Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Got inspired and made "a baby institute" ready :)

Last summer was amazing: 6 weeks in Institute for International Journalism, with SUSI program. We all had an exercise to do: my goal was a strategy for my new Communication Institute at Tallinn University (Estonia). In the beginning I had only dream... But quite quickly I got inspired, because I met my teachers at Ohio University and they succeeded to motivate me.
And now I face results:
I really did a new institution for communication studies in Estonia. Final piece - BA curriculum in (international) journalism studies (study is possible in Estonian, Russian and English) got an acceptance from university senate on Monday this week.
Now it's done. You can study advertising, public relations, journalism at BA level, and advertising, communication management (specialization to intercultural communication and political communication) at MA level. Also PhD in information and communication sciences will be open since fall semester 2012. And this all in 3 languages: Estonian, Russian and English.
Special thanks to Bob, of course. And you can send your friends, who would like to get EU university degree, face an adventure in North-East Europe and who are just interested about good and not expensive education in English to Tallinn University Institute of Communication :)
You can find us also in FB.
See you in Tallinn, SOON!

P.S Enjoy my visual SUSI memories, too!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Olympic athlete Elvan Abeylegesse loves her country

By Hilary Johnson
Copy edited and produced by Taylor Pool

What does it mean to become a citizen of a country? Does that mean you’d die for that country or fight a war for that country? Does that mean you would respect that country as if it were your own? After switching citizenship some may still feel tied to their native country in a way, but that isn’t quite as possible if you’re internationally representing the new land you now call home. 

Photo contributed by Salih Munir Yaras
Elvan Abeylegesse, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, came to Turkey in 1999 when she was only 16 years old. According to her agent Salih Munir Yaras, she was competing for Ethiopia in a cross country championship. After visiting Turkey, she fell in love with the country and the opportunities it had to offer for training conditions and chances for quick advancement because of her skills. 

After she gained Turkish citizenship, many Ethiopians were somewhat angry with her. According to Yaras, after she broke the world record, Ethiopians made it difficult for her to train at her usual Ethiopian camps because of the feelings of abandonment. 

“Ethiopia is only in the view of the world because of runners and so they would be upset that other countries like Turkey are getting more of their publicity,” said Ethiopian native Netsanet Amderber Clemm, who now lives in Clarksburg, WV. 

Clemm also talked about feelings of abandonment the older generation of Ethiopians might have felt because Abeylegesse’s choice to live and work in Turkey. 

Abeylegesse exclaimed, “My country is Turkey… but that does not mean I totally ignore the country that I was born in.” 

Abeylegesse balances her Ethiopian and Turkish identity
Recognizing her dedication and love for his country, the Prime Minister of Turkey put a stop to the difficulties of training in Ethiopia. He spoke with various officials while visiting Ethiopia’s Prime Minister. From that moment on, Abeylegesse has maintained good relations with the authorities at training camps in Ethiopia and individual runners as well.

Although Abeylegesse actively trains in Ethiopia during the winter, she considers herself a Turk just like any other native, and implores her excitement when she sees the Turkish flag raised high before a race. 

Upon moving to Turkey and obtaining Yaras as an agent in 2007, Abeylegesse has received the silver medal in the 10,000m in Osaka, Japan during the World Championships. She has also gone on to win two more silver medals in the 5,000m and 10,000m during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Photo contributed by Salih Munir Yaras
Abeylegesse exclaimed, “It’s a fascinating feeling to win two Olympic silver medals and run below 30 minutes. It was an emotional rush for me to pass (Meseret) Defar in the 5,000m after running a 10,000m and also becoming the first person to achieve this in Turkey. I consider this as payment for the debt to all of the people that helped me by providing all of those opportunities for me.” 

The citizens of Turkey feel the same, maybe even more. Yusuf Ziya Unal, a sports enthusiast from Istanbul, explained his loyalty and love for her and said, “I feel as if she is my elder sister like another Turkish citizen, and I am proud of her!” 

With a great deal of support from citizens, coaches and mentors alike, she still faces challenges for the upcoming 2012 Olympics in London. She changed her trainer in 2009 and has not had a major year for except a 10,000m gold medal in the Mediterranean Games. At the end of the sport year, she got married and had a baby girl, Arsema. She only started serious training, for the London Olympic Games, recently in mid-December. She received help from her mother during the first four months after Arsema’s birth. Her parents still visit two to three times a year and her sister lives and works in Istanbul. With help from her family from Ethiopia and her loving husband in Istanbul, she is able to stick with her training schedule. 

