Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kyrgyzstan’s Kloop media talk about controversial coverage

By: Samantha Peko
Edited by: Erica King

“Aspiring Central Asian journalists face steep challenges. In addition to censorship and political interference, many journalists lack the basic skills necessary to produce high-quality stories,” began an article on May 3, 2012 by the Eurasia Foundation.

The Eurasian Foundation, Kloop’s partner, is a U.S. based organization. Founded in 1992, the organization operates in every country in the former Soviet Union. The Eurasian Foundation of Central Asia, created in 2005, has invested more than $40 million in Central Asia community development projects, according to their website.

Kloop, which began in 2007, is currently one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest media organizations. Students ages 12 and up come from different Kyrgyzstan regions to study journalism in Bishkek. Student coverages are posted on Kloop’s website daily. Many students are also credited parliament reporters.

“After one year writing about society, crime and culture, I decided to be a parliament correspondent and write news about politics,” said Kloop graduate, Nurjamal Djanibekova.

Azat Ruziev is a video reporter for Kloop. He came to Bishkek from a small town in the Northeastern region of Kyrgyzstan called Karakol. He said he applied just to get out of Karakol and see the capitol city, Bishkek. He was 14 years old. At the age of 17 he was a credited Kyrgyzstan parliament reporter for Kloop.

“My experience as a parliament reporter had a great impact on me. I started to understand what and how the laws can be written. I started to mention some small things about laws in my writing. These small things might change the lives of thousands but weren’t very clear.”

In just a few months of joining Kloop, Ulugbek Akishev was covering a political uprising. He was only 17.

“It was the end of March 2010 when opposition started demonstrations against the regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiyey,” he said.

He mentioned that his mother worked with a lot of politicians and his grandfather was a diplomat for 20 years, so he knew a lot of inside information.

This was the second Kyrgyz Revolution. President Bakiyey was ousted in June. Then ethnic tension involving Kyrgyz people and Uzbeks in the south of the country escalated. Approximately 500 people were killed during the turmoil to gain political control.

“It was dangerous and I feared the marauders and rebels armed with guns. Of course, we didn’t know what would happen the next day, but we never stopped the coverage,” he said. 

On Political Coverage
“Kloop has made many enemies over the years by exposing official corruption and providing regular coverage of Kyrgyzstan’s beleaguered LGBT community, which many other outlets ignore completely,” said an article published on December 15, 2014 on

When asked if covering politics is difficult Eldiyar Arykbaev, Kloop’s editor-in-chief explained that students are told to be watchful.

“Know your environment—is the main advice. Be careful with your words—is second.”Arykbaev said that students are told to monitor high-officials’ public activity closely and what they say regarding issues.

“If you know them well, you can build a behavior pattern for that politician,” he said. “You can easily make a strategy plan on how to interview the official and make him answer tough questions while keeping a peaceful atmosphere.”

But in the upcoming months Kyrgyzstan’s media will face another challenge. A bill adopted from Russia dubbed the “anti-gay propaganda bill” could potentially imprison journalists for up to a year for covering LGBT issues.

“The bill would directly and negatively affect media coverage of LGBT issues in Kyrgyzstan, given that the draft, if adopted, would provide criminal and administrative sanctions against individuals who are found to disseminate information that promotes 'non-traditional sexual relations' in a “positive” way. It would apply to the press, television, radio and the Internet – a clear violation of freedom of expression,” said Mihra Rittmann who is the Central Asian representative for Human Rights Watch.

The issue is the wording of the bill.

“There are two questions – what is ‘propaganda’ and what is a ‘non-traditional sexual relationships?’” Arykbaev asked. “I think the bill is written for selective use – to silence who will go against the major power and is out of the traditional understanding,” he said.

One of the founders of Kloop, Bektour Iskender has publicly called this a fascist law.

“This is the case when I had to unfortunately turn from a journalist into an activist. I say "unfortunately" because journalists should not be the ones, but I am afraid I am one of the very few open opponents of the bill, and if I am silent, then there is almost no opposition to this bill at all,” he said.

Iskender explained that one of the first stories that Kloop has covered LGBT issues since 2007. The first article uncovered police abuse on the transgender community.

“We’ve been labeled as ‘main gay propagandists’ of Kyrgyzstan by a far-right antigay group called Kalys on a protest in Bishkek in March 2014. This is an honor for me, although I don't believe that gay ‘propaganda’ exists at all,” he said.

Kloop intends to continue its coverage despite harsh consequences.

“Its vague definitions means that, if adopted, the bill can be used about any journalist and activist who authorities don't like. Kloop is, I assume, on this list. I will deliberately violate this law if it is adopted. It contradicts the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan, which guarantees freedom of speech, and that will be my argument in the court, because Constitution is much higher in its status than any other law,” Iskender said.

News Editor Anna Lelik also intends to continue her reporting.

“Unfortunately, during the last two years Kyrgyzstan became famous for its anti-gay propaganda bill (almost copy and pasted from Russian legislation) and rising homophobic mood especially among conservative nationalist groups. Kloop is often criticized by these groups, considered LGBT advocates and sometimes our journalists were even verbally attacked. We always cover the story from both sides and never ignore the facts of violations of human rights in Kyrgyzstan, including LGBT community,” she said.

Do Egyptian women want equality?

Egyptian women
By: Kaitlyn Marshall
Edited by: Erica King

Debates about women’s issues and what a woman’s place is in the world are commonplace around the world today. The debate that continues in Egypt about the true place of a woman is one that has been going on for years, with no real answer in sight.

Enas El Masry is a 24-year-old woman living in Cairo, she has lived there her entire life. She studied at Cairo University and now works as a freelance journalist, traveling in and around Cairo for her work. Her work requires her to travel mainly by herself, a practice atypical for a woman of the region. Some women think she should be married by now, but she has never felt that pressure mainly because of how understanding her parents have been.

“My parents are exceptionally cool,” El Masry said, “ I was born on the luckier end of society not too much freedom, but not too much restraint.”
The influence of the family is being seen as having more of an impact on how Egyptian women act in their everyday lives.

Xousa, a 20-year-old Egyptian male student at the International University in New Cairo said “the family most of the time chooses the path for the infants and are very involved in a female's life.”

Parental involvement can sometimes pressure women to assimilate into more traditional roles, but it can also push them to pursue roles outside of the home. El Masry is aware of the situation she was born into. “It isn’t easy to be a woman in Egypt," she said, but “women are strong in Egyptian culture.”

The growing desires of women, especially young, college-educated women, to branch out beyond their parents’ homes is becoming more of an attainable goal than it was for generations before. Young, educated women are branching out and older women are encouraging them to do so. Family plays a large role in how women perceive themselves, however they can’t completely escape the pressures of society.

Egyptian scholar Yasmin Gamal, finds that religion still plays a huge role in society and influences the role that women are taking in their homes and in society.

“There is also the religious aspect with imams and preachers telling women that they play second fiddle to their men and that their number one job is to marry,” she said.

Religion is not completely out of the equation when it comes to the role women are playing in society.

As El Masry puts it, society and religion are very intertwined within Egypt saying, “it’s hard to see where society ends and religion begins.”
These stereotypes, Gamal said, seems to transcend class lines however, “Women want better for themselves but still seem to be their worst enemies and are not supportive of other women.”
El Masry is just one of many women from numerous backgrounds who are looking at their futures in a nontraditional way. Gamal did a study on the changing way that women living in Egypt think of themselves. She found that younger women between ages 25 and 40 are not caught up in traditional ways of thinking about the place of women in Egyptian society.

“It is still not easy for a woman to leave her parents house and live alone before marriage or travel abroad to pursue a career,” Gamal said. “Constraints like these keep a lot of women stuck or desperate for a way out by the means of marriage.”

Recently, three women were appointed to positions in the Egyptian parliament marking a shift in the political make up of the country. However, the question then arises, is this representation enough to make a difference in governmental policies within Egypt as it pertains to women. Ghada Waly, Nabila Makram, and Sahar Nasr all hold positions on the Egyptian parliament, and citizens like Miriam El Touny think this is nowhere near enough.

“The women ministers are 9% only of the cabinet, which is not a good representation of the role women play in our society,” El Touny said.

This is a shared sentiment by Loai Alaa an Egyptian resident who also has found that the number of female participants in government is not where it should be.

