Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Scripps J-School to Welcome SUSI Scholars

By Amber Skorpenske
IIJ Ambassador

Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism is hosting for the second year, the Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) on Journalism and Media program this summer 2011.

The Institute for International Journalism (IIJ) will welcome a diverse and talented group of SUSI journalism and media scholars from 18 countries: Poland, Sudan, Nepal, Colombia, Yemen, Estonia, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Turkey, Burma, Ukraine, Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya, China and Czech Republic.

The school and IIJ have planned an innovative summer scholars’ program that will challenge the media educators from 18 countries to think in new ways about teaching journalism, media research, and other principles of this ever-changing profession.

The SUSI program is funded by a grant from the Department of State's Study of the U.S. Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs. This year’s program runs from July 4 to August 16, 2011.

Participants in Study of the U.S. Institutes are among the 30,000 professionals and youths who participate in exchanges each year managed by the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) . Other ECA exchange programs include the Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program. Through a range of academic and professional exchanges, the Bureau seeks to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other countries.

"We look forward to learning from the scholars about the academic programs, research, and cultures. We are excited about the introducing the scholars to our campus, Athens local community, and the state of Ohio through tours and cultural activities," said Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, the director of the SUSI program. Participants will visit media outlets and cultural attractions at three major cities in our region - Columbus, Cleveland and Pittsburgh - and will also travel to Atlanta, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. "It’s going to be an exciting six weeks," Kalyango, said.

The academic program will cover a wide range of topics, issues, and practical skills in journalism and media, with four main themes: media, ethics and society; legal frameworks for media freedoms; scholarly research in journalism and media; roles and responsibilities of journalism in a democracy; international public relations; changing media business models in an era of technological change.

Participants will use social media platforms such as Twitter, including the IIJ Blog and Facebook to share their experience about SUSI and the United States. Watch this space in the coming weeks for regular updates.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Puntland College aims to educate Somalia

By Dave Talmage

Edited by Hiram Foster

Photo courtesy of

Puntland, Somalia-Some people in America believe that a good education is key to the success of an individual and a country. Here in United States we spend more private and government funds on education than any other country in the world. There are multiple public and private schools for single communities and the educational opportunities seem somewhat endless. However, in other parts of the world many countries cannot fully provide the educational opportunities many are privileged to in the U.S. The lack of a developed education infrastructure mixed with a variety of societal factors can leave a country’s youth without a real education. Some countries refuse to leave their youth behind and are fighting to improve their educationally opportunities.

In the Horn of Africa, in one of the most violent failed states, one territory in Somalia is making efforts to increase the number of formally trained teachers to help educate their country’s youth.

Garowe Teachers Education College

In the heart of Puntland in the northern most territory of Somalia sits the Garowe Teachers Education College (GTEC), a place where women are being formally trained as educators. The initiative, which developed in 2000, was a community response to the poor level of educators in Puntland and all of Somalia.

A devastating civil war and continued oppression from extremist groups have crippled the already fleeting education system in most of Somalia. The country is left with very few formal schools and formally educated teachers, but some believe the situation can improve.

Today there continues to be problems facing initiatives, like that of the GTEC, in many parts of Somalia controlled by terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab. The current conflicts mixed with a devastating civil war and these local extremist groups have made progress difficult, but not impossible for a successful education infrastructure in parts of Somalia. In Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, there are a number of colleges operating successfully.

The GTEC looks to reverse the current education situation in all of Somalia. Its aim is to educate the youth and provide easy access and formal training to individuals. By providing individuals with the proper training and sending them out to teach in a variety of schools throughout Somalia the overall quality of the education the youth receive will increase. Many at the GTEC hope these efforts will one day help make a good education more easily available throughout the country.


The goal of GTEC is simple. To provide individuals improved access to quality primary education. They do this by training individuals as qualified teachers with the skills needed to meet the ever-growing demands of education. In a broader sense the GTEC is aiming not only to help educate the Puntland territory but aims to help the overall state of education in all of Somalia.

The Garowe Teachers Education College has been running since 2005 and has since graduated hundreds of formally trained teachers. It was an initiative that started in 2000 with assistance from the DIAKONIA World Federation. In 2007 the first cluster of student teachers graduated with their degrees from the Garowe Teacher’s Education College (GTEC). Their goal was to educate the young children of Somalia. Since then the GTEC has continued to graduate and increase more qualified teachers to go out and educate the youth of Somalia. In the upcoming year another graduating class look to go out and continue the work of those who have graduated before them. The college hopes that through education and their new graduates they can “ease ignorance’ in Somalia.

Seattle women create environmentally sustainable school in Rwanda

By Alex Stuckey

Edited by Hiram Foster

Photo courtesy of

Feb. 25 marked the beginnings of new opportunities in science and technology for 85 Rwandan girls because of the realized dreams of two women more than 8,900 miles away.

Soozi McGill and Shal Foster, long-time running buddies from Seattle, Washington, created the Gashora Girls Academy, an environmentally sustainable, science and technology secondary boarding school built on Lake Milayi in Gashora, about an hour southeast of Kigali.

The academy is the first project of the pair’s startup organization, the Rwanda Girls Initiative, which works to provide secondary school education to girls in Rwanda, McGill said.

“We realized the power of educating girls, especially in developing countries that can have their own doctors, lawyers and nurses,” she said.

The academy

The academy focuses on training young women for careers in science and technology by having each student pick an area of concentration such as psychics, biology or agriculture, Head of School Peter Thorp said.

Unlike in the United States’ secondary education of grades ninth to 12th, children in Rwanda pick a subject to major in before secondary school and focus their learning around that area of concentration, Thorp said.

There are seven combinations of science curriculum students can take — physics, chemistry, biology, math, economics, geology and computer science, Thorp said. Students also take classes such as entrepreneurship and English, he added.