With two Olympic medals, one wonders how athletes maintain their humility; this was never a question with Abeylegesse. According to Yaras, who finds humor in the story, in Berlin Abeylegesse lent her shoes to a fellow athlete and ethiopian, Meselech Melkamu, who left hers at the hotel. Melkamu was nervous to wear a different brand because her current sponsor might get angry. Finally Abeylegesse convinced her of what was most important – the race! Melkamu went on to win second place. 

“She has Turkish heart, she proved that when she lent her shoes in Berlin,” said Unal. From then on, she’s gained credibility and appreciation around the world.
With a wide range of success, Abeylegesse is a natural athlete who loves and appreciates running as if it were an art. She described it and said, “The feeling of the wind passing through my hair is an overwhelming experience. For me, running is liberty, competition, strength and the joyfulness after all. “ 

Heart stretches far and wide and her fans can be found in all places of the globe. Burak Pekmezci, originally from Istanbul but studying in Italy, said, “I can say that I am proud of her as a Turkish runner, and I will always support her as an athlete. I would like to use the following phrase from Atatürk, who is a founder of Republic of Turkey. He said ‘How happy is the one who says I am Turk.’”

In Thailand, domesticated elephants in danger

By Bixi Tian
Copy Edited and Produced by Taylor Pool

There is, indeed, romance attached to elephant riding. For a tourist, enjoying the rhythm of its gentle steps on the back of the beautiful big animal while admiring the breath-taking view, one almost feels like an exotic prince or princess in a fairy tale.

Almost. That is until the scab at the back of the elephant is thinned by pressure from the heavy holder, on which the tourists are enjoying their illusary impression of harmony, and the old wound begins to bleed. 

The old wound has been there for years. 

“It’s not new (that elephants are mistreated). It’s a very lucrative business and those(wrongdoings) have been there for a long time.” Soraida Salwala says.
Salwala is the founder of Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) the world’s first elephant hospital started in 1993, and also a dedicated elephant lover. Starting from nothing, the hospital now has 16 staff and has taken in more than 3,600 cases. Salwala says the reason why she was determined to build such a place  was because of a painful childhood memory. When she was 8 years old, she had to witness an elephant, who was hit by a truck, die by the road because there was no place to treat such a big animal. 

Thailand juggles culture and care
Elephants are considered by Thai people the symbol of the nation and are revered by the society.

Yet the definition of “reverence”, according to the current situation, varies on a large scale. While some are treating the giant creatures with respect and are trying as hard to protect them, others are simply interested in utilizing elephants as a tool to make money. There are two kinds of elephants in Thailand: the less than 3,000 wild elephants, which are facing extinction and are protected by law from being captured or traded, and the 4,000 domesticated elephants, which are not. Lack of regulation for domesticated elephants leaves an open door for some people’s greed and provides  a free pass to brutality. 

In seeking maximum profit, the owners of domesticated elephants inevitably turn to tourism. Tourists’ desire to closely interact with the animal as well as ignorance of the cruelty has created a huge market that the elephants owners are anxious to take advantage of. All kinds of “talent shows” are offered at zoos, in trekking camps, breeding  and tourist camps. Even on the urban streets, the giant animals can be seen following their mahouts (people who train and drive elephants) doing a little performance such as a head waggle. The mahouts then sell over-priced bananas or sugarcane to the amused customers. 

Salwala says this can also be dangerous, because the exhausted elephants can be aggressive. If the tourist doesn’t know when to let go of the food, the elephants might become angry and kill the tourist. “Unfortunately, this has happened before.” Salwala said.

To make it worse, this kind of elephant performance is also dangerous for the animals. The danger starts when the elephants are newborn babies and separated from the mother for training. The process of the training is, appropriately, called “crushing”, during which the trainers “break the spirit of the elephants” so that they will lose their independence and obey commands. During the training, the baby elephant is forced into a wooden cage into which it barely fits, tightly chained.

The baby, during its first separation from its mother, will be ridden for the first time and surrounded by people with heated irons and sharpened metal spikes, who  are known to use the tools for punishment. 