“The number of women that are joining the next parliamentary race is very low by any standard,” Alaa said. “Most of the older people I talk with find women incapable of being a good representative, the same goes if a woman is to be elected as a president.”

Women are looking for ways to advance outside of marriage and that may be difficult without changes in government and the societal make up of the country as a whole.

Sama Al-Masry, a belly dancer who wanted to be a part of the next Egyptian Parliament, was turned down after a higher court questioned her ethics. This is commonplace for women who have a desire to be a part of the government that has control over their lives.

However, women are looking to gain control of their lives not only through government, but through how they conduct themselves. The younger generation of Egyptian women is finding what makes it happy regardless of tradition and is finally being encouraged to pursue their goals.
“Nobody wants to be handcuffed, especially if you know that you’re handcuffed.” El Masry said. “I think the problem maybe rises more when you don’t know that you’re handcuffed and you don’t know what lies beyond your limitations.”

Animal cafes continue to thrive in Japan

By: Joshua Lim
Edited by: Erica King

In Japan’s capital of Tokyo, Kasumi Ogawa has plenty of options on where to get a cup of coffee: Starbucks, a popular American coffeehouse chain; or perhaps a maid café, where girls are dressed in petticoats, pinafores and stockings like French maids.

But Ogawa wanted a different type of experience, so she chose a café where humans and animals can interact and dine side by side: a cat café.

In the café, Ogawa was surrounded by furry felines. She petted different types of cats – some were rare breeds, others were really fluffy.

“I was really enjoying petting them,” said Ogawa, an office clerk from Tokyo.

Five years ago, maid cafes were the craze in Japan, but the trend has shifted to animal cafes, said Nami Ueda, a temporary employee for Google in Japan.

The first cat café in Japan opened its doors in 2004 in Osaka. Since then, at least 150 cat cafes have popped up as of 2012. A majority of cat cafes are located in Tokyo.

Animal cafes are growing in number, Ueda said.

Many people can’t afford to have pets at home, Ogawa said. The limited living space and busy work schedules are some of the reasons why many Japanese households do not have pets.

These animals in cafes serve as substitutes – rental pets – to those seeking animal company.But animal cafes in Japan aren’t limited to four-legged felines, nor are they limited to the cute and cuddly.

Tokyo Snake Center, a café in the Shibuya Ward that opened in August, offers customers a selection of 36 “non-venomous” snakes to accompany them while they enjoy teatime. The café calls its snakes “attendants” and charges customers 540 yen (approximately $4.50) to pet the reptiles.

In Osaka and Hakata, two cafes with the name “Fukuro no mise” offer customers an opportunity to pet owls.
Three customers posing for the camera with an owl.
Photo provided by Fukuro no Mise - Owl Family
“Fukuro no mise” typically serves about 200 customers on a busy day, said Maruoka Yuka, the president of the owl café franchise. Most customers who frequent the owl café are females between ages 20 and 30, but Yuka said she has seen customers as old as 70 visiting her cafes.

Despite the popularity of animal cafes, not all Japanese people enjoy the thought of having animals as teatime mates.

“It’s kind of filthy,” said Kenta Watanabe, a student studying in Musashi University, Tokyo.

Watanabe said his friends, who have been to an animal café, would often say, “That was so fun, so great, you should go there!”

“But I was like, ‘no, I don’t like it,’” Watanabe said.

Moe Miyamoto, a student living in Akishima city, agrees with Watanabe. Miyamoto has never visited an animal café, but the thought of being in a place filled with cats while drinking tea or coffee makes her uncomfortable.

“I feel it’s unclean as well,” Miyamoto said. “I don’t want to touch them.”

Yuka said many customers find the experience of petting and watching owls to be therapeutic and comforting, especially after a long day at work.

“They were able to go back out again and smile more,” Yuka said.

There are about 25 owls in each “Fukuro no mise.” The owls are treated like part-time workers. If an owl works for an hour, it will later rest for three hours before working again.

“Each owl does that for one to three hours (per day), depending on health or condition,” Yuka said.

Let's Junkanoo

By: Jennifer Nzegou
Edited by: Erica King

The Bahamas is a country composed of multiple islands on the Caribbean Sea. Due to its heavy dependency on tourism and offshore banking, it's one of the wealthiest Caribbean islands. The tourism market is perhaps the biggest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. A country’s Gross Domestic Product (or GDP) is an overall measure of its economic activity. Tourism in The Bahamas accounts for 60% of the GDP.

Tourism is so large of a market that it also it also accounts for 49% of the country’s labor force. It currently serves as the leading market for employment, with other services including finance, business, agriculture and industry jobs trailing behind it.

Nassau is not only the capital city; it is also the biggest urban area, with its population count at 267,000 people. This large island is home to perhaps the country’s biggest celebration/tourist trap: Junkanoo!

Junkanoo is a cultural celebration, whose origin has many interpretations. The most common story for its origin dates back to the days of slavery. It is believed that Junkanoo started during the days of slavery when the slaves were given three days off around Christmas time. They celebrated by singing and dancing in colorful masks, and traveling from house to house, often on stilts.

Modern day Junkanoo takes place twice annually on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The parade is no longer the way it was because of the country’s desire to appeal to tourists. Nassau being the largest island, has the biggest celebration. The difference in the celebration in Nassau is that in recent years, it has become mainstream. While it’s still a showcase of The Bahamas’s culture, it has started to cater to the needs and desires of the tourists it attracts.

Jamell Strachan is a Bahamas resident who has experienced the Junkanoo parade for years. His recount of the celebration was this:

“When I was younger, say 7, Junkanoo used to be, it still is maybe, don’t get me wrong, that the groups were large and organized enough to finish two laps of the parade before the day break. It also wasn't so much marketing using the public fact, it was more about the culture. Now the groups are too large, politicians want to be in the parade now to show face. Some are there to show face, some might be there to genuinely enjoy, I’m not sure. I prefer the way it was in the past. As a tourist, you will definitely enjoy it, and I enjoy it as well. I just like when it was more focused on the culture of The Bahamas.”

The Junkanoo celebration is so massive, that one might assume it's the reason tourism accounts for 60% of the GDP.

According to Monique Brennen, this is not the case,

Bahama natives celebrating Junkanoo
“I don't think they make as much money because the costumes are hand made by groups, or whoever they choose to work with. For example, there’s a method called pasting where you take a pair of pants, or whatever it might be, that you already own and you take crepe paper and glue it to your pants to make fringes; or one could cut cardboard and paint it to create the desired image. For the most part these things are done as preparation for Junkanoo. Other than that, restaurants and food vendors would be making money from selling food leading up to and during the celebration.”

Kenji Sands, a choreographer and Junkanoo dancer, provides a different perspective on the economics side of the parade. She has been dancing in the parade for three years now, and sees a different aspect to Junkanoo than the other interviewees. Kenji acknowledges that shops that sell Junkanoo merchandise and supplies for the parade make a lot of money. While they pay someone to “paste” their costumes, they typically decorate the rest of their costumes themselves. She believes that local businesses profits in a big way from the Junkanoo celebration. Her experiences with making costumes have shown her first hand how much money local Junkanoo shops profit.

Considering the effects of Junkanoo on the economy, local business owners believe the economy in The Bahamas increases during the winter months regardless. Among other reasons, this is why he does not keep his shop, Avista Coffee Shop and Lounge, open on the day of the Junkanoo parade.

“Junkanoo is a hidden jewel. I feel like tourists don't know about it. It should drive a bigger crowd. The crowd is 95% locals. Everyone knows about Carnival, but not everyone knows about Junkanoo. Carnival is commercialized, but Junkanoo is still a local thing. It originated from the days of slavery; it still has its authenticity and people would appreciate that if they knew about it more.”

Tourism is a major leader in the economy for several reasons and currently Junkanoo is just a small contributor to the bigger picture. As far as Junkanoo is concerned, local vendors that sell food during the parade, dancers, big corporations and small businesses that contribute to the parade, all benefit from the tourist aspect of this celebration.

In a country like the U.S., where the leading industries range from industrial outputs to petroleum, there is an exponential difference in how tourism impacts the economy.

Arlene Nash Ferguson from The Ministry of Tourism, however, believes Junkanoo has the potential to be an entity of its own one-day. The profit from the celebration could be a lot greater than it is now.

