well. Oscar, 8, had to start delivering tortillas in the morning throughout the neighborhood causing him to miss his morning classes.
“Life changed totally after he left. His presence gave security to us and he supported our family in many ways. When he was sent to jail, mother had to get more money to go visit him at least once a week and he is far away because he is at the maximum security prison,” Merlin said. “Silvia who is only four now has to take care of the household, do the dishes and clean the house.”
Moy Ramirez, a volunteer at CEDEINFA who has worked extensively in the Duarte Melendez community said that coping with having a father incarcerated is hard for the children involved.

“In the beginning, they try to continue their lives, and begin to work more, but most times it is not enough and the children have to give up more than the mothers intended,” he said.
The Mendez Family
Another family affected by the 2009 arrests is the Mendez family. The father to three young children, Mr. Mendez was incarcerated in November 2009 for accusations of several murders of the rival gang MS-18 in El Salvador, Menjivar said.
During his fourteen months in prison, his sons Victor and Jonathon--both under the age of twelve--managed the house and cared for their baby sister Johana while their mother Johana sold items on the street and house-to-house. From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., the children stayed at home alone or under the supervision of families of the MS-13 gang. Consequently, both Victor and Jonathon could not attend school every day.
Without the security of a father, the families of the incarcerated live in danger in the Duarte Melendez community. In November 2010, tragedy struck the Mendez family.
“Last November Johana was killed by a member of the opposite gang and she was with little Jonathan. He saw when his mother was killed brutally with a shot in the head and she died immediately,” said Menjivar.
On Jan. 6, 2010, three months after Johana’s death, Mr. Mendez was released from prison and able to return to and care for his three children. Yet, their daily routine did not change much, even with their father back.
“I visited the father in his house. He got a job in a factory and he works from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday so Victor is still taking care of the little ones,” Menjivar said. “I am working with him and talking and we are giving psychology assistance to Jonathan.”
Psychological struggles
Like Jonathon, children of incarcerated fathers often suffer psychological impacts. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence states that children of an incarcerated parent are more likely to have depression, poor academic functioning, and behavioral problems.
Menjivar has seen the physiological and behavioral affects while teaching English to 7 to 12-year-olds in a small school in the Duarte Melendez community.
“There are a lot of children who have been affected psychologically and in their behavior. The children are now very silent, do not play, they have no motivation and their grades are going down. Some others are very aggressive in classes and they do not want to participate in anything,” he said. “The psychologist from CEDEINFA is taking the cases of the most affected one once a week."
Jorge Aranda, a professor at the University of El Salvador in the capital San Salvador agrees that the “psychological impact is strong.”
After her father left, Merlin Lemus saw a difference in Oscar and Silvia.
“They are very sad and lonely. They do not play much like before and they are very shy. In the school, they are slow and do not want to go,” said Merlin.
Last month, Merlin’s mother died from cancer and now she is fully responsible for her family, which now includes her 9-month-old daughter Brenda.
“This is about love, my mother was a brave woman and I have to honor her by caring for my siblings, my grandfather and my little daughter.”

Photos courtesy of CEDEINFA.

Somali women fight for foreign aid

By Dave Talmage

Edited by Gina Edwards

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA- Throughout Somalia women are pleading with Islamic groups that have banned aid agencies. Early last year the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab declared a ban on foreign aid in areas under their control, causing devastating effects on millions of desperate people who rely on such assistance to stay alive.

No demographic has felt more pressure over this than the women of Somalia.

These women alone provide for their families. They receive very little help from male figures in society and constantly try to survive random militant attacks in the wake of a crippling civil war. Many have relied heavily on foreign aid to help feed their families and now face a very desperate situation.

The departure of foreign aid

Throughout recent years Somalia has become one of the most undesirable and difficult regions to provide aid. Blockades, threats from Islamic extremists groups and attacks on foreign aid workers have prompted many organizations to leave.

In wake of extreme violence in early 2010, the United Nations World Food Programme suspended aid to southern Somalia due to growing security threats. Over the past couple of years a growing number of aid agencies have said Somalia is too dangerous for them to operate in anymore.

In 2008 World Vision, Oxfam International and other organizations released a signed statement saying, “The crisis engulfing Somalia has deteriorated dramatically, while access to people in need continues to decrease.”

An unstable climate

With no stable government and many regions predominately ruled by Islamic extremist groups, the appeal for foreign aid organizations has dwindled while the need for aid has skyrocketed.

For nearly two decades Somalia has been in a civil war and without a permanent government. The current Transitional Federal Parliament, developed in 2008, has been so far unsuccessful in its efforts to establish a new government and stability in Somalia.

All the while Somalia has become one of the most violent and poorest states in Africa. It has been called a “failed state” and a very active hotspot for piracy and terrorist activity.

For years Islamic groups such as Al-Shabaab have banned and even blocked foreign aid organizations from distributing aid in Somalia. Bans like these and the current ban have made Somalia an unreachable environment for aid organizations, like in so many other regions of Africa.

With no end in sight for the ban women continue to struggle to provide for their families. Facing starvation, many Somali’s hope that foreign aid will reach them soon. It’s unknown if and when Al-Shabaab will lift the ban, but until then the women of Somalia continue to make their voices heard.

Photos courtesy of World Vision.