“The training will damage baby elephants’ mental health and completely break them”, according to Sangduen Chailert, founder of the Elephant Nature Park, a non-profit organization and also home to over thirty rescued, previously abused or neglected elephants. She says half of the elephant babies die; half of the survivors go mad during “crushing”. Not believing in training elephants through physical violence, Chailert, widely known as “Lek”, is among the loudest protesters of elephant abuse. She has received many awards including being named a Hero of Asia by Time Magazine in 2005, and a Hero of the planet in 2001 by The Ford Foundation in association with National Geographic. Currently she is on a trip to to Myanmar border for an investigation of elephants trade.

Photo contributed by Louise Rogerson
“Graduation” from the “crushing” is, sadly, not the end of the nightmare but rather the beginning of another one. Owners tend to overload the elephants with work at the expense of their health, and try to cut the cost by ignoring these issues as well as providing them with cheap living environment. Sombo, a trekking elephant, was among the victims. Having problems with his feet and in extreme pain, she was forced by her owner to carry tourists and the heavy holder. Her urgent need of a treatment was seen by Louise Rogerson, founder of a non-profit organization called Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation. Rogerson spent three months asking for petitions and negotiating with the owner  Finally Sombo was freed and its medical treatment was covered by the organization. Rogerson sees an urgent need to get all the working elephants off urban streets, because city is not the place them, but nature is.

Non-profits speak up
It seems that non-profit organizations are doing a great job saving the elephants, but Gary van Zuylen, an Australian journalist as well as the founder of the Thai Society for the Conservation of Wild Animals, who has been living in Thailand for more than 20 years, says: “Hold that thought!” He says that by taking advantage of people's love and sympathy for the elephants, more and more businesses are now operating under the pretence of being a non-profit organization or charity. Well-intended tourists should check the background of the organization before making a generous offer that may be used to support businesses that abuse elephants. 

Salwala offers a suggestion for people who really want to help the elephants. Salwala says tourists should not go to parks or elephant farms that offer any kind of elephant riding or shows. She says elephants do not perform out of talent, but because of cruel training. 

She said, "If you want to pose with the baby elephant for a photo, that's fine. But don't ride elephants... If you want to have fun with the elephants, you could walk the elephants to the lake, in the forest, in the mud, and that’s good enough, for me. And I’m sure many people would agree." 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Belgium Appoints Gay Prime Minister

By Taylor Pool
Edited by Adam Flango

            The name of the recently appointed Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, will go down in history for more than one reason.
            Not only has Di Rupo, a member of the Socialist Party, taken his position in the Belgian parliament after the country experienced an almost 600-day-long hiatus from a central Belgian government, but Di Rupo is French-speaking and homosexual.
            Pascal Smet, Minister of Education, Youth Policy, Equal Opportunities and Brussels Affairs, confirmed that Di Rupo is the first openly homosexual prime minister in Belgium’s history. Di Rupo is only the second head of state in the world to be openly homosexual, with Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, being the first when she took office in 2009.
            The naming of a homosexual head of state has not yet been accomplished in many countries such as the United States; however, this feat was not heavily reported by the Belgian media.
            Some media outlets reported more on the controversy that Di Rupo was not fluent in Flemish than about issues having to do with his sexual orientation. 
            More importantly to the Belgian population, and possibly more disturbing, said Smet, Di Rupo is from the French-speaking territory of Belgium called Walloon.
            Belgium is divided into three territories and two major language groups. Approximately 60 percent of the population in Belgium speaks Flemish, a dialect of Dutch, and 40 percent of the population speaks French. Though each of the three regions are united under the Kingdom of Belgium, each region has its own government and own identity.
            Olivier Paye, Professor of Political Science at Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis, said the best-represented political party in Belgium was actually advocating the separation of Flanders, the northern-most, flemish-speaking region of Belgium, from the rest of the country.
Culture of Acceptance
            Smet said Di Rupo’s sexuality did not affect his appointment whatsoever.
            “When the leader of the biggest party in the country is gay, when the time comes to serve the country, it will be a gay guy who serves it,” Smet said.
             Belgium is ahead of many countries in the world in legalizing certain rights for people in the LGBT community.
            In 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. That same year married homosexuals won the right to adopt children. These rights are still denied to homosexuals by many states in the United States.
The Pride Belgium logo
            Verlaine Berger is the head of communication for The Pride, a non-profit organization that organizes an annual LGBT rights event in Brussels.
            She said the cause of the difference in freedoms for people in the LGBT community between Belgium and other countries in the world like the United States could be the result of a difference in priorities.
            “The countries where LGBTs are less accepted are the countries more concerned with tradition, by culture and religion,” Berger said, “I think Belgium, for example, is a country where one is less focused on culture and religion.” 
            Belgium is a predominately catholic country with 60 to 70 percent of the population claiming Catholicism as their religion.
            However, Philippe Cochinaux, a Catholic priest and Ph.D in Theology, said that Catholic representation on Sunday mornings was less than that.
            “Sometimes people might say that they still believe in God, but the practice of the Belgians is between 5 and10 percent every Sunday,” he said.
            Though the church does not recognize same-sex marriage and will not marry a homosexual couple in the Catholic Church, the pastoral perspective on being homosexual is one of acceptance.
             “My view is that we always seek to respect the people,” Cochinaux said, “in the pastoral perspective, to accompany people doesn’t mean you agree with them, but in the name of the gospel you accompany them. I think that is something quite typical in this country.”
            Lionel Lange, 23, is a student in a Liège prep school studying business. He admitted being homosexual to his friends and family when he was 16 years old. Lange said he was insulted and judged by other students in his class when he was younger, but never by adults.
            “I never gave much importance to their nastiness because I knew I had friends, people who accepted me as I was,” he said, “and if people didn’t accept me, too bad for them.”
            Cochinaux said tolerance and compromise are two characteristically Belgian qualities.
            “We are not so much extremist people here. We try to be tolerant, to welcome the people as they are, and it’s a question of politics in a sense that we always try to compromise with the north, as in the Flemish, and the Walloons. So to compromise is a way of life,” he said.
            Lange said he sees no need for the Prime Minister to change the laws in Belgium to promote equal rights for those in the LGBT community because they are already changing little by little. He said the fact that Belgium is able to have a homosexual Prime Minister is a good thing because it means people are not seeing someone’s sexuality as their most important characteristic.
            “We shouldn’t stop at something that is truly secondary,” he said, “the sexuality of someone doesn’t mean that someone is more capable or less capable than someone else.”