“Junkanoo has enormous potential to raise it's own money. It needs to get to the point where it is able to support itself. I think this is possible with creativity, hard work and sacrifice. Junkanoo could be larger than it is if it were self-sufficient. The money comes from corporations that support it and from selling bleacher tickets.”

Sunday, November 1, 2015

LGBTQ community finds a space in Jamaica

Jamaica hosted the first-ever pride event last August. Many
hold signs protesting the anti-buggery law. (via Benha Aquila)

By: McKenzie Powell
Edited by: Jaelynn Grisso

“I am not a threat to the society,” said Whitney Reid in the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays’ (J-FLAG) ‘We Are Jamaicans’ video campaign. “I don’t want to spend most of my life hiding who I am from the world. I want you to see how beautiful I am, I want you to see how human I am.”

Reid, a transgender woman and Jamaican refugee currently living in the United States, is just one individual out of a larger community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) persons who have experienced bigotry within Jamaica’s borders.

Despite recent progressions in LGBTQ rights around the world, including the United States’ legalization of same-sex marriage and the implementation of laws banning discrimination against transgender people in several U.S. states, Jamaica continues to struggle with inclusive dialogue and education about the country’s trans* population.

Largely due to an extensive history of discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, enforced by a longstanding anti-buggery law, Jamaicans are just recently becoming familiar with Westernized terms of identity such as ‘transgender.’

“There was no such thing as trans* a couple of years ago. The trans* community is being created as we speak,” said Carla Moore, professor of gender and development at the University of the West Indies Mona, Western Jamaica Campus.

Through the work of Jamaican advocacy groups like J-FLAG, TransWave and Colour Pink Group (CPG), more information about this underrepresented group is being shared to raise awareness and increase humanization of transgender Jamaicans.

“Knowledge and understanding of trans* identity is growing and many more are coming out as trans*,” said Dane Lewis, the executive director of J-FLAG and the co-chair of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (Cari-FLAGS).

According to Jamaica Observer, Jamaica’s LGBT population reached approximately 270,000 people in 2009; yet, in 2014 the Advocate reported that about 25,000 protestors gathered in continued support of Jamaica’s buggery law, which forbids anal intercourse. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment continues to live through groups like the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society and Jamaica Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation (CAUSE).

Discrimination against those who are trans*
Although more citizens are said to be self-identifying as transgender, the implications of publicly announcing this identity are still very risky, resulting in possible beatings, discrimination, homelessness and poverty.

“It begins in the home. Many transgender individuals – notably teens – are being kicked out of their homes by their parents/guardians or by more powerful figures,” said Portia de Royal, an active advocate for the Jamaican trans* community who has worked with groups like J-FLAG.

Jessica JBurton, executive director and founder of CPG, experienced the cycle herself when she was kicked out of her house and forced to live on the streets of New Kingston at 16 years old due to her sexual identity. She was soon performing sex-work in an effort to make money while suffering from poor hygiene, lack of food and an absence of clothes.

“Every day someone dies. Some person dies by HIV-related illnesses, a person dies because they were doing sex-work for a living and they got killed,” Jburton said. “Access to health care was a major issue for the homeless population in Jamaica. They could lose their life accessing care there.”

After accessing education, JBurton used her experience to create CPG, a support group that represents and assists the Jamaican couch surfing and homeless Gay Men, Other Men Who Have Sex With Men, and Transgender (GMT) community.
Tiana Miller, a Jamaican transgender woman, speaks out
through a "We Are Jamaicans" video campaign from J-FLAG.
The campaign was designed to allow people in the LGBTQ
community to talk about their experiences.
(photo taken from video)
“The mission is unlocking the poverty cycle through health, education and employment,” Jburton said. “You can’t have a good education if you don’t have good health, and if you don’t have an education you can’t get employment.”

The causes leading to discrimination
TransWave, a Jamaican transgender advocacy group that uses social media to increase knowledge of transgender health and wellbeing, uses stories like Jburton’s to strengthen the overall understanding and tolerance of the country’s trans* community.

“Homosexuality is considered a sin as Christianity is embedded in our country. Religion spurs on the fear that a fiery hell awaits LGBTQ Jamaicans,” said Neish McLean, who is a co-founder of TransWave.

While Moore agreed that religion plays a large role in Jamaica’s deep-rooted homophobia, she also stated that the prejudice stems from colonization and slavery.

“There are a couple of movements that have shaped the way Jamaicans relate to gender variants and non-heterosexual sexuality. One of them is the slavery movement, because what you had is a deliberate cultural disruption that taught black people on the plantation that same-sex sex was wrong. They needed to have heterosexual sex because…that’s what would make new slaves,” Moore said.

The rape of black men on the plantation in an effort to emasculate and “break them” was used as a type of punishment that, ultimately, led to black men having a “very unhealthy relationship with same-sex sex,” Moore stated.

The combination of Jamaica’s dark past involving colonialism and slavery, in addition to strong religious beliefs and a robust national identity, has created difficulties in progressive dialogue between Jamaican LGBTQ and heterosexual communities. This communication is even further strained by deep-rooted beliefs that sexuality is a practice and not an identity.

“We have created this single story that Jamaica is myopically homophobic. We forget there are a lot of people living in Jamaica who are loving queerly but who would never take on the identity of a queer Jamaican,” Moore said. “We are completely ignoring the people who have deliberately employed invisibility as a technique of freedom and who don’t feel oppressed by it.”

Moore hopes that Jamaicans will soon find a balance between gender and sexual variants, but on their own terms and without the continued pressure from outside forces like the United States’ LGBTQ politics.

“We have our own way of doing things and we always have,” Moore said. “I hope that the LGBT community can see where they need to remain a part of the Jamaican community and I hope that the Jamaican community can see where it is important for them to retain their LGBT people as members.”

Syrian refugee crisis puts strain on Lebanon

By: Abbey Peyton
Edited by: Jaelynn Grisso

The education system in Lebanon has been greatly affected by the influx of over two million Syrian refugees. Though resources being provided by the UN have been reduced in recent months, the country is doing what it can to provide education to those Syrian children and to maintain a sense of normalcy for Lebanese students. Education is now being provided up through the collegiate level for these Syrian migrants.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Syrian children have missed generally one to two years of schooling. With being behind already putting an immense amount of stress on Syrian students, the schools in Lebanon teach in English and French and Syrian children only speak Arabic. More stress is added because classes in Lebanon had been generally comprised of 20 students and now class sizes have almost doubled with 35-40 students per teacher. This takes attention away from both the Syrian students and the Lebanese students, placing additional stress on both students.

Increased population from Syrian migrants poses problems to
Lebanon's education system. (via Now.)
Problems with supporting migrants
According to Eva Bedran, a high school teacher teaching a geography class in a public school in Batroun, there are not many Syrian students in high schools due to the aforementioned reasons.

As for younger students, "Students (in case they can afford the tuition) are placed in classes lower than theirs... At the same time they affect the learning experience of Lebanese students since their educational level is much lower than their classmates. This affects also the teachers, making it harder for them to teach a heterogeneous class. I bet that Syrian students do suffer from some discrimination and bullying at the schools, especially with their poor understanding while lacking the French language skills."

Marya Sadek, Bedran's daughter who is studying at the Lebanese American University, commented on the efforts of the Lebanese government.

"The Lebanese government is trying to help Syrian refugees get into schools by asking for international funds in order to: Cover the tuition of the refugees, afford to get the teachers for extra shifts on afternoons for private classes for Syrian refugees, and to increase the capacity of public schools in order to assimilate the growth in the number of students," said Sadek.

Since the Syrian refugees have started moving into Germany, the UN has been low on money and therefore unable to provide as much as was initially provided to Lebanon, about 50% less. These funds were used to fund Syrian education through the Lebanese education system, as well as housing, food and water, and medical and psychological services.

"Not all Syrians are getting to go to schools in Lebanon because of the overload of students and/or not being able to pay tuition," says Miraluna Matar, a Lebanese student studying at Ohio University. "They just go walk on the roads and highways between cars and beg for money or sell stuff while people are stuck in traffic."

Additionally, Matar says that the "crime rate increased since most of the refugees as I said are poor and don't have jobs so they are doing anything that would help them get money either legally or illegally to be able to live better. The number of Lebanese people who walk on streets went down because of the robberies, kidnapping, and killing that has been happening."

