Two Busloads of People


7 billion is a very big number – much too big for any of us to really connect with.  We understand the numbers in theory but it’s hard to really feel the impact of the imbalances in our world when the figures are so huge.

But what if we could see all of the ‘facts’ about our world on a scale to which we can easily relate?

100 people.

Less than two busloads.

Would that change the impact?

Photograph – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/111031-population-7-billion-earth-world-un-seven/

Bargaining for a Living


English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

Heidemarie Schwermer is a sixty-nine year old German woman who lives entirely without money.  Until 1996, Heidemarie lived her life pretty much along the same lines as her compatriots – she taught for almost 20 years and practiced as a psychotherapist for many years after that.  She raised two children and now also has three grandchildren.

In 1994, she moved to Dortmund where she determined to do something about the homelessness she saw all around her.  So she opened a swap shop – a place where people could trade skills or things for other skills or things.  The shop didn’t succeed in helping the homeless but it did attract many unemployed people and retirees and thereby became well known.

As time passed, Heidemarie grew tired of her life and quit her job.  She began to do all sorts of other jobs – whatever she could find – in exchange for low wages or other services.  By 1995, she was spending almost no money and still managing very well.  In 1996, after her children moved out – she embarked on an experiment that was to last a year – she sold her apartment and decided to live like a nomad – trading goods and services for goods and services.  She loved it so much that she’s still living that way, 15 years later.

Everything Heidemarie owns fits into a single-back suitcase and a rucksack.  She has an emergency fund of 200 euro and any other money she earns she gives to charities.

Interesting experiment which at the very least make us question the way we view – and use – money in our societies.

(Thanks to Tales from the Lou’s Blog for posting on this yesterday – see below for link)

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I am Spartacus…


In their book, Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn tell the story of an Indian neighbourhood – Kasturba Nagar – a place where the inhabitants are Dalits (Untouchables) and the lanes run with sewage and desperation.

For almost fifteen years, Akku Yadav and his gang ruled the slum with weapons of terror.  They robbed, tortured and murdered at will – much of the time choosing rape as their preferred method of controlling the people.  In this area rape is so stigmatizing that the victims often remained silent, which allowed Akku Yadav to act with impunity.  The few that reported the crime were ignored by the police.

The slum-dwellers say Akku Yadav once raped a woman right after her wedding and that he and his gang dragged another woman – who was seven months pregnant – into the street where they raped her in public view.  They also gang-raped another woman just ten days after she’d given birth – that woman was so humiliated she killed herself by dousing herself with kerosene and setting herself on fire.

In addition to the rapes, Akku Yadav once stripped a man, burned him with cigarettes and made him dance in front of his sixteen year old daughter and tortured a woman by cutting off her breasts and cutting her to pieces in front of her daughter and neighbours.   One man, Avinash Tiwari, planned to go to the police, so Akku Yadav butchered him as well.

The inhabitants were terrified of Akku Yadav.  25 families moved away but most had no hope of escape, so they took their daughters out of school and hid them in their houses to try to protect them. And the police didn’t help – as long as Yadav targeted Dalits they didn’t interfere.

Usha Narayane is from this neighbourhood but her parents struggled and saved all their lives to educate her and her siblings.  She has a degree in hotel management and was due to begin work when she went home for a visit.

Akku Yadav was rampaging as usual.  He raped a thirteen-year-old girl and then he and his men went to the neighbours of the Narayanes to demand money. The gang broke up the house and threatened to kill the family.  The neighbours were too terrified to act, so Usha went to the police to file a complaint for them.

The police told Akku Yadav what she had done and he and 40 men surrounded Usha’s house.  Yadav had a bottle of acid and he shouted at Usha to back down.  She barricaded herself inside and called the police – but they didn’t come.  So Usha turned on the gas in her house and told Yadav if he came in she’d blow them all up.

The neighbors were unsure what to do but when they saw Usha fighting back it gave them courage and they hurled sticks and stones at Yadav and his men.  The gang ran off.  The Dalits were ecstatic – for the first time ever they had defeated Akku Yadav and his men. The slum-dwellers burned down Yadav’s house and he was arrested for his own protection.