Quotes from Olivier Paye, Verlaine Berger and Lionel Lange have been translated from French.

Yoga Guides Indian Prisoners to Freedom

By Amber Skorpenske
Edited By Adam Flango

Prisoners in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are getting out of jail early if they complete yoga courses. 

Prisoners practice yoga in India

By participating in three months of posture, balance and meditation inmates hack away at their jail time by 15 days. Authorities say these lessons will improve the inmate’s demeanor by reducing stress and aggression.

Carol McClenahan a yoga instructor based in Pittsburgh traveled to a similar prison in Jaipur, Rajasthan that offered yoga to inmates every Saturday. She says, “There were about 30 inmates taking the classes and I saw amazing postures which they had practiced. Pranayama practices (the art of breathing control) were an integral part of the program.” A local Rotary Club sponsored this particular program.

In many jails there are yoga competitions among the inmates giving them not only benefits from yoga but also self-worth and to show how far they’ve come. McClenahan was one of the judges at these competitions and says, “I witnessed a great camaraderie and self-worth there.”

Perception Differences

Yoga has very different connotations in India then it does in the United States. Manish Patel, Business Manager of Bayer Material Science based in Baytown Texas, says, “ Ancient Indian religious values and traditions has engraved practices such as yoga in modern day society. The culture of India in general believes in purity of the mind and soul and many religious practices directly correspond to doing just that.” It is more like a great spiritual awakening or cleansing of oneself and in this way could be beneficial to inmates.

Dharmesh Surati is a yoga instructor who has worked with the Prison Smart Program teaching young teens in jail. This program consists of teaching them “Sudarshan Kriya” a rhythmic breathing method and other stress-elimination techniques.  Surati says, “The basic idea of rehabilitation of prison inmates by the use of yoga is that in the core of every human lies a goodness. As the essence of yoga also is to discover our core, the spirit and unite it with the universal spirit.” Surati believes that because of extreme stress, mental impression or impulsive emotional outbursts, people commit what is defined as a crime by law.

Surati says, that many of the kids he has worked with became warm and friendly on the third day of class when they realized there was someone who cared for them despite their social status. Dharmesh saw a new sense of contribution, service and belongingness through these yoga attendees. Surati, concluded, “95% of these kids loved the workshop and felt it has helped them with being more calm and seeing life more clearly. This is because of the universal nature of yoga.”

