Saturday, 31 October 2009

Sand story - Ukrainian artist conjures up war story in sand

I have just watched the amazing sand animation by Ukrainian artist Kseniya Simonova for Ukraine’s Got Talent. She uses a giant light box, haunting music, imagination and "sand painting" skills to interpret Germany's invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII.

She seems totally absorbed in her story. She uses sometimes large movements, her whole body almost dancing, sometimes short and precise fingers strokes. She throws sand, erases, starts again, adds just a few lines here and there and the whole atmosphere has changed. It is mesmerizing. It is amazing how she can conjure up a whole story and create feelings of love, hope, dread, fear and unbearable paint with sand. It is beautiful and very powerful, and although she is telling a precise story, it is also a universal one.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Iran - petition against the execution of five protesters

The media’s attention has moved away from the aftermath of the post-election unrest in Iran, but hundreds of protesters remain in prison, some have been sentenced to death, and for at least five, execution is imminent.

Those sentenced to death have been forced to confess their involvement in the unrest, yet some of them were already in prison during the election and the subsequent riots, according to a group of ex-political prisoners.

The group is circulating a petition urging Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations to intervene and put pressure on the Iranian authorities to prevent the execution of the condemned five.

They fear that these executions might herald mass massacres of political prisoners as it was in the case in the summer of 1988.

The petition is being circulated in Farsi, English, German, French and Spanish. To sign it, click here

Monday, 12 October 2009

N0 waiting for Copenhagen – African children say, Act Now

In the run-up to the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December, I wanted to look at the point of view of children in Africa. They have contributed the least to climate change, but are the worst affected by it. They are also leaders of change: studies have shown that well educated and informed children are often more willing than their parents to adapt and change in order to fight climate change.

“You people in the first world, can you please fix the hole in the ozone layer?” asks 10-year-old Joseph Davies, from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to school children in the UK through a video link. Across Africa, children like Joseph have contributed the least to climate change, yet they already have to deal with the consequences.

Over the last few years, their communities have faced seasonal drought, flooding, landslides, thunderstorms, heat waves and other natural disasters. This has led to failing crops, water shortage and diseases - and children, being more vulnerable, are hit the hardest. The resulting increased poverty has a shattering impact on their education and future.

In Malawi’s Ezondweni farming community, people used to start planting crops in November, but now they have to plant in December or January because of the longer dry season. “This means we harvest later and less,” says Christophe Koroma, 18. “The longer and hotter dry spells also cause crops and trees to die and this causes famine in our community. For me, the changes mean that there can be no food to eat at times. My education suffers as I cannot concentrate at school.”

Yet, Christophe and thousands of other children across Africa aren’t feeling sorry for themselves. They are full of optimism and ideas on how to tackle these threats to their communities.

“I am not too young to worry about climate change”

“We are the future leaders and we need to protect the environment we live in,” Nyakeh Vandy Konteh, 13, says in a telephone interview from the Eastern part of Freetown. “I am not too young to be worried about climate change, simply because if this trend continues unchecked, nobody will be able to live in this environment.”

Nyakeh and 30 other pupils from the Albert Academy School in Freetown have formed the Albert Academy Young Activists on Climate Change, a club involved in research, education and action on climate change.

On field trips, they have learned that the major cause of flooding in their area was deforestation, so they have launched a campaign to convince community members to stop cutting trees and plant new ones. “I have participated in debates, radio discussions and drawing posters,” says Nyakeh, who is the chair of the club.

They have established a solid waste management system, digging waste disposal pits and starting a recycling programme. And they have planted trees on their school compound and the local community. “We have planted Acacia trees because they are fast growing and can serve as wind breakers, prevent erosion and provide timber, and fruit trees like mango, orange and apple, so we’ll have fruits to eat during lunch.” In addition, they are also working with the Ministry of Education to include climate change on the geography curriculum, using local examples, and pushing for more stringent regulations on deforestation.

“They pick up things we don’t see”

Across Africa, thousands of children are involved in similar work. In many African countries, children traditionally are seen, but not heard, but this is slowly changing. “We welcome what the children do. They pick up on things that we don't see,” says an elder in Falaba, Moyamba District in Sierra Leone, where children worked on renovating a well. “The children are aware and take action. They identified the well as a problem, but the adults had just accepted it. Now we work together with them.”

Nyakeh and his friends’ decided to take action after learning about climate change through “Make the Link, Be the Change”, an international climate change education programme, run by Plan, a leading children’s humanitarian organization. The project links 100 schools in 12 countries in the UK, Asia and Africa, so children can share ideas and strategies about preventing the worst effects of climate change.

Ten years ago in Kyoto, children’s issues were not on the agenda and their voices were not heard. “It is critical that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 puts children at the heart of the discussions and includes their voices in the debates,” says David Bull, UNICEF UK executive director.

Involving children in the fight against climate change is invaluable, adds Nick Hall, head of Disaster Risk Reduction at Plan UK. “Young people are more willing to change and make their lives safer than adults who are more entrenched in their ways and more fatalistic."

Saturday, 3 October 2009

My Neighbour Goes to the Zoo - violence and its legacy

In my last post, I wrote about “The Tree That Remembers,” a moving documentary by Masoud Raouf about political prisoners who have been tortured in prison in Iran and the impact it has on their lives.

How can you go on living when you have been subjected to unbearable pain or injustice at the hands of fellow human beings? It is a question that haunts me. I have asked it to many people all over the world. Here two survivors of the Iran 88 massacre share their answers:

Amir Atiabi says: “You have to live with this legacy, you carry an unbearable burden, you cannot know peace until you can share this pain with the rest of humanity. You cannot concentrate on your own life: carrying this burden takes all your energy, it slows you down, it crushes you.”

Mahin, another survivor, explains: I am involved in two contradictory lives. My external life at work, in socialising, entertaining, etc. is filled with joy, activity and optimism. My inner life, however, is filled with stories that cannot be shared with others. Speaking about the prison, executions and the wounds of that period makes me sad and crumpled.

Most people do not have the patience to listen to such stories! The prison and the massacre have strengthened my tendency towards solitude, loneliness and ridiculing death from within. The memories of the prison are at the same time distant and near.”

The legacy of the violence is always there, just below the surface, and crops up even in the most unlikely circumstances, as the Iranian poet Majid Naficy wrote in his latest poem, first published in

My Neighbor Goes to the Zoo

by Majid Naficy

My neighbor is going to the zoo

With her three grandchildren:

Mussa, who was born in Haifa

Of a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother,

Sees himself as the never-grown-up Peter Pan-

Sailing from the island of Neverland

With one eye green, one eye blue:

Gemini, a twin, who was born in America

And named after his father's lost friend,

Has a moonlight face and a red robe

And sees himself as Casper, the friendly ghost

Returning from the land of martyrs;

And Zahra, who is one minute younger than her brother,

Has soft, golden hair

And sees herself as Alice from Wonderland

Looking for her lost rabbit everywhere.

They are going to the zoo

To visit the crocodiles of the Nile river

Who, everyday after lunch

Lay back on the pebbly shores

And leave their mouths open for hours

So their companion birds can clean

Their sharp teeth and gums,

And when they want to return to the water

The crocodiles gently close their mouths

Lest surprise

Their tooth-brushing plovers.

Having no faith in earthly paradise

And being accustomed to war and bloodshed

I panic from so much co-existence in nature

And unwillingly shout:

My neighbor! My fanciful neighbor!

Keep your grandchildren around your skirt

Lest the warring crocodiles

Roll their armored tanks

And the Iron-winged birds

Drop clusters of bombs

Over their heads.

August 18, 2009