Although only 85 girls were enrolled this year, by 2013, the school will be at full capacity, with 270 girls, he said.

It costs the academy $4,000 per child per year to educate the girls, and families are expected to pay half of that. However, the amount a family pays is based on their ability to pay, he said.

The campus covers 26 acres of land and consists of three dormitory buildings, an administration building with a library, computer lab and two science classrooms with lab equipment, said Mike McCausland, the project’s construction manager.

On the campus, there are also two other buildings with three separate classrooms each, a dining facility, bathroom, faculty and caretaker house and a processing center and seedling house for agriculture, McCausland said.

Half of the 26 acres of land is dedicated to agriculture, where food can be grown to provide nutritious meals to the girls and, over the long term, help the school sustain itself, said Ralph Coolman, associate director of community collaborations at Washington State University.

“Eventually, the agriculture would generate 30 percent of the operating budget (of the academy),” Coolman said, adding that students will also use the land for classes.

In seven years, the organization plans to turn the school over to the Ministry of Education, and although Gashora has some of the driest land in the country, McGill said they are relying on agriculture to help the school sustain itself financial once the organization leaves.

“We can produce whatever we want, process and handle it and get it to Kigali to sell,” he said.

Environmentally Sustainable

To combat the arid land in the area, the organization created an irrigation system on the grounds, while partnering with MulvannyG2 Architecture, Coolman, McCausland and Eudes Kayumba, an architect at Studio Landmark.

“(The irrigation) will allow us to produce offseason crops…we could get three times or more for tomatoes than we could when everyone else has tomatoes,” Coolman said.

The grounds are also home to a marsh-based wastewater treatment system that uses native plants, where the water is either evaporated, consumed by the plants or dumped into the lake, McCausland said.

“The advantage is it is ecologically friendly,” McCausland said, “No electricity is used and (the site) will naturally cleanse itself.”

Kayumba said he assisted the organization pick a site that would be most conducive to this type of system because he knew the land and had worked for the Rwandan government previously.

“Their idea was to build a school so I brought my expertise,” Kayumba said.

The beginning

The two founders dreamed up the project during three-hour runs, and decided to dedicate their time to working on global projects that would help alleviate issues around the world, McGill said.

Using the country’s Vision 2020 proposal as a guide, the two focused their energy on creating better secondary education opportunities for teenage girls, McGill said.

The proposal calls for an increase in the number of females enrolled in secondary education, which would improve women’s decision-making skills and overall access to opportunities available to men.

“In order to achieve gender equality and equity, Rwanda will continuously update and adapt its laws on gender. It will support education for all, eradicate all forms of discrimination, fight against poverty and practice a positive discrimination policy in favour of women,” according to the proposal.

With this in mind, the two runners decided to raise money for the construction of the school through individual donations big and small, reaching out to several foundations including the Seattle International Foundation and an event they hosted in Seattle last march, McGill said.

About 300 people attended the event, which raised over $715,000, she said, adding that the organization has raised more than $4 million — enough to cover the $2.5 million cost of the construction of the academy.

In 2008, Foster and McGill began working with Rwanda Ministry of Education officials to zero in on a location for the school, McGill said, adding that they picked Gashora as the final location because it was the district most devastated by the genocide.

McGill added that they decided to build the school here because the government is building a new road through the village and there is a prison nearby.

“The prison is not too far away and gives the area so much negative connotation,” she said. “It would be nice for people of the area to feel proud of (the school).”

Through building the school, the organization has worked to bring the community and the academy together.

“The school is very much a part of the Africa village — it provides jobs and brings the community together,” Thorp said.

Unifying the scarred citizens of Southern Sudan

By Alyse Lamparyk

Edited by Hiram Foster

Photo courtesy of

As the region of South Sudan prepares to become an independent country this year on July 9, concerns about the unity of the people have surfaced. Violence amongst southern tribes has become prevalent now that the joint venture to declare independence has been achieved.

Solutions for unity abound, some broad and others specific.

Bec Hamilton, special correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post, said in almost every rural interview that she has done over the last year the people’s focus has been the services that will be provided once a new government is established. They expect hospitals, schools, roads, electricity and clean water.

“People are waiting for their daily lives to actually change and there will be unrest if that doesn’t happen,” said Hamilton.

Bilha Achieng, assistant project director for United States based non-profit Real Medicine Foundation (RMF), said Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Health works closely with RMF to rebuild the infrastructure that was destroyed during the war. RMF helps to fund the Juba College of Nursing and Midwifery where Achieng said tribal differences have not been a problem.

“They have been getting along quite well, to the point you wouldn’t be able to differentiate from which tribe one is or from which other tribe someone else is,” said Achieng.

The common goal of rebuilding the health system by earning a certificate as a much-needed nurse or midwife allows for students to overcome their differences.

Jok Madut Jok, newly appointed undersecretary in the Government of Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage, said it is tempting to think that a young country needs to focus on infrastructure and delivery of services. He is aware that people expect the new country to deliver right away, but said it will take time.

“While both of those are very important and will definitely need to be delivered, there is something that is equally important and that is the sense of nationhood,” said Jok. “South Sudanese have to go from being citizens of their tribes to certainly now being citizens of a nation.”

In order for the government to gain the respect of the people, he said it needs to be inclusive and represent the ethnic diversity found in Southern Sudan. Currently many citizens view the government as predominately consisting of Dinka tribesman, Jok serving as an example.

“If certain groups or people feel excluded from the state … from access to services, they will reach for their ethnic card … and that will be a dangerous thing for the government of South Sudan,” said Jok.

Hamilton said that Government of Southern Sudan’s encouragements for inclusiveness are good, but that history has shown new governments risk overlooking their promises once they obtain power. She cited the elections last year as an example, when political parties other than Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) had difficulties being accepted.