Leigha Garcia-George, a new resident to Hyderabad after the relocation of her husbands job, Andhra Pradesh has been attending yoga classes and says they are very different than what she used to do in the United States. She says, “They are a lot more focused on meditation. We spend about 30 minutes doing sun salutations and other movements then the other 40 minutes we lay on the ground meditating to a tape or chanting.” She also says that the country is filled with signs – big enough to advertise concerts – announcing free yoga seminars and announcing the next “Big Yogi’s” arrival. Her husband, Ross George is more wary of India’s “yoga business” and says “Many of the people that add in the spiritual portion of yoga are either pretty flaky or seem to be under the sway of televangelist style yogis who are rolling in cash.”

Others still are worried about the impact this use of yoga might have on the more religious segments of Indian society. Aszra Mathar, a student at West Virginia University and originally from India, says, “I am not offended by this use of yoga. I do feel that Buddhists might disagree with this though. They view yoga as sacred. So it’s my assumption that they would be against its implementation within the prison system.” She goes on to say however that if Buddhists truly believes it cleanses the soul, they might not be offended by it. No one can know for sure.

There is also the idea that perhaps promoting a “recreational” activity to allow inmates to leave jail early is unfair and might downplay the difficulty of serving time. Mathar says, “Although using yoga rehabilitation is beneficial, I think it is important for those who commit crimes to realize the severity of their actions and remain an inmate for the duration of their sentence. Yoga or any other rehabilitation service shouldn’t be used to shave off time from a sentence.”

Carol McClenahan still believes that the practice and knowledge of yoga is for everyone. “From the loftiest Hindu Brahman priest to the lowest of society, it is an open book and those that choose to take the knowledge will benefit and those who are not ready or open will not.”

Regardless of the differing opinions this program seems to work well. Prisoners are moving on and becoming certified instructors who, most often, are coming back to teach yoga for other prisoners and continuing the tradition. There are even loftier hopes of introducing and promoting yoga in society so that people no longer commit crime. Only time will tell if this incredible goal will actually come true.

With this experimental work being done in India, it begs the question – would a program like this work in the United States? “Absolutely not,” Leigha Garica-George laughs, “I think people would laugh at it and not take it seriously at all.”  Aszra Mathar also weighs in, “It is my understanding that rehabilitation is something the States are very much in favor of, I don’t think many will support this.”

Recently, Carol McClenahan and a colleague from India visited Assistant Wardens of the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, PA to speak about teaching yoga to women inmates there. Wardens initially agreed and took the instructors to possible locations for classes. McClenahan says, “We brought donated mats and were ready to go. But right before we began, the jail pulled out and said they decided not to do it. They gave no reason. When we had visited, the guards were quite hostile and cynical to us about the program.”

It may be too soon to introduce this unorthodox “therapy” to U.S prisons, where prison authorities may see yoga as a pastime for housewives and the health conscious.

Believers still stand strong that yoga and particularly Zen meditation will become more and more common in prisons as officials and instructors alike see the changes in practitioners. As for the inmates in India? The fastest escape from their cells will now be from downward dog.

From the Slums of El Salvador, A Magical Journey

By Joseph Barbaree

Copy edited and produced by Laura Straub

SANTA ANA, El Salvador -- Peter grew up like many kids in El Salvador, the victim of a crippled economy and strained internal conflict. But when he was exposed to magic at the age of 12, he discovered his calling - one that would forever alter his identity.

Living in Terminal, one of the most deadly slums in the city of Santa Ana, is just part of life for Peter. The 20 year old grew up against a background that is all too common in the nation’s second largest city: marginalized children, violent gangs and a strained educational system.

Peter grew up working at his mother’s side, kneading dough for bread that she could sell in the markets to support their small family. His childhood was more adult than youthful.

Barefoot Angles in El Salvador
So when he heard of a program called Angeles Descalzos (“Barefoot Angels”) that took kids from the streets and treated them like children – he excitedly told his mother.

Children at ASAPROSAR courtsey of
Angeles Descalzos started at the tail end of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992 as a program of the Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR). It was due much in part to the work of individuals such as Lucy, the manager of the Children and Youth Program in Santa Ana.

“Angeles Descalzos began working with kids in the street – kids who didn’t have a family to rely on,” according to Ana, the Assistant Executive Director at ASAPROSAR. “Through that program, we realized that what the kids needed was a substitute family to support them.”