Akku Yadav’s bail hearing was scheduled and rumour had it that he’d bribed the police and was going to be released.  The hearing was set for a court miles away in Nagpur. Hundreds of Dalit women marched to attend. Akku Yadav strutted into court, confident and unrepentant. He saw a woman he had raped and called her a prostitute and said he’d rape her again. She ran forward and hit him with a slipper and then all the women came forward and surrounded him screaming and shouting.  They threw chili powder at the police guarding him and then the women pulled out knives and began to stab Akku Yadav.  They had agreed that each of them would stab him at least once.  They killed him and cut off his penis and then marched back to Kasturba Nagar. The slum had a party – the monster was dead.

Everyone knew Usha Narayane had orchestrated the murder but she wasn’t in court that day and though she was arrested nobody could prove her involvement.  The woman had decided if they all stabbed him no one wound – or one woman – could be said to have killed him.  A public outcry followed the murder of Akku Yadav and the plight of Kasturba Nagar became public.  A retired high court judge took the part of the women saying they’d sought help from the police and had been abandoned.

This is the type of story that clearly demonstrates to me the type of moral dilemma that plagues our world.  Akka Yadav had clearly caused immense suffering and was no loss to humanity.  The police were corrupt and the Dalits had no recourse to justice.  One has to wonder if it is just to allow suffering to continue.  Or to allow the tyrant to thrive.

And yet…

Perhaps it’s the savagery of the attack but somehow the solution feels wrong as well.  It reminds me of war. But having said that – what else could they do?

I don’t know the answer.

What do you think?

Are Human Rights alright? Part I


The recent riots in the UK have started a debate about the nature and scope of human rights. What exactly are they? Where did they come from? Who has them? Who doesn’t have them?  Should everyone have them? And – last but not least – what are the main problems surrounding them? It’s a tricky question but one so fundamental to functional human societies that we can’t afford to ignore it.

So, OK – what exactly are human rights?

Most of us believe that there are basic rights – sometimes called natural rights – that exist above and beyond culture or legal structures. Technically speaking a right is (amongst other things):

  • Inalienable – it can’t be taken away or given away.
  • Immutable – it doesn’t change.
  • Inviolable – it shouldn’t be broken, infringed or dishonoured.

Down through the ages all religious scripture, and many philosophers, have sought to define moral codes of conduct to promote this idea of natural rights. Some ancient cultures attempted to enshrine a notion of human rights in their constitutions and governments and, from time to time, ordinary people rose up and demanded to be given ‘rights’.

From the 17th century onwards, the idea of rights gained popular acceptance in various revolutions such as the Glorious Revolution in England (1688), the American Revolution (1776) and, most famously of all in terms of the idea of rights, the French Revolution in 1789.

All of these popular movements demanded rights, however, these rights were not universal – these were rights for some of the population not all of the population, as was demonstrated most obviously by the fact that women were excluded and slavery was allowed.

In the wake of WWII, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by nine people from around the world. On December 10, 1948, the the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with eight nations abstaining from the vote but none dissenting.

Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, a member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote about this occasion:

“I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.  In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

This is the first time in human history that we all officially agreed – at least in theory – that universal human rights exist for everybody, everywhere, all of the time.

It was a start.

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Why You Need Education for Girls (even if you’re a boy)


If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation). (Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey)

Of the many millions of children who don’t go to school – the majority are girls. This has serious repercussions for everyone of us – not just little girls.

Not only are girls who go to school less likely to die in childbirth when they grow up, they have fewer – and healthier – babies. Their sons – as well as their daughters – are more likely to be educated and less likely to contract diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Outside of the home, these girls can find work more easily when they grow up, which not only contributes to the well-being of their family but also helps develop their economies.

So, if you want to live in a safer, healthier world with access to the potential of 100% of the population – educate the girls (as well as the boys).

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*Photograph – Unicef Photography – Somalia, 2007: Children attend a UNICEF-assisted school in Mogadishu.  http://www.unicef.org/photography/photo_2008.php#UNI46407

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