Ayak Chol Deng Alak, a radio presenter and journalist for United Nations Mission in Sudan’s Miraya FM, said ministers typically appoint staff from their own tribe. She understands that after the war no one wants their own people to suffer, but said there are other ways to help fellow tribesmen.

“They’re not making an initiative to halt this tribalism, which is the main obstacle in the unity of Southern Sudan,” said Alak. “In my opinion I don’t think they’ve given it their all.”

From the youth perspective, intermarriage is one of the best ways to break the tribal barriers, Alak said, because in African culture there is always respect for in-laws. She and her husband serve as an example, as she is from a tribe in Abyei and her husband is from a Southern Sudanese tribe.

Alak’s own parents modeled acceptance, as they are also from different tribes. She said that building a generation of change should begin with the children.

“If we the Southerners could be more forgiving of who our daughters and our sons want to be spouses with, I think that is one step forward,” said Alak.

Alak said her husband often suggests mixing people up and bringing individuals from different tribes to govern other states. He believes it will establish respect from both sides.

Within the next 18 months the President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, has promised elections will occur. Hamilton said that if the plans do not proceed, then the international community may become involved.

David Johnson, founder of non-profit organization Silent Images, has traveled to Southern Sudan four times in the past three years and heard from citizens that, while Kiir is a good leader, he is not charismatic as John Garang was.

“I think the most unified that country has ever been is when John Garang [was leading them]. That’s what they need,” said Johnson.

A statue of John Garang built in Southern Sudan’s capital of Juba serves as a memorial to the former SPLM leader. Jok believes creating all-encompassing tributes and cultural museums to commemorate the war has the potential to establish nationalism.

But Hamilton and Johnson are not so entirely convinced it will equate to nationalism. Johnson questioned how much the tributes would really do for the community, while Hamilton said the many sides to the story imply the government would have to approach the subject carefully.

“I suspect that it may not be such an easy thing to go down this memorials path in a way that’s inclusive either, because as much as there was a north-south war there was an internal southern war,” said Hamilton.

While there is no easy solution to the problems at hand, the government of Southern Sudan has many options. The coming months will serve as a testament to what can be done.

Indian government links bank accounts and services to biometric data, privacy or security?

(photo courtesy of

By: Hiram Foster

Edited by: Alex Stuckey

In September 2009, the Indian government issued its first Unique Identification Number (UID), a randomly generated twelve-digit number that will provide a universal identity to every Indian resident.

The UID program is similar to the US Social Security Number. However, what makes the UID unique is the implementation of biometric data used to associate an identification number with a specific individual.

Citizens are issued an Aadhaar card, literally translated to base or foundation, that contains their UID information along with all of their biometric data.

In order to obtain an Aadhaar card, citizens visit a registration facility where all ten fingerprints are scanned. A digitized pattern of the iris of the eye is then created, along with a photograph of the applicant. This ensures that there is only one number for each individual, according to the UID website.

The information collected will be entered into a government database, slated to become the largest biometric database in the world at 1.2 billion registrants, once the government funded initiative is complete. The initiative was created in part because of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

“There’s supposed to be a chip on the card that carries all of your information, there’s a lot of details about you on that chip that can be read into a computer,” said Aaboo Varghese, a spokesman for Oasis India.

Varghese works at Oasis India’s national office in Mumbai. This Christian non-profit organization works to end human trafficking by taking women out of brothels, educating them with life skills and helping them integrate into mainstream society.

“Many of the women we work with do not have any kind of documented identity,” he said. “One of the main things we try to do is get them a PAN card so they can open a bank account.”

The PAN card is just one form of identification used specifically for filing tax returns and holding bank accounts, Varghese said.

The issue of identification has plagued India since its population began overwhelming the country’s infrastructure, he said.

Not only does the phenomena of slums and shantytowns demonstrate this but also the high occurrence of duplicate and “ghost” identities.

Prior to the program, there was no unique identifier for Indian citizens. Citizens may possess a PAN cad, a ration card, a passport, a voter identity card and an employment card, among others.

Many of these forms of identification function to provide services or rights to the underprivileged, but fall short in the realm of security and anti-counterfeiting measures.

The UID program will make all of these forms of identification unnecessary by linking all government forms, services, and bank accounts to this one number.

A large portion of India’s population falls below the international poverty line, estimated at 41 percent by the World Bank. Many of these people have no proof of identity or even date of birth.

In fact, it is not uncommon for them to be unaware of their exact age. Many forms of identification also require applicants to provide a permanent address, a disqualifier for many.

“Often, we must ask a government office to help provide some kind of resident address so that the women can even apply for a PAN card,” Varghese said.

These obstacles have proven frustrating to the Oasis workers as they struggle to help women entrapped in sexual slavery, he added.

The UID program allows those without this kind of information to have an official identity recognized by the government.

Although it does not provide “rights, benefits, or entitlements,” according to UIDAI, it is hoped that the “UID method of authentication will improve service delivery for the poor.”

If the UID proves true in eliminating loopholes, it will be a good system to give an identity to everyone, Varghese said.

“It could prove to be helpful because it cannot be duplicated easily, but I’m not in a position to say how well it will work with the poor,” he added.

None of the women that the organization has worked with have received UIDs, said Hazel Solomon, who also works at Oasis India.

There have been mixed reactions to the program, Varghese said.

“Everyone thinks it’s a means of keeping a tab on you and that it won’t really solve the rich-poor problem,” he added.

He added that he was concerned about the program because it took privacy away from people.

“It makes it easier for the government to track people in the wake of terrorism,” he said. “It could be misused for controlling peoples lives and invading privacy.”