Many of the children they targeted were either working or prostituting themselves in some way. Many relied on drugs to numb themselves from hunger and cold.

The program took a holistic approach to identifying the problems that are typical of poverty. Ana, Lucy and others realized that they had to understand how the kids they were targeting came to live in the streets. There was no room for superficial fixes.

The approach they took evolved into Angeles Descalzos, which worked to keep children in school, out of dangerous labor and developing themselves as community members. It presented the chance to be a kid full of self-expression and creativity.

“[The kids] like it because they feel good and safe in the physical spaces of the program - they make friends, they learn about issues that help them to better understand more about their reality,” explained America, a community psychologist from Santa Ana who works with children and families involved in ASAPROSAR.

It was the perfect environment that Peter craved.

When he approached his mother to join Angeles Descalzos, though, she shot down the idea. To her, it was easier to see how Peter could be utilized as a worker.

But then he got through.

“In some ways, I feel like it was destined to happen,” said Peter recalling his start in the program. One day his mother simply broke down and let him join.

His acclimation with the other kids wasn’t quick and easy, though, according to America.

Peter was captivated by magic
When he found magic, that all changed.

“When he began the art of magic, he underwent a personal discovery,” explained America. He soon was putting on shows for groups small and large, and became a leader amongst Angeles Descalzos’ other magicians.

Magicians without Borders 
Peter fell in love with the performance art when Tom Verner, founder of Magicians Without Borders, visited Angeles Descalzos during one of the organization’s quarterly trips to El Salvador. Verner’s organization travels and performs magic for poor communities worldwide.

Peter became involved with the group and was able to travel extensively from as near as Guatemala to as foreign as the United States, meeting others just as passionate about magic as himself - including Devonte Rosero.

Rosero of Brooklyn, NY grew up surrounded by gang influences just as Peter did. But Rosero actively took part in the gang lifestyle and all that entailed. He was forced into re-examining his life in a gang, though, after a serious injury at 16.

“What magic does is that it gives you an immediate talent,” said Rosero.  He chose to return to his childhood passion and with his new talent began a career as a magician, eventually connecting with aspiring performers like Peter.

The two met as part of Rosero’s involvement with Magicians Without Borders and he soon witnessed the opportunities that Angeles Descalzos presented to Peter.

Not long after his start in Angeles Descalzos, Peter was traveling worldwide with other magicians to perform for young men and women just like him. He says kids are universally drawn to their act because the group he travels with performs to others just like themselves.

“Magicians Without Borders understands us,” said Peter, “they live like us, they understand where we’re coming from.”

And that’s the powerful lesson that Peter learned about himself when he was invited to attend Google Ideas’ Summit on Youth Violence in Ireland due to his outstanding academic record and community involvement.

“It was something that has transcended me and my life,” he said about the international meeting.

He found right away that the power of magic as a universal tool is also reminiscent of some of the most basic facts of life.

“I noticed when the first session [at the summit] started that people from all over the world – all parts – we are the same,” said Peter. “Violence is everywhere, all over. They might be different actions, but they are still all violence.”

Peter’s passion for magic has kept him heavily involved in Angeles Descalzos, as well as with his own performing group. And he’s as committed as ever to his studies.

Though his future is still unwritten, Peter says magic will always be part of his life. “Today, as a part of me, it’ just essential,” he explained.

In Peter’s experience, there’s no one reason why kids join gangs. For some it’s easy. For others it’s obligatory. But the answer to avoiding gang proliferation might lie in how individuals impact those around them.

“The idea that you can affect people’s lives in a way that they remember you is so remarkable,” said Peter about his magic group. “And people always remember us.”

Note: Only first names have been provided for the individuals living in El Salvador at the request of all involved. This is to protect both anonymity and personal safety, after prior reports from news agencies led to the sudden disappearance of community members.

Social media: the Malaysian government’s biggest competition

By Heather Farr
Copy edited and produced by Hilary Johnson

Facebook is making Malaysians lose grip on reality. 

At least that is what the newspapers in the country recently proclaimed. But in a society where the government-owned mainstream media are increasingly distrusted, could social media outlets actually be better connecting Malaysians to society, each other and…politics?

“Social media outlets have been the biggest factor in changing the face of politics in Malaysia and how information is spread,” Angela* of Kuala Lumpur said.