For Matar, this hits close to home.
"To give an example, all of the people in my town including me and my siblings used to go on night walks on the streets but, now, parents are letting their children do it anymore because it is scary with the extremely huge amount of foreigners that came to our country," says Matar.

The economy as a whole has been heavily affected by the influx of Syrian migrants.
The increase in population in Lebanon often leads to
temporary housing for migrants. (via UNHCR.)
"The economy got better and worse at the same time, better because refugees are spending money in stores and on other services, worse because the amount of tourists wanting to visit Lebanon went down a lot," says Matar. "Note that most of Lebanon's income comes from the tourism sector of the economy."

The refugees' stories
The refugees' travels in general have been stressful as well. Many stories filter through the media everyday about the many hardships they have faced while traveling to a safer place.

Mhd Badawi, a Lebanese civilian, shared a story he saw on Facebook posted by a friend who lives in his village in Lebanon about a Syrian refugee.

"The Syrian man traveled to Turkey with his family to find a solution for his bad situation. He decided to go to Europe through the sea with his wife and children. He paid more than 5000 to go to Germany, but while they were on their way to Europe a wave hit their ship and it turned upside down.

He went to pull up his first child, but he was already dead. So he started searching for his other children and his wife but he couldn't find them. He started to swim until he reached the Turkish shore. While he was sitting on the shore, he saw a wave of five corpses floating. When the wave corpses reached the shore, he found out it was his family."

Going into this influx of Syrian citizens, there was only 20 hours of electricity available to Lebanese citizens. Since the influx, that availability has been cut down to 16 hours. They have increased the population by 25% with one in four people in Lebanon being Syrian. According to Sam Aziz, a Lebanese-American citizen, this influx would be comparable to "150 million Mexican citizens immigrating into the United States."

According to the UN Refugee Agency's website, as of December of last year, 1,154,040 registered Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon. According to figures provided by a New York Times article released last month, the United States currently holds 70,000 refugees with an expectation of reaching 100,000 by the end of this year as the crisis persists.

German economy rests on the future of its refugees

By: Paola Santiago Del Castillo
Edited by: Jaelynn Grisso

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized by
many for her recent decisions on asylum applications
for Syrian refugees. (via South China Morning Post)
Fiscal responsibility of the refugee crisis in Germany may not be a problem for now, but the economic future of Germany is on the fence.

Germany continues to bear the bulk of the refugee crisis as they expect 800,000 asylum applicants by the end of the year, according to the German Federal Government. As of September, Germany has received more than 300,000 reported asylum applications.

According to an article by the Journal of Migration andSecurity, it is hard to compare U.S. refugee response to German response because of the way asylum applications are filed and reported in each state. Based on numbers from 2014, the U.S. granted asylum received over 5,000 asylum applications compared to Germany who received almost 62,000 applications.

With a currently booming economy, the German economy can expect to support its refugees for as along as the tax revenues remain at their historical high,

According to Professor Gunther Shnabl of the Institute of Economic Policy in Leipzig University. The tax revenue of German public finance is currently is more than 620 billion Euro, according to the German federal statistical office.

“When the current stock and real estate bubble bursts, then financial stress may emerge,” said Schnbl. According to Germanys federal statistical office, in 2014 Germany experienced an economic growth of 1.6 percent and a fully employed workforce of 42.7 million people.

Economic costs of supporting refugees are due to rise along with asylum applications. A single refugee receives more than 350 Euro a month. If an asylum seeker brings a family of four with children between the ages of four and 12, they will receive a stipend of more than 1000 Euros a month. This is not including the cost of housing and language integration, which is also provided by the federal government.

Schnbl said that the estimated time it takes for an asylum application to be processed is one year, although the federal government of Germany lists the procedures taking an average of five months. The incurred costs to federal states per refugee application is more than 600 Euro per month.

When refugees can work
After all the applications and all the money spent just to get the refugee safely within the borders of Germany, when can they be expected to give back to their German economy?

This is a question that is up in the air for the future of Germany. For a refugee to be allowed to work in Germany, they must first show full mastery of the German language, history and culture. This requires Germans to sign up for German integration courses which can take months to find an available spot and up to a year to complete the general courses.

For refugee minors the struggle for available space deepens as they first have to find a school that will teach them German along with regular schooling, a process that can also take months to a year.
Germans wait to welcome refugees coming from Syria
earlier this September. (via NBC News)
Professor Axel Dreher of the Alfred-Weber-Institute for Economics in Heidelberg, said that during this time span, refugees are left without being able to add to the economy as they do not have the language or standard German work skills.

“They do not know how to do anything or speak the language. They sit there in the middle of nowhere not knowing what to do simply because the system cannot integrate them fast enough.”

Dreher says that while he agrees with the German government’s humanitarian decisions, their decisions lack consideration for the general public and solid base to structure refugee policy. 

“We don’t have the space - we have no idea what to do with these people. We are lacking a concept,” said Dreher. Germany is currently focusing on providing non-cash aid to its refugees, including allocating funds to social housing and and establishing aid to unaccompanied minors.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to drop the limits on asylum seeker applications may be criticized now, but politics aside, Dreher said that in the short-term, the German Economy can sustain the influx of refugees coming into the country but the long-term should have been considered with equal importance.

Many stay optimistic about German economy
Meanwhile some who are dealing day in and day out with the refugee crisis feel hopeful and confident that the German economy will stay strong.

Maria Stinner, a volunteer worker at Internationale Frauen in Leipzig handles refugee integration cases daily. She is responsible for accompanying and smoothing the application processes refugees and immigrants need to find housing, language courses, schooling, and economic aid.

A fellow immigrant herself, Stinner said (translated from Spanish) she is confident her country can provide for the German society.

“I am not afraid of the German economy because I think that with more refugees there will be more production. They will help our industries prosper and will ultimately increase the German income,” said Stinner.

Stinner said she expects that with the addition of refugees to the workforce, tax revenues will rise even more than that of their current state.

Schnabl commented that other compounding variables that will be determining the economic stability including the growing risks to German tax payers due to economic aid going out to countries in need.
The discrepancies between the number of asylum seekers applying to Germany versus the U.S. are due to many factors including but not limited to differences in policy, proximity, and aid being offered. Due to the attractive aid Germany offers, and the “open-door” policy Chancellor Angela Merkel has initiated, Germany receives the brunt of asylum applications compared to other European Union members and the U.S.

Italian youth struggle to break into the fashion industry

Italian fashion designer and blogger Chiara Ferragni, well-
known for her blog "The Blond Salad," hosted "Next
By: Franca Yang
Edited by: Jaelynn Grisso

The essence of style has long been distilled into the Italian way of life. Italy, amplified by its flamboyant history of art, exuberant characters and personalities, has brought many fascinations to the world. Sometimes it is easy to forget that Italy enjoys unique and deeply embedded traditions and cultural norms that hold the society together.

Although Milan Fashion Week successfully ended in the glamour of Giorgio Armani’s Spring/Summer 2016 show two weeks ago, the lack of young talent still put the city in sharp contrast with New York City, London and Paris. As fashion continues to be a key pillar of the Italian economy, employing over one million people, concerns have been raised about the industry’s future.

Inspired by the U.S. Vogue Fashion Fund, a competition that rewards emerging American fashion talent with monetary prizes and mentorship by established designers, CameraNazionale della Moda Italiana (National Chamber for Italian Fashion, similar to the Council of Fashion Designers of America,) is supporting young designers with the program, "Next Generation". According to Veronica Gianola, who works at the legal department of an Italian luxury department store, this program provides young designers who participate in the contests space to showcase their collections during the Milan fashion week. What is worth noticing is that the Camera executive board has been known to be out of sync with the digital world, and consists of all male members who are in their fifties and sixties and have held the positions for decades, which makes it very difficult for young generations to break the chokehold.

Breaking into an old system
According to Romina Spina, a freelance correspondent in Rome, the perceived difficulties are not unique to the fashion world, but serve to illustrate a broken economic system. The same thing is happening in many more industries in Italy, where young people cannot get ahead in their careers regardless of their drive and talent. The major cause of this is the fact that most professions in Italy have been characterized by rigid structures for a long time. Therefore people who got in power a long time ago are still at the top of the hierarchy.