Despite the concerns of Varghese and many others, Amar Bakleekar, an official from the Nandurbar district, said a lot of people will benefit from the program. This district was where the first Aadhaar card was issued.

“We can use the UID in various programs. For example, it stops people from using fake identities who want to get food from counterfeit ration cards,” Bakleekar said. “The UID makes it impossible for you to enter wrong numbers into the system.”

Well over one million unique identification numbers have been issued. The program is on its way to bypassing the current largest biometrics database, held by the United States with 1.2 million.

In December 2010, MasterCard Worldwide joined the program, announcing that it had developed a “direct interface with UIDAI to preform UID biometric authentication of payment transactions.”

UID holders can now use their Aadhaar cards to make electronic transactions.

Some are concerned about the idea of an exhaustive database that contains the information of every official document, financial account and biometric data of every citizen in one, centralized location.

“I think the benefits of the program outweigh the risks of privacy, but I’m still reminded of what the Bible says about revelation and the Anti-Christ, so I guess we will just have to wait and see,” Varghese said of such a database.

Overcoming obstacles—the power of love

(photo courtesy of

By: Sarah Tharp

Edited by: Alex Stuckey

When Carla Flores imagined her relationship with her husband and her wedding day, she did not imagine that both would take place inside one of El Salvador’s maximum-security prisons, the Chalatenango prison.

On Jan. 22, 2009, Carla’s boyfriend Moses de Jesus Flores, a member of one of El Salvador’s most notorious gangs, the MS-13, was convicted for the murder of nine people and sentenced to 50 years in prison, Carla Flores said.

Despite Moses de Jesus Flores’ incarceration, the couple was determined to make their relationship work and to experience normal milestones like other couples, such as having children, Carla Flores said.

Though the couple already has a son together, Jose, 8, they wanted to have more children, she said.

“I wanted to have a family with Moses so I was determined to get pregnant again,” she said. “I wanted to strengthen and consolidate our family.”

In certain prisons in El Salvador, gangs are in total control. The Chalatenango prison is one of these gang-controlled prisons, which holds 800 prisoners who belong to the MS-13 gang, according to a 2008 article by Raúl Gutiérrez, “Rights – El Salvador: Prison Out of Control.”

In order to conceive a child with Moses, who was her boyfriend at that time, Carla Flores entered the jail illegally, said Daniel Menjivar, a family friend.

“My husband, because he is in a gang, is respected at the jail and he asked his friends to help,” she said. “They prepared a jail cell and distracted the guards so he could be with me alone. That day I got pregnant.”

Carla continued to make the trip to the Chalatenango prison every Tuesday, a designated day for family members and friends to visit the prisoners, to see Moses and give him money, she said.

“I could only see him for two hours and the procedures of the military to get into the jail are humiliating,” she added. “The officers ask very private questions and try to annoy the women so that they stop seeing their husbands.”

In September 2010, four months into Carla’s pregnancy, the Chalatenango prison made revisions to their visitation policy, only allowing immediate family members to see the detainees.

“I was devastated,” Carla Flores said. “I had to find a way to be able to see him.”

After the prison revised it’s visitation policy, Carla Flores said she decided to contact lawyer and family friend, Carlos Roberto Ramirez Castillo, to see if they could be married inside the prison so that she could visit him once again.

Over the course of two months, Castillo spoke with prison authorities and completed the necessary paper work so Carla Flores could enter the prison and a wedding ceremony to occur.

When Carla Flores was six months pregnant, she found out the paperwork went through, allowing her to marry Moses Flores. She also found out she was going to have twins.

"I was shocked to find out there were two babies," she said. "On our wedding day, I was so excited to tell the news to Moses."

On Aug. 25, 2010 in a small room inside the prison, Carla and Moses Flores were married, Carla Flores said.

“I had brought a small cake. When I was going through security, they took the cake from me and destroyed it and returned it in a many small pieces. They said they had to check for drugs or weapons,” she said.

She added that the wedding ceremony was not how she imagined getting married.

In attendance was Castillo, who performed the ceremony, and two witnesses to oversee the ceremony. Carla asked two friends from her community and church to act as witnesses for her marriage, Sandra Lissette Portillo and her mother, Elva Marina Portillo.

"I was very excited and happy for Carla because [my mother and I] are in the same situation with having a loved one in jail,” Sandra Portillo said. “We developed a friendship from this experience and because we are from the same Church. We were so happy to be a part of the wedding for them.”

One detail of the wedding that surprised Carla’s son Jose was her wardrobe, he said.

“I was very surprised that she did not have a white dress,” Jose Flores said.

Carla Flores explained to her son that in jail it is not possible to have a real wedding dress.

“I wore a red dress and Moses, by help with his friends in prison, was able to get a dress shirt to wear for the ceremony,” she said. “When the ceremony was over, we were allowed a couple minutes to celebrate and drink coca cola out of plastic cups.”

After the ceremony, Carla Flores was able to register with the prison as Moses’s wife and was granted visiting rights once more.

Though the Carla was granted her visiting rights again, visiting the prison still remains a difficult and dangerous process.

The Chalatenango prison is home to many members of the MS-13 gang, a deadly rival of another one of El Salvador’s gangs, the 18th Street gang, Menjivar said.

“The Chalatenango prison receives people who have been arrested, mostly from the MS-13 gang,” Menjivar said.

But the city where the prison is located belong’s to the MS-13’s rival gang, (the) 18(th Street gang),” Menjivar said.

“When the wives come to visit on Tuesday, all of the gang members in the city know that these women are wives to the gang members who they are fighting,” Menjivar added. “It is very dangerous for these women to visit now.”

Women who visit the prisoners are in the currently petitioning the government to change the visitation day because the rival gang members know they are wives of MS-13 gang members, Carla Flores said.