Following the 2008 general election, the ruling party, which had relied on traditional media forms since it came to power in 1957, lost a sizable majority in parliament to the media-savvy opposition. According to Anil Netto, a Penang-based independent writer, the ruling party felt that they were being left behind in social media following the election.

“The current government’s traditional communication means of television, radio and print still have an advantage in rural areas where Internet usage is not as high, but not in the urban centers,” Netto said. 
Anil Netto

“Fewer and fewer people are relying on mainstream media and newspapers. In local universities, people have stopped reading newspapers for Facebook and Twitter.”

Recognizing this fact, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s created 1Malaysia, a site intended to provide a “free and open forum.” The website promotes video responses to viewer questions and a discussion forum called the “Roundtable,” which was created to allow locals, regardless of location, profession or age, to provide “fair and constructive comments, suggestions or ideas to better the life of Malaysians.” Many, however, treat politicians’ personal social media pages like a second form of government-run media.

“People are wary of politicians online because you don’t know if they are being sincere. Their Facebook and blog posts do not affect me much because it feels like another form of propaganda,” retired teacher Halimah Ashari said.

Still, the Prime Minister has just under one million fans on Facebook and receives thousands of “likes” and hundreds of comments each time he posts. 

“It seems as if the Prime Minister, or more likely his team, gets back to questions asked, and for that reason, I think he deserves some credit for taking the time to respond,” digital media manager Alwin Chan said. “It use to be difficult to reach politicians in the past, and now with direct connection, you can.”

Before the Internet, citizens had little chance to speak out because the government controlled the media. According to Netto, social media allows Malaysians to give their views and to see others who share those views.

“It’s good to see that you’re not alone on such critical matters as politics,” Netto said. “With avenues like Twitter and Facebook, people feel as if their views matter.”

Not only are Malaysians more able to share views online, but also, they are more willing. According to cross-cultural development consultant and Universiti Putra lecturer Asma Abdullah, Malaysia is a high contact culture. This means people are often very indirect and subtle, and rarely talk about real issues in the foreground. In this type of culture, social media is vital because it allows people to be more direct or bold than they might be in person.

“Social media allows us to give our views about politics, whether for or against. People feel as if they can say what they want because they are faceless,” Ashari said.

“I respond on blogs, saying whatever I like, and I am not afraid of the consequences.”
Although social media gives a more confident voice to Malaysians, it can also lead to problems in such a diverse country.

“Along with the country’s many races, ethnicities and religions come many sensitivities. When it comes to being critical online in this country, a concern is intercultural conflict when one group does not like something another group has said,” Abdullah said.

Although Chan doesn’t believe that social media has improved or worsened race relations, he has felt the effects of faceless hatred. After four or five years of running peacefully, SeksualitiMerdeka – an annual sexuality rights festival held in Kuala Lumpur – was shut down by authorities and attacked by social media users.

“Because of social media, it blew up and people were commenting and saying very nasty things that surprised me,” Chan said. “That was really eye-opening to me that people in my country would say these things and hide behind a nickname.”

Not surprisingly, Malaysian politicians are also targets for ridicule online. Independent newspaper The Malaysian Insider recently reported that Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, president of uni-racial political party Malaysian Chinese Association, scolds citizens and youth for “using the Internet as an avenue to abuse national leaders.”

“[They] must understand that people are entitled to a difference of opinion and if they are the very people who talk about democracy and freedom of expression, they should not be rubbishing others,” Dr. Chua, who has about 130,000 followers on Facebook, told The Malaysian Insider.

According to Chan, Dr. Chua is naive to think people will not rubbish him because “it’s just a part of social media.”

“It does take a mature nation and mature users to be responsible and share valuable comments. However, comments that are silly are very easy to spot, and most people can spot and disregard them,” Chan said.

For better or worse, the relationship between Malaysian politics and social media has just begun. With a general election in the near future, politicians will utilize the tool or be left behind, and citizens will work to influence others through the outlet.

According to lecturer Asma Abdullah, if nothing else, these outlets will give each Malaysian the opportunity to have a voice.

“That’s the power of social media – even those who are introverts can communicate because it is as if you are talking to not people, but a machine.” Abdullah added: “It certainly has changed the way we look at an issue and how we express our ides openly. I may not have an audience, but I can always talk to my PC.”

*Name withheld at the request of the source. 

A Pint for a Pint in Ireland

By Emily Bowman

Copy edited and produced by Laura Straub

When one hears the phrase “a pint for a pint,” many Americans would most likely think of taking turns to buy rounds of beer at the bars.

