How to Be Happy


One of the problems that naturally occurs when a light is shone on pain and suffering is that those who are looking at this picture are overwhelmed by pity.  This might seem like a good outcome – surely if we are sorry for someone we’ll try to help?  Well the answer to that is not a definite ‘yes’.  Sometimes when we feel sorry for people we also feel angry, or resentful or superior or confused.  We wonder how this can happen and why they can’t help themselves just like we have to do and if they have some inherent shortcoming that precludes them from building a wholesome and sustaining life for themselves… Continue reading

Believing is Seeing


I’ve been thinking.  Why is it that on the one hand we are so terrified of change we’ll go to extreme lengths to avoid it, while on the other hand we are told – and tell ourselves – that real, sustainable change is impossible?

These are contradictory beliefs.

I believe all change – including change for the better – is totally possible.  But we have to want it and also really sincerely believe it can happen.

Have you ever misplaced a shoe at home?  You know it’s somewhere in the house.  Maybe the dog hid it under the sofa?  Maybe you accidentally kicked it under the bed.  Maybe one of the kids ran off with it.  But you know it’s there somewhere so you keep on looking until you find it.  You truly believe that all the frustration and searching is going to be worthwhile because it simply has to be in the house somewhere.

Social change is the same.  It is completely within our control, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

Traditions are man-made and not immutable, no matter what anybody tells us.  Traditions and practices can – and must – be changed if they are harming us.

Step one = we have to do whatever it takes to convince ourselves that this change is possible.

Try something.  The next time someone says to you – ‘Yeah, I know it’s terrible/wrong/unjust – but that’s just the way things are – you have to accept it.’  Instead of accepting this awful ‘truth’, try this for an answer –

‘No – if we all agree it’s wrong then we don’t have to accept it – we just need to change it.’

Slumkids are Kids Too…


In 1999, Sugata Mitra – now Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastlle University in the UK, was working in Delhi when he had a crazy idea.

The complex in which he worked was surrounded by a slum and he wondered what would happen if he embedded an internet-enabled computer in the wall of the complex at kid-height, so that the children running around outside could reach it?  Would the children ignore the computer?  Break it up?  Or – most unlikely of all – would the children learn to use the computer? (Preposterous notion given that these were slum children who hardly ever went to school, never saw the internet and didn’t speak or read English)

So – what do you think happened?

Have a look for yourself.

P.S. – Fun fact – when Vikas Swarup read about Sugata Mitra’s experiment he began to think about slum children educating themselves and was inspired to write Q&A – the novel that was adapted to become Slumdog Millionaire.

Transferable Skills


No matter what you do, if you care enough to use your skills and talents and ideas to make the world a better place, you’ll succeed.

You don’t need to be Mohandas Gandhi or Mother Teresa to effect change in the world.

You just need to be you.

And do whatever it is you do.

Do Some Children Matter More Than Others?


Roméo Dallaire – Canadian Senator and ex-Commander of the United Nations Forces in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 – is dedicating his life to trying to eradicate the use of children as weapons of war.

Senator Dallaire has a foundation dedicated to this cause.  The Child Soldiers Initiative is, by it’s own description – A partnership to build the will, knowledge, collaboration and tools necessary to eradicate the use of child soldiers.  This is what Roméo Dallaire himself has to say about the project –

At any given time there are a quarter of a million child soldiers globally experiencing a suffering that most of you cannot even imagine.

These children are routinely abducted violently from their families at a tender age, and are subjected to forcible confinement, torture, threats, rape, brainwashing, slavery, starvation, intoxication through drugs and sleep deprivation. They are forced to carry heavy loads, including human bodies, not just weaponry. They are often paired up and killed if their partner escapes.

People are often surprised to hear that 40 percent of child soldiers are girls. Girls are often forced to become sex slaves as well as soldiers, cooks and nurses and must deal with pregnancy under these conditions too often.

The use of child soldiers is horrifically true and is taking place now. The status quo is completely unacceptable and international proposed solutions are in danger of failing.

While many groups have been working on demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of Child Soldiers, which is absolutely essential, I have discovered in my research at the Carr Center For Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, that little if any analysis of this problem is being done through the security lens, to better understand the tactical how and why child soldiers are being used.

Why is this child soldier weapon system the most sophisticated, low-technology weapon system on the battlefield today? What makes that weapon platform so effective?

We must work to stop recruitment during conflict.

I want to identify ways to do this, to render it ineffective to use Child Soldiers. I want to eradicate the use of child soldiers. This is why I have founded the Child Soldiers Initiative.

CSI is working to build the political will now needed to properly enforce laws that protect children and bring perpetrators to justice.

The CSI team is also working to build the will and technical capacity of military, human rights and humanitarian organizations, as well as host nation actors, to stop the use of child soldiers.

The aim is to bring all these actors together so they work cohesively for better results. The CSI team itself is a unique mix of stakeholders from the humanitarian, academic and security sectors.

Some people think that the child soldier issue can never be eradicated as long as there are wars. To this I respond that humanity has created other evil things which we have had the morality and good sense to abolish such as slavery, apartheid and chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

CSI is a call to action to put stopping the use of child soldiers on everyone’s agenda.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired)

LGen The Hon R.A. Dallaire, O.C.,C.M.M.,G.O.Q.,M.S.C.,C.D., (Ret’d)

In the video below Senator Dallaire describes his understanding of the lives of child soldiers – 40% 0f whom are girls – and his proposals for eliminating this evil practice.  If you have time listen to the entire discussion, it’s well worthwhile.  But if you are short of time just listen from c. 52 minutes onwards – he asks some interesting – and challenging – questions.

And if you can spare more time perhaps watch this as well.

http://childsoldiersinitiative.org/index.php

One of The Most Widespread of All Human Rights Abuses…


In 2008 a ten year old girl in Yemen, Nujood Ali, succeeded in obtaining a divorce from the husband who beat and raped her.  She has been allowed to divorce but has to pay more than $200 in compensation to her husband.

In 2009 a twelve year old girl, Fawziya Ammodi – also in Yemen – died after three days of excruciatingly painful childbirth.

Her baby also died.

Obviously legal protection is needed to shield girls like these against being traded and married and abused.  But the real key to the end of this suffering is education.

We need to become creative about how we might deliver education to the child brides that survive their awful experiences and then, at least, there will be a hope that their daughters will be spared the same fate.

If you are interested in this horrendous abuse of little girls then you may also be interested in  a study called – The Worst Places to Be a Woman – Mapping the places where the war on women is still being fought.  This study is by Valerie M. Hudson who is professor and George H.W. Bush chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.  It makes interesting reading –
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http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/08/26/yemen.divorce/index.html

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-09-14/health/yemen.childbirth.death_1_minimum-marriage-age-child-marriages-child-brides?_s=PM:HEALTH

Could I Do This?


The truth?
I don’t know.
I agree with the sentiments expressed in this short film and admire these people and their courage and their commitment to action and hope and change for the better but I’m not sure I could be as magnanimous if someone took my child.
But I’d really like if I could.
I don’t admire success or fame or accomplishment. I don’t aspire to be like anybody else really – certainly not in regard to what our societies tell me I should want to emulate. But I do aspire to be as open-hearted, as brave and as far-seeing as these people.

Art for Art’s Sake?


Are children the only people who can really partake in art for art’s sake?  Is it important to do this?  Is it a waste of time?

Many of you will have seen these videos already –  but I hadn’t so just in case I thought I’d post them.  I also thought it might be worth asking ourselves exactly what this boy is doing in the first video?  And why? And if there is a link between his work and the work of the artists in the second video?

Just wondering what you might think…

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