Last year, a confrontation between 18 members and a group of wives resulted in murder, Menjivar said.

“Carla explained to me that last year, when these women get out of the jail from visiting their husbands to go home a group of the 18 gang caught these women and they killed them,” Menjivar said. “They cut these women in pieces and put the pieces in plastic bags and threw it inside the jail over the big walls to say to the men inside that they have the power.”

Though Carla Flores said she struggles with fear on her journeys to visit her husband, the deep love she has for her husband is what eases her fear.

“I met my husband when I was 12 years old,” Carla said.“ I have been completely in love with him for many years. He is my only love and I will never love anyone else.”

Rap in the Name of Buddha

(photo courtesy of

By: Chu Yang

Edited by: Alex Stuckey

For five years in the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple, in central Tokyo, softly chanted prayers accompanied by traditional bell chimes have not been the only tempo — hip hop beats have joined the sounds of the temple as well.

The temple is mixing pop culture with Buddhism to attract young followers.

Kansho Tagai’s lyrical rap, “Okay, baby, no problem. It is hard to live in this world. Hey, hey, bro, listen to me!” is heard throughout the temple. Tagai is no hip hop star, but a 50-year-old monk and the head the Kyoouji Temple.

Tagai raps Buddhist sutra to hip hop beats to draw younger people to his temple, where he performs once or twice a month in his traditional monk robes.

His efforts have won him a lot of young followers, who call him Mr. Happiness because of positive outlook. Since he began incorporating rap at his temple, the number of people who visit his temple is double.

Kurara Nakano is one of the young fans.

Nakano lives in Handa, west of Tokyo. She said the hip-hop monk sounded interesting and she would like to see it, although she didn’t think she would ever convert to Buddhism.

“I am interested in studying Buddhism thinking,” Nakano said. “But we have few chances to meet and talk to monks, even though there are so many temples all over Japan.”

Toshie Tanaka, a 52-year-old housewife in Fukui, a city close to Kyoto, agrees with Nakano. Tanaka is a Buddhism follower and still keeps the ritual of visiting temples and shrines several times a year.

“When I was growing up, Buddhism always closely connects to my life,” Tanaka said. “But now it is far away from young people, except funerals.”

Funerals are the primary way of getting in touch with Buddhism in Japan. Most Japanese learn about Buddhism only after someone in their families dies, Tagai said. But because funerals are just customs many people do not think deeper, he added.

Because people now live longer, it is harder to expose religions to the younger generations. This concept challenges the survival of Buddhism in Japan.

Since 2000, hundres of the 75,000 temples in Japan have been closing every year, according to a Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs news release.

Some even worry that religions in Japan will cease to exist.

Mark Schumacher, a 52-year-old American who has lived in Japan for 20 years, operates a Buddhism website, the “A-to-Z Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhism.”

He believes traditional Buddhism is on the decline, but that Japan is still a religious country.

“Buddhism is declining because it could not answer new spiritual needs,” said Schumacher. “A lot of Japanese are unhappy with Buddhism or monks because they think the monks or priests are lazy and corrupt.”

Tagai said he realizes this dilemma, so five years ago he broke the traditional way of teaching and tried to build a new image for monks.

“Hip-hop is a good way to communicate with youths, and I have built a good relationship with them,” Tagai said. “They told me that they have never met such an easy and friendly monk.”

Despite his popularity among many young followers, even among older generations, some still do not give him credit for his offbeat innovation.

Ohio University graduate student Yusuke Kusunoki is one of these people.

“Buddhism is a spiritual training, not an advertisement,” Kusunoki said. “In this way, young people might be interested for temporary fun, but that won’t be long-lasting. By doing this, (Tagai) could be extremely famous in a short time, but people will forget him soon, just like the pop stars.”

John Leneskie, a 23-year-old American who has studied abroad in Japan, is studying Buddhism. He is opposed to checking out the temple, but purely in an intellectual fashion.

“The monk proliferated a more easily learnt and practiced version of religious doctrine and belief, so it could be good,” Leneskie said. “But it also might be dangerous if the spreading morals and values are manipulated by secular or religious leaders for personal ends.”

Keiichi Higuchi, a 54-year-old engineer in Japan, is a traditional Japanese man but he is a supporter of Tagai to a certain extend.

“The rapping monk is not really a matter,” Higuchi said. “The point is if he teaches Buddhism or not. There is no need to mix Buddhism with hip-hop. However, Buddhism is very flexible, so it could differ. If he can create the environment to learn about Buddhism, other things are not really important.”

The same as Higuchi, who carried on the concept of Buddhism from ancestors and tried to keep it as a tradition, Tanaka seems like this idea even better.

“No matter what reason, if Buddhism could be popular, again,” Tanaka said. “That is good.”

Schumacher said he understands Tagai’s efforts and is open to this change. However, he also said he doesn’t think Tagai could reverse this crisis.

In Schumacher’s opinion, the decline results from booming new religions that focus more on contemporary issues and daily life.

Sake used to be Japan’s national alcoholic drink. Today the number of breweries continues to tumble, and the beverage has fallen from the first place to the third place in popularity,” Schumacher said. “Why? Japanese have a greater variety of alcohol to choose from. Can not the same be said about religions and spirituality? Will sake die? No, so do the religions.”

Dwindling Scottish foreign language programs leave modern linguists few choices

(photo courtesy of

By: Gina Edwards

Edited by: Alex Stuckey

Every day, Mhairi Duncan teaches English in Wroclaw, Poland. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, she spends the day discussing grammar and vocabulary with Polish students.

Sometimes she stays after class to tutor all types of people, from little kids to pensioners wanting some extra help, continually thankful for her fluency in Polish to aid her.