In Ireland, however, this used to mean donating a pint of blood in exchange for, if the donator chooses, a free pint of Guinness.

A Pint for a Pint was a well known incentive program used by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. Donators could also choose to receive free biscuits, crackers, and other food items.

The program lasted more than 30 years, but was discontinued in November 2009. Mirenda O’Donovan, the head of Corporate Affairs for IBTS, said the Guinness distributor, Diageo, announced they would no longer promote alcohol as a medicine, nor imply that alcohol had the ability to prevent, treat or cure any human disease or condition.

Diageo was not available for comment.

Changes in Policy
Donor in the process of giving blood
“Following this decision, the IBTS decided not to purchase Guinness for two reasons. First because this would be a cost that is not justifiable and secondly because the blood alcohol limits were about to be reduced further by the government in 2010,” O’Donovan said.

Despite the program’s discontinuation, IBTS has not seen any drop in blood donations.

We are still at a very steady donation rate, O’Donovan said.

Tessa Mcintyre, an Irish blood donor, said donating blood is often times encouraged by families and a lot of people donate just because their parents do.

“(Donating blood) is high in everybody’s agenda. Over here we’re such a small country that every pint counts,” Mcintyre said, adding that in small, walking towns many nearby bars still offer free pints for blood donors.

“Over here they really influence you to (donate blood) and really try to make you want to do it,” she added.

The Irish beer, known for its slogan “Guinness is good for you,” became one of the exchange options because of its supposed high iron levels that could be beneficial after donating blood.

Frank Mcintyre, a firefighter from Ireland, said Guinness has been traditionally thought of as a healthy beer and many people still hold this belief.

Guinness Advertisment, courtsey of 
“(I have been told) to have a bottle of Guinness a day,” Mcintyre said. “My grandfather kept a bottle of it by his bed in the hospital.”

Mcintyre added that even pregnant women would go out and get bottles of Guinness.

In America, blood organizations also work hard to find incentives to entice citizens to donate blood.

Incentives in America
Attie Poirier, the Media Relations Specialist at the American Red Cross, said there are about 4 million Red Cross volunteer donors in the US each year.

“Incentives are determined on a division by division basis,” Poirier said.

The Red Cross consistently offers various food items to its donors. It has also offered chances to win gift cards, cash and other prizes, according to The Times-Tribune.

Justin Falck, a blood donor from Cincinnati, said receiving a free beer would be a nice touch but is not necessary.

“I’ve gotten paid for giving blood in the past as well as doing it for free. I don’t need any incentive to give blood because I know it is for a good cause,” Falck said, adding that free beer would be a better incentive for college students in a small town.

Deena Benkey, a blood donor from Sandusky, said she does not think beer needs to be offered as an incentive at all.

“Donating blood saves lives and is a great thing to do. (You should only donate) for others and yourself, not for anything free,” Benkey said.

Continuing Donations in Ireland
Though the pint for a pint program brought many people in Ireland to donate blood, Dr. Ellen McSweeney of the Irish Blood Transfusion Center said it did not bring any more people than would have donated in the first place.

“I don’t believe it was an incentive to donate, more a gesture of appreciate,” McSweeney said, adding that few people expressed dissatisfaction for canceling the program.

This is the case for David Ganly, a teacher and blood donor from Dublin.

“It doesn’t really make a difference to me. I’ve donated blood and not gotten a pint of Guinness.” Ganly said, adding that he has grown up in a different era and believes receiving Guinness was more popular years ago.

Along with money and health concerns, the pint for a pint tradition was also canceled when the Irish government lowered the blood alcohol content level for the country.

“Ten years ago it was pretty normal to go out and have a few pints, get in your car and drive home,” Ganly said, adding how the government has been cracking down on driving under the influence.

“(They) can’t really be promoting something like a pint of beer,” Ganly said.

The IBTS still uses many advertising tactics to entice people to donate blood, such as emails, TV and newspaper ads. They also try to advertise more during the holiday season.

“In the last six weeks I’ve noticed (organizations) advertising a lot,” Gantly said.

Even though the Guinness tradition was brought to an end, Mcintyre said he did not see a problem with the free treat.

“My opinion might be somewhat biased but I like my beer,” he said.

Despite blood organizations no longer offering free Guinness, McSweeney said blood donations have remained steady and are not expected to drop anytime soon.