“If you just consider the fashion world, you're looking at old masters like Armani, Valentino and Dolce&Gabbana who have dominated the world for as long as we can remember. In such a context, it's hard for new talent to emerge. The power dynamics are very difficult if not impossible to change because generally, there's not a lot of interest in promoting young professionals with fresh ideas. Perhaps there are notable exceptions, but I would argue that there are too few of them. That's why younger generations prefer to leave, because they want to have an opportunity and grow in an environment that is not hostile to them,” Spina said.

The rigid system is not the only thing to blame for straggling oxygen off of young people in Italy. Unlike in the U.S. where success at an early age is celebrated, Giacomo Baletti, head of the Italian Law Firm in China, said that it is a different story in Italy, and described the Italian business market as “nightmare”, for incentives for those who want to launch or advance their careers are almost non-existent.

“Any honest Italian would tell you this. In Italy, there is a very strange, deep-rooted mentality. Every day, on the newspapers, if you read the success stories you will see tons of comments regarding them as losers because they have rich parents or have been “helped”. I think because of this mentality, people are kind of waiting for a job. In a system like this, people are scared of trying because they don’t want to be judged. This is definitely a mechanism that we need to switch,” said Baletti.

Fashion in Italy is still a point of pride for many.

Tiberio Pezzolato, who recently graduated from college and started a job at the Milan Expo, agreed with what Baletti said about the abnormal mentality that Italian people have toward young people’s success.

“The lack of encouragement is serious and the job market for young people like me in Italy is extremely strict because of the absurd laws. Public Universities and the job market do not always adjoin,” said Pezzolato.

Many Italians remain optimistic
Although the Italian fashion industry is considered by the U.S. media as losing out to uprising New York and London, people in Italy believe that the good traditions would keep Italy strong.

“If you think about all the luxury products that are produced in Italy with the “made in Italy” label, like Chanel leather bags and Christian Louboutin shoes, you would know Italy has a lot of potential. People here are smart, we’ve always had the very good tradition of design, fashion, and invention,” said Baletti.

The same optimism is also seen among the young generation in Italy.

“Italian brands are still my favorite and very popular among my friends. And people are proud of our own design,” said Licia Becchetti, a college student at University of Utrecht.

“Made-in-Italy is one of the things that I am most proud of when it comes to talking about my country. A good "fresco lana" is an expression of an industrial culture. Buy one today and will wear it forever, it will never go out of fashion,” said Pezzolato.

“In any case, even in a period of crisis, fashion (big brands) hardly suffers,” said Gianola, because fashion and Italy are inseparable.

“Fashion is a way of life for Italians. It is strange, different, classic, all the adjectives and the ways of being characterize Italian people. We are warm, strange, sometimes we are simply ‘too much’. As a way of being Italian, we are excessive, just like fashion. You can find so many different sides and shades in an Italian person, that it is just like fashion. It also gives you the chance to express so freely, which is why an Italian can always find their answers and refuge in fashion,” said Gianola.

Black Cubans Experience a Different Kind of Discrimination

By: Olivia Hitchcock
Edited by: Joshua Lim

An Afro-Cuban dance troupe performs in Havana, Cuba, at the beginning
of 2014. (via Wikipedia Commons)

When Arsenio Rodríguez Quintana walked down the streets of Havana, Cuba — where he lived for much of his life — with his then-spouse, police officers would often stop him.

He said they would accuse him, a black Cuban, of trying to rob the light-skinned woman next to him.

Though the island nation of 11 million is a melting pot of ethnicities, dark-skinned residents have been barred from some opportunities their lighter-skinned neighbors are afforded, as seen in the mostly white government.

It is racism, Rodríguez said bluntly in Spanish during a video interview, but it is a different type than what blacks experience in countries like the United States.He said communities are more segregated than in Cuba.

“It is universal,” Rodríguez said. “But no one can imagine the racism in Cuba.”

Racism in Cuba
More than one-fifth of the Cuban population identifies as mestizo, and about half as many consider themselves to be black, a 2012 survey of the country’s demographics showed. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. citizens identify as white, according to the 2010 census. About 13 percent identify as black.

Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, a human rights group based in New York, said it is hard to explain to Cubans that the U.S. has a black president.

“The Cuban government denies, it’s in denial that they have a race problem in Cuba, and they do have a serious race problem,” Calzon said.

Fidel Castro declared that the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s would put an end to racism in Cuba.

It is common to see mulattos with green eyes and smooth hair, and blacks with narrowly shaped eyes in the same Havana neighborhoods, according to Juan Carlos Zabala Pico, a doctor from Ecuador who has lived in the country for 11 years.

Zabala said they have a saying in Cuba, “El que no tiene de Congo tiene de Carabali,” which means “He who does not have Congolese in him has a mix of all the other races.”

Foreigners, such as Limam Boicha, who moved to Cuba in the early 1980s from Western Sahara, contribute to the cultural mix found on the island, as well. However, Boicha, who lived in Cuba for nearly 13 years, said he never experienced racism.

“In Cuba, I never felt like a foreigner, and the people never discriminate against you for the color of your skin, nor for being a foreigner, on the contrary they treat you well, very well,” Boicha said.

Cultural integration in Cuba
Blacks brought from Africa to Cuba as slaves were able to maintain parts of their culture, including languages, religion, music and dances. As a result, African traditions can be heard in Cuban music, tasted in the food and seen in the street performances in the island’s cities, Rodríguez said.

Compared to black slaves’ experiences in the U.S., Cuban blacks were given more freedom to retain their traditional cultures, Rodríguez said.

Rayko Ferrer Iglesias said that “mezcla,” which means mix, of ethnicities in Cuba has morphed into what is now known as the Afro-Cuban culture.

Ferrer is a dance professor from Cuba, who teaches Afro-Cuban culture mainly through art, on the island of Dominica. He said in an email that Afro-Cuban folklore has become synonymous with Cuban arts. Arguably, the most evident examples are heard in the rhythms of Cuban music.
Santeria is a system of beliefs that merge the Yoruba religion
with the Roma Catholic and Native Indian traditions.
(via Jorge Royan)
“Any Cuban that tells you that we are not integrated would be lying,” Ferrer said. He added that traditional African dress can be seen in the countryside, and many medicines are rooted in African “recipes.”

Many of Cuba’s religions has its roots in Africa. Malcom Alomia Quieñones, a Columbian doctor who studied and lived in Cuba for nine years but recently moved back to Columbia, practices the African religion of Yoruba. In Cuba, it has been integrated into Santería, a religion based in multiple African beliefs.
“It is frequent that a person practices two or three religions,” Alomia said.

Various organizations exist in Cuba that aim to educate about African traditions, said Lazaro G. Guevara Lopez, a Cuban writer. But they do not necessarily tell the most authentic history of blacks on the island, he said.

So Guevara and Rodríguez have started multiple groups, such as the Foundation African American of Cuba, promoting equality in the country. They are only given that freedom, however, because they now live in Barcelona, Spain.

Rodríguez said it costs about $5 to use the Internet for an hour in Cuba, and online access is restricted, with numerous media outlets being blocked. Included in the inaccessible sites is his blog, which publishes criticisms of the racism in Cuba. Thanks to social media sites such as Facebook, Rodríguez can stay up-to-date with the racial tensions in Cuba. And from his home in Spain, he is able to publish Cubans’ experiences online.

“It is easy for an immigrant to communicate with someone in the country,” Rodríguez said. It just requires using indirect means, such as emailing his blog posts to people, as opposed to them reading it on the site.

Rodríguez said that despite racial tensions in Cuba, “the mix (of ethnicities) is normal.”

But so is the racism, he added.

Zabala recalled a time when he saw a black 15-year-old running from a white teenager who was throwing rocks at him in the streets of Havana. The 30-year-old orthopedic surgeon, who worked at the hospital Calixto Garcia de la Habana, said similar incidents are common.

Calzon said inequality is felt more subtly as well.

“If your skin is very, very black, your chances of getting a job at a front desk or something at a hotel, your chances are very limited,” Calzon said.

When asked about his own ethnicity, Calzon was quick to answer.

“To be a Cuban is to be an Afro-Cuban,” he said. “We eat the black beans the slaves brought from Africa.”

Rededication of Mexico City temple prompts believers to reflect on growth

Picture of the Mexico City temple
from 200, before the rededication.
(via Saucedo)
By: Sam Howard
Edited by: Joshua Lim

A summer that saw a rededication ceremony and a three-week public open house at the Mexico City temple says it all for Antonio Hernández Sanchez.