But recent cuts to foreign language programs across Scotland make Duncan fears she and those like her may be a dying breed.

Garnering the most recent media buzz, the University of Glasgow has announced proposals that would greatly affect language courses among other programs in an attempt to save about £20m ($32 million USD) in the next three years.

“I think it’s unthinkable. I don’t understand how a university like Glasgow could possibly even consider cutting modern languages,” Duncan said. “They’re so vital—especially in this the economic climate.”

Students at the university have also raised their concerns about the proposed cuts, in the form of massive protests—the largest the university has ever seen, with over 2,500 in attendance of one.

Amy Mackinnon, who is studying of Russian, politics and Slavonic studies at the university, has participated in the movement.

In addition to the protests, she said students and faculty have written letters to Scottish politicians and the media. The responses from the university heads have not alleviated their concerns.

“We get a generic e-mails with a lot of words but not saying anything,” Mackinnon said.

She and other Scots worry that the proposed cuts to foreign languages at Glasgow will only perpetuate their reputation of being unilingual, putting them at a disadvantage in an increasingly globalized world, especially in international programs.

“I think it will have a dire impact on Scotland as a whole. Glasgow is one of best centers for language in Scotland, and the loss of one of its main language centers would be dreadful,” Mackinnon said. “Foreign languages are becoming increasingly important.”

Some programs, such as one called Erasmus, allow for students within the European Union to attend universities in other countries free of charge. These programs often draw students interested in immersing themselves in a foreign language.

British students lag behind in comparison to other EU countries, according to a November 2010 British Council news release.

“The take-up rate in the UK lags far behind France and Germany where the figure is nearly three times higher. The UK comes second after the USA as a destination for foreign students but ranks 22nd in terms of the numbers of its own students it sends abroad,” according to the release.

During the 2008-09 school year, the UK sent more than 10,800 students abroad, accounting for only about five percent of the total number of Erasmus participants. It receives about twice as many students.

David Hibler, program manager for Erasmus in the UK, said that other some of the students who participate in the program are modern linguists.

He added that not knowing the language of a host country could cause students to hesitate when deciding whether or not to participate in the Erasmus program.

“In countries where foreign language teaching is not so widespread, then it’s a critical factor in students’ decision making,” he said.

Studies of the Erasmus program state that unfamiliarity with the language is one of the most widely cited problems in its upward mobility — but some universities have language labs or buddy students that can help others to familiarize themselves with a foreign language before they go abroad, he added.

Even students who do not know a foreign language can participate in the program, he said.

“There are opportunities for students who are not enrolled in language courses, to at least start a basic learning of the language,” he said. “It’s not uncommon now-a-days for outbound UK Erasmus students to do their academic courses in English,” Hibler said.

Yet Scots, such as Duncan, think that knowing the native tongue of the country you plan to visit can make the experience better and longer lasting.

“If I came here without knowing anything about the language, I wouldn’t have stayed this long,” she said.

Even though many people speak English in Poland Duncan said she would have a hard time in her day-to-day interactions without speaking Polish, she said, adding that Scottish students can sometimes fall into the ‘I know English so I’ll get by just fine’ mentality.

“[Foreign languages] should be a compulsory part of our education,” Duncan said. “It would foster a better attitude toward learning languages.”

However, not all students feel the same way she does.

Connor Hawkins, who is studying economics and accounting at the University of Edinburgh, said because the UK had to make huge cuts in education, foreign language programs was an obvious place to cut.

Students have a hard time managing to undertake all of the topics they are told they “should” learn, he added.

“Everyone seems to have an argument these days of why students should be taught everything under the sun from languages to knife crime to religion,” he said. “We can't possibly learn it all.”

David Hill, a retired director of the Edinburgh Project on Extensive Reading—a project promoting the use of graded readers to enable students to learn English— said he has an alternative suggestion to the problem.

“The time has come to strike out and do a parallel system,” he said. “We should develop language centers based on the successful Spanish model.”

These publicly funded centers would allow students who wanted to learn foreign languages to attend classes outside traditional public schools, where mixed-ability classes can hold them back.

In the midst of dwindling funds available for language programs, those close to the struggle worry about the effect the cuts will have on Scottish students wanting to venture abroad, and the larger impact it will have on Scotland as a whole.

Jan Čulík, a senior lecturer of east European studies at the University of Glasgow, suggested that the cuts to modern languages might actually force students to leave Scotland for the education they desire.

“It may well be that in the future, young people will leave the UK for their education,” he said. “But the question is, if they will ever come back.”

Technology could ease water crisis in Israel, West Bank

Written By: Eric Hiner

Edited By: Dave Talmage

For U.S. citizen Lauren Costello, the severity of the Israeli-Palestinian water shortage is illustrated by one thing: a plain, ordinary bucket.

Adel Handal, whose family hosted Costello for a two-month service trip to Bethlehem, places the bucket in the bottom of their shower to catch water. Like many people in the West Bank, the Handals must save and reuse every drop.

“Water is never guaranteed here,” Costello said. “Whenever it rains, people are like ‘Oh, thank God! We needed this so badly."

Like their neighbors, the Handals have running water courtesy of Mekerot, the national water company of Israel. However, Mekerot shuts off the pipes to Bethlehem when water is scarce.“They control the water,” Handal said. “In the summer, they cut it. Sometimes a month, no water.”

“When the water runs, it is often only for two to three days, Handal said. After that, residents must struggle through another dry month.

Handal has a well, but some of his neighbors are not so lucky. Many Bethlehem residents keep large water tanks on top of their homes to store water shipped in from outside the city. Others rely on the local spring, which Costello said is often polluted with sewage because the city lacks a reliable sewer system.

Living with less

People like Handal have been forced to live with less water as the water crisis in Israel and the West Bank has worsened. The Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures stated in 2002 that “Israel’s water economy is on the brink of a crisis,” and that rising demand is draining the country’s supplies. The Israeli government has made wastewater reclamation and seawater desalination top priorities, but water is still scarce.

Human and political factors have complicated the crisis, said Mira Edelstein, resource development and foreign media officer for the Israel branch of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an organization that lobbies for water sharing and studies the effects of climate change on water. The region’s uncertain political future has prevented water and wastewater infrastructure from being built in the West Bank, and droughts brought on by climate change will stress shrinking water supplies, Edelstein said.

A failing infrastructure

Many water reclamation techniques remain energy-intensive. The rural areas of the West Bank, which is still mostly under Israeli control, often go without water because the area lacks Israel’s technology and infrastructure.

Israel and the West Bank share water sources and an ecosystem, but neither party is wholly responsible for infrastructure in the West Bank, Edelstein said. The region is divided into three zones of control, and the Israeli government has been slow in helping Palestine develop, Edelstein said.

“If it’s Palestinian jurisdiction or Israeli jurisdiction, it certainly is another obstacle. Who’s going to run it? Who has rights?” Edelstein said.

However, a partial solution to this problem could come from new, homegrown technologies. While political issues are likely to persist, technological advances could make water reclamation more feasible in rural areas. Proponents believe technology could also lead to less strain on traditional water sources.

Solutions arise in Nesher

In Nesher, about 60 miles north of Tel Aviv, the company Mapal Green Energy has developed a simple way to treat water without heavy equipment or moving parts.

The system uses dissolved air, which is pumped into basins filled with wastewater. The air, which enters the water as tiny bubbles, promotes the growth of natural bacteria. Those bacteria clean the water by digesting the human waste. The clean water can then be skimmed off the top and further treated for use in irrigation.

While aerating wastewater is common throughout the world, most treatment plants use paddles or metal arms to splash the water’s surface and mix in the air. Zeev Fisher, Mapal’s vice president for business development and international marketing, said using a fine-bubble pump can cut the energy needs of a wastewater treatment plant by up to 70 percent.

The system’s mechanical simplicity bodes well for rural areas that do not have many skilled engineers, said Mapal Sales and Marketing Coordinator Sarit Tordjman.

“The main problem in many rural areas is they don’t have the manpower to maintain the [traditional] system,” she said. “The advantage of our system is that it doesn’t require high maintenance.”

The system could allow more wastewater to be recycled in rural areas, Fisher said. Although the water from Mapal’s process is not fit for drinking, it is clean enough for watering crops, which is a major use of fresh water in Israel.

“If you reduce the use of clean water for irrigation, you increase the water supply for drinking, cooking,” Fisher said.

More options for the future

Other technologies are being developed to improve desalination. Moshe Herzberg is a scientist with the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He said his research can improve the energy efficiency of reverse osmosis desalination, a technique used to remove salt from seawater or wastewater.

Reverse osmosis works by pushing salty water through a porous membrane that catches and removes the salt. Trouble arises when bacteria in the water settle on the membrane and secrete a layer of organic matter that obstructs the flow.

Herzberg refers to that layer as “biofilm,” and he said it can make desalination less efficient. The film makes it harder to push the water through the membrane, which means the process requires more energy. Removing that barrier has benefits, Herzberg said.

“You are just removing the obstacle for the technology. You are using the membranes more efficiently,” Herzberg said. “You get better flux. You reduce the energy costs.”

Edelstein cautioned that technology should only be part of the solution, and that Israel and Palestine must work together to protect water resources and build infrastructure.

“Water knows no boundaries. What one side does impacts the other side,” she said. Fisher said the technology is up to the task of helping with the region’s water problems, and that it now a question of political will. “We have the solutions, but now it is a question of the politicians deciding to do it,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Costello

Devising Fresh Dialogue, HIV in Thailand

Written By: Lauren Nolan

Edited By: Dave Talmage

Education is the social vaccine in the fight to end the spread of new HIV infections. The World Bank, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), AVERT, and the Peace Corps, alongside numerous other organizations, have focused their attention on Thailand in efforts to start dialogue and spread awareness.

Thailand recognized the first case of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 1984. However, it was not until nearly a decade later, in 1991, when Anand Panyarachun came to power as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, that HIV and AIDS were placed on the political agenda, according to AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS charity.

Panyarachun moved the AIDS control program from the Ministry of Public Health to the Office of the Prime Minister, increasing the programs influence and the publics awareness of ways to prevent HIV and AIDS. In 2003 Thailand saw record low numbers of new cases of HIV totaling 19,000.

Loosing momentum: Politics are to blame

There was optimism concerning Thailand’s battle to achieve zero AIDS-related death and zero new HIV infections; two principles defined in UNAIDS vision. Then, in the late 1990s, financial crisis struck Asia, resulting in significant budget cuts for AIDS prevention and control programs. Further compromising the progress, political turmoil took focus from public services and education to “a radical switch to survival mode for the government,” as Patrick Winn, foreign correspondent for Global Post and resident of Bangkok, describes the situation.

“The loss of momentum, in all areas, is mostly because of politics,” said David Barron, a Peace Corps volunteer who trains teachers in rural Thailand. Barron is stationed in the province of Ubon Ratchathani, which is located 650 km (404 mi.) east of Bangkok.

“The recent political situations have been very disruptive,” said Barron. “I’m a firm believer that education can provide a social vaccine for HIV, and the teachers I work with are also very concerned with the lack of sex education in high schools.” He adds, “Discussions on HIV and sex are more than political, they’re cultural issues. Those topics just aren’t openly discussed, especially in a rural setting.”

In Bangkok, “(HIV) is an open topic, there isn’t much stigma associated with condoms and HIV literature and discussion,” said Winn.