To Hernández, a lifelong parishioner in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is proof of the church’s rapid growth in a nation that has the second-most Mormons of any country in the world.

The 52-year-old Mexico City resident made sure he was there for the rededication ceremony in mid-September, presided over by church President Henry Eyring.

The ceremony was “especial,” Hernández said, for many reasons.

Special, he said, to welcome thousands of Mormons and non-Mormons alike into Mexico’s biggest and oldest temple.

And special, he said, to see firsthand the fruits of his church’s growth in Latin America — and his home country of Mexico, in particular.

The LDS Church first came to Mexico on the backs of six missionaries in 1876, sent by forefather, American Brigham Young. The Mexico City temple was founded in 1983. Since 1989, the number of Mormons in Mexico has more than doubled, according to LDS Church statistics.

Currently the church estimates there are just under 1.4 million Mexican Mormons, though the Mexican government’s 2010 census claimed that number was much lower, just above 300,000.

There are roughly 6.5 million Mormons in the U.S., according to the latest church estimates.

The haves and have-nots
Hernández, a middle school teacher, said the recipe for growth is simple: It boils down to the haves and have-nots.

Mexico has a good deal of the latter, he said.

“The people are looking for a better life,” Hernández said.

His lifelong friend, Josue Carmona, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, but often returns to his homeland, agrees.

Though, as Carmona puts it, his parents “barely went to school;” his desire for a better life only strengthened his faith.

The 56-year-old translator said that desire is the same for many throughout Mexico — and it is what draws people to the LDS Church, sometimes in droves.

“We very strongly believe (in our faith), because the church helped us keep our eyes on new horizons,” he said.

The LDS Church, an offshoot denomination of protestant Christianity, was established by New Yorker Joseph Smith in 1830. Within 20 years, Mormon pioneers settled in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley, where Salt Lake City was later established.

In 1983, LDS officials dedicated their Mexico City temple, the country’s first. During the last 32 years, the church has built 11 more temples throughout the large nation.

Though many Mexican Mormons now have a temple within two or three hours of driving time, the Mexico City temple remains most important for many, said Jose Manuel Castillo Estrada.

The 28-year-old teacher supervisor said he watched a live transmission of the Sept. 13 rededication ceremony with more than 100 other Mormons at a stake center in his native Tehuacán, a city of about 250,000 residents roughly 300 kilometers southeast of Mexico City.

Castillo said the temple is a reminder of the early days of the church in Mexico, when many needed to travel hundreds of miles just to link up with a congregation to worship alongside.

“The Mexico City temple is more important for us … (and) it represents a lot for us,” he said.

Castillo said he usually worships with a fairly small congregation — usually about 60 or 70 people — but added that he thinks the small size attracts newcomers looking for a family in faith.

“Family is very important (to Mexicans),” he said. “The church preaches about families. That’s something most people are interested in.”

The Oakland California Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints. (via Calibas)
Mormon teachings in Mexico similar to the United States
What church leaders teach and how they teach it — be it through prayers, sermons or hymns — are essentially the same as their counterparts in temples and churches throughout the U.S., said Kaitlynn Nall, an American Mormon currently living in Tehuacán.

Nall, who is taking time away from studying international studies at Brigham Young University - Idaho to teach English at Castillo’s school, said kids even hear the same Sunday school lessons they would in the U.S.

She said her congregation size is roughly the same as some churches she’s worshipped in the U.S.

But doctrine aside, the 23-year-old Brigham Young junior said there are many cultural differences she’s had to adjust to.

“When there are church activities, it’s all very different,” she said. “Mexicans love to dance.”

Nall said they particularly love the cumbia – a dance with African, Native American and Spanish roots that is sort of similar to the salsa.

Compared to other Latin American countries, the Mexican church stands out, said Anthony Yovera Cuba by email. The 22-year-old now lives in Callao, Peru and works for insurance company Pacífico Seguros, but did a two-year mission in Guadalajara, Mexico’s fourth-largest city.

Yovera attributes Mexico’s “very large” church population to its proximity to the U.S. and the convenience that offers LDS leadership.

One of his favorite things about the church is certainly the same worldwide: The Book of Mormon, the religion’s sacred text.

“I love the Book of Mormon very much,” Yovera said. “I read it when I go to work on the bus.”

That dedication to one’s faith, Castillo said, is common to see throughout Mexico, regardless of faith.

Fewer than 5 percent of the population reported not following a religion in the nation’s 2010 census.

“I think, in general, Mexican people are religious,” Castillo said. “It doesn’t matter their religion or faith.

“Most people are looking for God all their lives.”

Voodoo engrained in Haitian culture and life

By: Erin Davoran
Edited by: Danielle Keeton-Olsen

Legend has it that when Haitians revolted against the French at the end of the 18th century, they were able to win because they sold their souls and the country to Voodoo deities: Satan, to some.

Frednel Isma, a Haitian who was raised to fear Voodoo but recently chose to learn about it from a sociological perspective, doubts the legend.

“I don’t think Satan was buying,” Isma said.

Myths abound about the practice of Voodoo, which was recognized as an official religion in Haiti in 2003, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

HaitianVoodoo originated in the Caribbean in the 17th century when African slaves forced to the region had to suppress their religions and conform to Christianity, much like African slaves brought to the United States.

Voodoo emerged, masked behind Catholicism. For example, Isma said many voodoo deities are disguised as Catholic saints, so voodooists could worship in public without drawing the eyes of the country’s Catholic leaders.

To this day, many Haitians identify as Christian or Catholic and still practice Voodoo.

Questions surround validity of Voodoo
Jacques Alexis, who at age 12 was forced to practice Voodoo by his uncle, does not believe people can be Christian and practice what he calls “black magic.”

“I’ve never heard of a genuine Christian doing that,” Alexis said.

Born in Haiti, Alexis said when he and his sister, were initiated into Voodoo, they were made to sign a contract in blood to serve the devil for the rest of their lives.

“I think it’s very sacrificial, especially for children who don’t have a choice,” said Lauren Neal, orphanage director at Jesus in Haiti Ministries, just north of the capital of Haiti, Port-Au-Prince.

Neal said she has experienced Voodoo during church services when voodooists become possessed.

A voodoo ceremony in Jacmel, Haiti. (via Wikimedia)
“This probably sounds so crazy but with the practice of Voodoo, people cast evil spirits into the individual and so usually those spirits are subdued, but whenever the individual is around the spirit of God, of Christ, that’s when the evil spirits are aroused,” she said.

Elizabeth McAlister, an associate professor of religion at Wesleyan University and author of “Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora,” wrote in Encyclopedia Britannica that spirit possession plays an important role in the religion, as it does in other religions as well.

Isma has doubts about the validity of possessions.

“People keep telling me its possible. Why? What happened?” said Isma, who thinks medical experts are needed to talk about the so-called possessions, which he said people claim happen in Christianity also.

Isma sees Voodoo as more poison and publicity than black magic.

“Those guys are doing nothing different than anybody can do with poison,” he said.

As to supernatural power Voodoo priests might have: “I’ve seen them running when people come to kill them,” he said.

“When they say they can kill you, they can, but it’s like saying they can shoot you. That’s the same thing,” he said.

Though Neal and Isma both say Voodoo is practiced more openly now, getting those in the practice to speak about it candidly to people outside the religion can be tricky.

“Getting information about Vodou and being protected by someone trust(worthy) is not easy to find,” Nora Chavenet, a friend of Isma’s who lives in Haiti, said in an email. “There are also a lot of informations that are transmitted… that nobody knows if you do not initiate or know someone you trust that is an initiate.”

Voodoo is spelled Vodou in Haiti.

Beliefs and practices
So what exactly is it?

According to the Haitian Consulate in Chicago, voodooists believe there is one god, the “Bondyè” or Good God, the creator of all, who is distant from creation. Therefore voodooists pray to the Bonyè’s spirits.

McAlister wrote that Voodoo “is a worldview encompassing philosophy, medicine, justice, and religion. Its fundamental principle is that everything is spirit.”

Isma has problems with how the religion is established.

“It doesn’t look like a myth, but it looks like, those people didn’t have anything as gospel or Quran…they just go in nature and start calling things god,” he said.