On the other hand, in rural areas of Thailand, the provinces where Barron and Root are stationed have a much more conservative take on HIV literature and dialogue.

An education gap

“Health just isn’t a factor taught in rural Thailand. Education varies by where you live,” said Barron. “I’ve been living in Thailand for just over one year, and in the schools I work in I have seen nothing at all concerning HIV education.”

While the school systems in Barron’s province have not made any strides towards HIV education for prevention, Anita Root, another volunteer for the Peace Corps, has been more fortunate in her efforts towards the social vaccine, education.

Root is stationed in the province of Nakhon Pahnom, which is 724 km (450 mi.) northeast of Bangkok and 370 km (230 mi.) north of Ubon Ratchathani. She did not come to Thailand to teach or interact with children.

“To be honest, kids kind of freak me out,” said Root. “I didn’t think I would become involved with education. Then this opportunity to help (the kids) learn and start a dialogue came up, and I couldn’t pass.”

While working in a government office in her village Root was approached and asked to develop an HIV/AIDS Life Skills Camp for the youth of her village. In 2009 young people, ages 15-24, accounted for 40 percent of all new HIV infections in Thailand, according to UNAIDS.

The main goals of the camp are to spread awareness of HIV, dispel myths surrounding the disease and to ignite dialogue and spark curiosity within the village. Root estimates 70 children, ages 13-18, will attend this camp being held in April 2011.

“It’s not just the students (who lack health education),” said Root. “A teacher I work with, she is 47 years old, and I have had to correct her multiple times regarding myths surrounding HIV and AIDS. One woman I work with in the government office does not understand that HIV and AIDS are different. It’s one thing when kinds are under- or misinformed, but its even more troubling to hear from adults with these misconceptions.”

Hope for the future

There is hope, even with the plethora of myths, misinformation and misunderstandings about HIV and AIDS. Root says she expects the camp to function as a good starting point in revamping HIV and AIDS awareness and dialogue in Thailand.

“I’d like for these kids to take away (from their experience at the camp) not just information, but a deeper understanding of feelings of empathy and seeing HIV, not just as a disease, but how it is taken on as a lifestyle,” said Root.

Photo courtesy of Anita Root


Written By:Thomas J. Morrisey

Edited By: Dave Talmage

As Pakistan continues to suffer from the violent actions of religious extremists, a coalition of students, lawyers, trade unions, and many others has stepped forward, dedicated to countering them by trying to wake up a populace they view as simultaneously fearful and apathetic.

Taking a stand

This January, several small political parties, non-government organizations united to form Citizens for Democracy, with the common goal of trying to fight extremism through popular protest.

Ali Kazmi is a psychology student at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, very close to Pakistan’s border with India. Kazmi has been attending meetings of Citizens for Democracy.

“Even though things are really bad, it’s also important to know that work is being done to improve Pakistan,” Kazmi said.

Kazmi said that the group has started to fight the powerful extremists through such actions as filing legal complaints against clerics who make violent threats and pressuring news channels that give airtime to extremist hosts. “It’s a one point agenda – to separate church from state,” Kazmi said.

Citizens for Democracy is stymied by a population that commonly views secularism as advocating the repression or elimination of Islam, a viewpoint Kazmi said he did not agree with.

He blamed the Pakistani educational system for portraying politics as a black-and-white dichotomy, with the only choices being an atheist state that abolishes religion and political Islam.

“Nonpolitical Islam and a secular government could very easily coexist,” he said, pointing to the historical example of Sufism, a mystical tradition of worship within Islam, and its opposition to tyrants without making any claims on political power itself.

Kazmi said that the group is still small, but said that its existence alone has resulted in increased news coverage for secular political movements. He said that this was an important step forward, as he saw much of the media as being cowed and unwilling to challenge powerful mullahs directly.

Apathy and external enemies steal focus of many in Pakistan

Kazmi said that groups like Citizens for Democracy’s worst enemy is one that is far more widespread than extremists – apathy.

“The people have lots of ideas, but they’re all ideas that have been fed to them,” he said. Trying to get people to begin thinking critically is one of the most difficult challenges his group faces.

He was especially critical of Pakistan’s middle class, a group that he described by paraphrasing a famous line from John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. “They’re doped with religion and sex and TV,” Kazmi said.

Kazmi said that the coalition’s other great challenge is dealing with many Pakistanis’ focus on perceived external enemies. Many Pakistanis are focused on the United States as an enemy, due to its ongoing incursions into Pakistan’s border regions. Kazmi said that these attacks are counter-productive and stir up more support for extremism.

In fact, Kazmi said that even when extremists strike within Pakistan, many people are convinced that the attacks are actually “false flag” operations carried out by foreign intelligence agencies like the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Israeli Mossad.

Kaiser Khan, a tour guide operator, mountain climber and hunter based in Islamabad, agreed that one of the greatest challenges to stability in Pakistan was dealing with the negative fallout from US intervention.“Ever since the US has entered Afghanistan, we have suffered from this negative campaign,” Khan said. “We’ve lost more people, civilians, soldiers, and more collateral damage.”

Lacking central government

Both Kazmi and Khan expressed little faith in the central government’s ability to improve the situation or seriously combat terror.“The central government has always appeased the mullahs. It is very inept and impotent,” Kazmi said.

Khan voiced his agreement on government’s ineptitude, pointing out that the central government hasn’t even been able to consistently get informative material printed up and posted for distribution at his country’s embassies.

In its most recent effort to focus attention on the need for secularism in Pakistan, Citizens for Democracy held a vigil outside of the Lahore Press Club in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, an opponent of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws who was assassinated on March 2, 2011. Bhatti was the federal Minister for Minorities and a member of Pakistan’s Christian minority.