Haitian Vodou altar created during a festival for the Guede
spirits, Boston, M.A. Top right area is offerings to Rada
spirits; top left to Petwo spirits; bottom to Gede.
(via Calvin Hennick for WBUR Boston)
According to the consulate, Voodoo rituals involve preparation of an altar and food at a Voodoo house, Catholic prayers, a lot of singing, litany and verses to the spirits honored by the house, and visits by the spirits by way of possessions.

Men and women can be Voodoo priests, called Houngans and Manbos, respectively.

“In Haitian Vodou the sexual orientation or gender identity and expression of a practitioner is of no concern in a ritual setting. It is seen as just the way God made a person,” according to the consulate.

Voodoo's impact on Haitian culture
Voodoo ceremonies are a big draw for tourists. Even Bill and Hillary attended aceremony on their first trip to the country in 1975, according to The Washington Post.

As fascinating as the practice may be to some, others are against it. Neal and Alexis believe Voodoo is pure satanism.

“I think it’s totally satanic. The goal is death,” Neal said.

“There was never a way it wasn’t satanic,” Alexis said. He got out of the practice and into Christianity at age 15. He moved to the United States in 1996 and now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is in the seminary studying divinity.

“If (people) don’t know the Lord, anything goes,” he said.

But how prevalent is the practice of Voodoo?

“They say Haiti is 80 percent Catholic, 100 percent Voodooists,” Isma said.

Though Haiti is actually about 50 percent Catholic now according to the World Factbook, Isma still thinks the saying is valid.

Isma said that while he and many others are not practicing Voodoo, when they see people who are “you stay away from it. That means you believe it has power.

Whether supernatural or not, Voodoo no doubt has influenced the Caribbean country.

“If you see the culture, there’s no way you can miss it. It’s Voodoo,” Isma said. “Whether we’re aware of it or not, the inheritance of Voodoo in the culture is very strong.”

LGBTs fight a lone battle in Bangladesh

By: Nisha Garud
Edited by: Danielle Keeton-Olsen

LGBT rights rally during the 2015 Pohela Boishakh in Dhaka.
(via Nahid Sultan, Wikimedia)
Sohel Rana was working at the Bangladesh Medical Studies and Research Institute for almost 10 years. In May 2013, when he came back from leave after attending to his ailing father, he was fired.

Rana, who had opened about his homosexuality, managed to start working again after making constant appeals to his supervisor. However, the authorities took away his employment benefits.

After five months of no pay, Rana approached the Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS), which works particularly for "men who have sex with men," or MSM, and transgender in Bangladesh. Through their service called Ain Alap (translated as "legal talk"), BSWS submitted a dispute to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

“NHRC filed a case against Rana’s employer during which it was revealed that Rana was subject to offensive and abusive remarks from his colleagues but continued working,” informed Shale Ahmed, Executive Director of BSWS.

Rana’s struggle for justice was long, and seven hearings later, his plea was accepted. Rana was reinstated and paid his pending salary.

Unlike in the United States where the law favors Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgenders (LGBTs) union, such discrimination, injustice and atrocities against this community is a commonplace phenomenon in Bangladesh where the ‘secular’ government, instead of advocating equal status, enforces criminal penalties against same-sex couple.

LGBT population becomes increasingly visible
According to a website,, there are about 1.6 to 4.8 million LGBTs in Bangladesh, but only about 1,000 have identified themselves.

In 2013, the Bangladesh government refused to accept the United Nations’ request to decriminalize homosexuality because it would conflict with “socio-cultural values of the country.”

An LGBT activist, who wished to remain anonymous for protection, pointed out to that laws are needed to protect people like him in a conservative and heteronormative society.

“Fundamentalism and social and cultural practices have suppressed LGBTs and have prevented from living freely. LGBTs also lack confidence because of societal pressure, as they are forced to live with a non-existent sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Mohammad Fhakrul Islam, Coordinator for Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme at BSWS said, “HIV, Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases are common among LGBTs.

Their biggest challenge is to seek treatment for these. Because of their sexual orientation, LGBTs are denied of medical health facilities.”

His organization creates awareness about HIV among homosexuals through Community Systems Strengthening (CSS).

“The biggest problem that LBGTs face is that of social isolation. It is difficult to find a person to talk about one’s sexual orientation. LGBTs do not have knowledge to help them understand their sexual orientation,” said Imran Mazid, a Bangladeshi doctoral student at Ohio University, whose research focuses on mediated communication among LGBTs in the United States, including Bangladesh.

A rainbow flag for Bangladeshi LGBT people designed by
John Ashley (via Wikimedia)
Issues facing the community
Nazia Zebin, a social activist, said, “LGBT community in Bangladesh is an issue no one talks about. One might think they don't exist as whenever any news related to the community comes up, one of the common responses is, ‘Gay in Bangladesh!?’ aside from threats of killing gay people.”

The issues of lesbians have been overlooked because of gender inequality and patriarchy.

Zebin, who hints at being a lesbian but does not openly talk about it, said, “Women are not considered to have sexual desires in a patriarchal culture. The existence of lesbians is heavily questioned. Most people regard this as a phase that would be “resolved” if the woman gets married.” She added, “People think that women turn into lesbians because they are hurt by a man, a true example of patriarchal perspective.

Zebin agreed that gays and lesbians face similar problems in terms of societal acceptance. However, the key difference was on family acceptance.

“In Bangladesh, getting daughters married is one of the major responsibilities of parents. So if a girl chooses to not marry, it brings shame to the family.”

Social conditions make LGBTs to network and connect behind closed doors.

Support for LGBT individuals
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, including blogs, Yahoo groups and Whats App are used to stay connected and communicate information about activities, demonstrations and seek support.

“Social media has given a platform to LGBTs, who cannot come out in the open. Many gays in the country live a dual life —acting ‘straight’ in society, marrying women and networking with others of their sexual orientation in strict secrecy,” said Mazid.

Roopbaan and Boys of Bangladesh (BoB), are a few leading LGBT groups, which have managed to survive the threats from religious leaders.

BoB, which started as an online group, has developed into the largest network of self-identified Bangladeshi gay men. BoB conducted a study that found that ‘Bangladeshi LGBT movement was weak because of absence of a well-established LGBT network led to the lack of awareness and knowledge about violations’.

Shakhawat Hossain, a gay rights activist working with BoB for 12 years, said, “We interviewed about 50 LGBTs and activists in two phases. Many of them feel that there is a communication gap between the members because some regions do not have a platform where LGBTs can join in activities that address violations faced by them.”

To address these issues, Roopbaan, an organization which first started as a magazine on gender and sexual diversity, organizes numerous activities to give LGBT visibility.

“We organize Rainbow Rally every year on Pohela Baishakh, the Bengali new year. Our regular activities, social get-togethers, parties, discussions allow LGBTs to vent their suppressed emotions. At our 'Pink Slip' events LGBTs can address their sexual health concerns. We believe that social acceptance will only come with greater visibility,” said the anonymous activist, who also volunteers at Roopbaan.

Hossain, however, points out that visibility can also create problems.

“Transgenders are more visible in society due to their gender expressions and cultural role and hence face backlash such as threats, verbal abuses, rapes and police harassment. On the other hand, the LGB group hide their identities but suffer because they cannot not express their sexuality and report harassment openly.”

Ukrainian students feel impact of conflict

Protests continue in Kiev, everyday life in the Maidan, about
a million people came to the popular assembly, independence
Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on Dec. 29, 2013.
(via maksymenko oleksandr)
By: Austin Greene
Edited by: Danielle Keeton-Olsen

In February of 2014, a series of violent protests in Ukraine led to the ouster of then-President Viktor Yanukovych.

The events that followed rapidly changed the political climate of the country. Yanukovych had signed a deal that created closer ties with Russia, after turning down a similar offer from the European Union. By April, pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts declared their independence, and the War in Donbass had officially begun.

Ever since a ceasefire came into effect in February of 2015, global attention has shifted elsewhere. However, many Ukrainians, especially students, are still dealing with the lasting effects of the conflict.

Cutting costs of education
Vladimir Belous is a student at Odessa University. He and his peers had to go to Crimea for a geology study, but were not able to enter after Russia annexed the peninsula.

“The referendum happened and instead we went to some village near our city and just do nothing productive since there was nothing interesting geological going on there,” he said.

Belous said that due to currency devaluation, Odessa University had to cut time from the school year.

“In order to save more money we don't study in the winter at all. The dean says that it saves the university millions of hryvnias. Not only we do it, most universities in Odessa also do that.”

Valentin Sidorenko is a medical student at the National Medical University of Ukraine in Kiev. Like all medical students in Ukraine, he does not study any specific medical field. Ukrainian med school students study general medicine for 6 years, subsequently pursuing a specialization during an internship. He said that while primary schools’ budgets remained unaffected, he hasn’t been as fortunate.

“Devaluation took a huge toll on the healthcare system in general, because most drugs and medical equipment are imported from the EU/US and are now two-to-three times more expensive,” Sidorenko said. “For example, the hospital I'm studying in right now had its angiograph break down a couple months ago, and they haven't been able to afford a new one yet, so they have to send all the patients in need of the procedure to another hospital.”

Valentine Osnovyanenko was in his final year of high school, eleventh year for Ukrainian students, when the conflict initially broke out. He remembers seeing the protests in Independence Square in Kiev on the news.

“I remember that morning very well, when TV showed how students were violently dealt with,” he recalled. “The Berkut, the special police forces, beat everyone there, regardless of their age and behavior.”

Osnovyanenko currently studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA). His sisters have kept him informed of the changed climate around his high school after he left. A tradition at the school was to hold a festival with students from schools in Russia and Belarus. They called it the Eastern Slavs Festival. Visiting students used the opportunity to make friends and learn about the local history and culture. The last festival was held in the spring before the war broke out.

“That spring everyone came to Belarus and friends of mine who went there told me how tense the atmosphere was there, including physical fights and trash talking. Soon after, the festival had to be closed,” Osnovyanenko said.

Studying within the separatist divide
For students who were actually inside the separatist regions, the situation was substantially worse. Anton Toloknov worked as a software engineer in the city of Donetsk while his brother studied management at Donetsk State University.

“After the conflict started his university split up into two parts. One moved to Mariupol, a city under Ukraine's control, and another stayed in Donetsk,” he said. “All of his documents stayed in Donetsk, and they demanded money to get them back so we gave up on that. Also because we didn't want to go to Donetsk at that time, because it was too risky.”

Toloknov later moved north to the city of Kharkiv to escape the fighting. His brother went with him and enrolled in online classes with his university’s new campus in Mariupol.

One of the most badly damaged cities in the war was Horlivka, also in the Donetsk oblast. Dmitriy Kot was still attending school when separatist forces took control of the city. One of their first actions was to terminate every professor teaching Ukrainian courses.

Protests in Donetsk, April 26, 2014. (via DrupalCamp Donetsk)
“Those soldiers of DPR, as they call themselves, fired every single teacher who taught or even spoke Ukrainian,” he said.

In July of 2014, the fighting had reached Horlivka and Kot was forced to evacuate.

“On the night of July 20 or 21, I was watching a movie with my girlfriend when we heard very, very loud explosions,” he said. “That moment I realized my life was in danger. I was petrified.”

Kot and his girlfriend packed as much as they could over the course of three days, and fled the city on a train.

“As we stood there loading our stuff into our railroad car a bunch of armed men were watching us,” he said. “All those bags, the pressure. It was probably the worst day of my life.”

Like Anton Toloknov’s brother, Kot’s transcripts were held at the school. His mother had to travel to the city and bribe a clerk to retrieve them.

“With enough money you can obtain anyone’s personal data,” said Kot. “Anything you can think of. You can bribe almost anyone here.”

Kot later transferred to another school under Ukrainian control. As of October 2015, the conflict remains in stalemate.

Refugees Seek Better Life in Greece

Europe welcomes people from countries like Syria, who are in need of new
homes. (via Aggi Cantrill)
By: Erica King
Edited by: Joshua Lim

Some people are asleep, laying their heads to the person next to them as seawater splash their faces; others are stepping into a small boat, getting ready to make a long journey to a better life.

Roaring waters rock the boats, causing them to sway side to side. Food is scarce. There is nothing around these people except seawater and the unknown that lies underneath the water’s surface. They try to remain warm to avoid hypothermia.

These people are mainly from Syria and other countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan. They put their lives in jeopardy to travel to Europe in hopes of having better lives in return. They are people in desperate need of a new home. They are considered refugees. Syrians are fleeing their country from ongoing violence.

More than 200,000 people have lost their lives since 2011, including 70,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict between Kurdish militia members battling state forces, according to a World Post article titled A Brutal Reminder of Why SyriansAre Fleeing to Europe. The number of deaths continue to increase.

Most refugees are passing through or settling in Greece. Despite Greece’s economic issues, including the recent financial collapse, the Greeks still lend a helping hand to the incoming refugees.

Sophia Saouridou, a secretary for a volunteer group in Greece, helps collect canned goods, water, clothing and shoes for the refugees. Most refugees she and her team help are close to Greece’s border.

The refugees take buses to Idomeni, Greece, where they can receive medical help. The doctors that tend to the people are French and Norwegian. Saouridou is also trained in first aid and tends to the refugees in need of medical attention.

“The last time I went to the camp on Sept. 20, there were about 4,000 people who came through the camp in just 12 hours,” Saouridou said. “Because of the climate changes and colder temperatures, last Saturday I went on Oct. 4, there was an estimate of 2,500 refugees.”

Challenges crossing the Greek border
Although refugees are receiving help in Greece, crossing the border from Greece is not always an easy task. Their number one destination is Germany.

“A family of four was approached by a smuggler and had to pay the smuggler double just to reunite with the rest of their family,” Saouridou said. “They wouldn’t let them through the border line if they did not pay.”

She added if refugees had darker skin or were Pakistani, the patrol would close the borders and shoot them with plastic bullets.

Aggelos Konstantinidis, who works for the Civil Protection for Greece, agrees the refugees do not always have a smooth transition traveling from one country to another.

Konstantinidis has worked as a volunteer rescuer for 10 years. He even helped in Indonesia in 2005 after the country experienced a tsunami. With many years of experience, he was called to work as a team leader for the refugee mission. Konstnatinidis claims the process has to be quick in order for the refugees to keep moving along in their journey to their destination.

“It’s difficult to keep together,” he said. “There are usually 30 to 40 buses arriving at the same time. A few thousand people have to go through the camp. They have to pass through the humanitarian line, get food and medical care.”

He explained the process has to be quick because authorities of neighboring countries can close the border without any notification. If the borders close, refugees will stay in house tents — thousands at a time and not all are protected from the weather elements.

“We’ve had no fatalities, thank God,” Konstantinidis said. “There have been cases where people had their lives in danger due to prior medical conditions, but they were treatable conditions.”

Limited funding to assist refugees

Konstantinidis said Greece has had little funding help from the European Union. Greece allows refugees to receive treatment from hospitals for free, but the country is partly inexperienced when a crisis occurs.

Syrian refugees strike in front of Budapest Keleti railway
station. (via MstyslavChernov)
Although the European Union hasn’t been much help, a Greece resident that would like to referred to as Jazz claims the EU gave nearly 167 million euros for internal security at the borders.

“It's way too easy to blame the EU for all Greece's problems; time to wake up,” Jazz said. “This country got messed up because we all let it go to hell by voting for the crooks (and some others, by no voting), by accepting bribes within our culture, by ignoring the law, if anything the EU has been too tolerant.

“We, our parents and our grandparents are responsible and it is our children the ones who are to eat or to emigrate to get away from all this.”

Dimitris, a Greek local who is not comfortable with giving his full name, disagrees and thinks the European Union is to blame.

“There have been funds given to Greece to deal with the problem, but the state is not only corrupt but also a monster of bureaucracy,” Dimitris said. “The system cannot deal with the past numbers let alone todays Europeans know this.”

Despite citizens’ opinions of the European Union, Greece seems to be handling the issue very well.

“Many Greek civilians are helping alleviate the pain,” Konstantinidis said.

Chrisa Chatzistouyanni, a volunteer group leader in Greece, said her organization has recently reached out to the mayor of Thessaloniki to make an announcement for help. Chatzistouyanni claims the volunteer group has even called families to help out.

“Families are having problems because of the debt crisis in Greece, but they are still trying to give,” Chatzistouyanni said. “We will see how efforts will go to see what can happen in the future.”