Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Congo Now! Celebrates 50 years of independence; demands end of conflict

As the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)  celebrates 50 years of independence today  (June 30th), the Congo Now! campaign is launching a series of events to celebrate the rich creativity of the Congolese people and raise awareness of the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in the east of Congo.

Congo Now! is backed by over 30 NGOs working on Congo, including Christian Aid, Oxfam and Global Witness, as well as UK-based Congolese groups, and the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa.  The campaign is calling on the new UK Government to revitalise its commitment to end the violence and the suffering of civilians in DRC.

The campaign combines cultural events with campaign activities - from a cocktail party featuring award-winning photojournalist Susan Schulman to Parliamentary roundtables; from a run in support of Congo’s women in Regent’s Park to talks by activist Sam Roddick.   There is also a night of entertainment at the Southbank Centre with Sandi Toksvig, Eddie Kadi and Ronan Bennett  to name a few, as well a postcard petition aimed at Prime Minister David Cameron calling for the UK Government to do more to end violence in the DRC.

Eric Joyce MP, Congo Now! spokesperson said:
“The 30th June sees Congo marking 50 years of independence, but for many in the eastern parts of Congo, there is little to celebrate.  Some two million people are unable to go home as a result of the conflict, with rape and violence daily threats.  It is tragic that this conflict has been forgotten for so long. We are calling on our politicians to mark this anniversary by doing more to help build a Congo free of violence.”
The DRC has been described as the ‘heart of Africa’ and is home to enormous natural wealth and resources. However for the last 15 years, the country has been ravaged by the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II:
•       with an estimated 5.4 million dead  – more than 2.7 million of them children
•        over 9,000 people were raped in Kivu provinces of eastern Congo last year.
•      over 115,000 people were displaced in the first three months of 2010

The UK government is currently the largest bilateral donor to the DRC, with a commitment of £130 million for 2010.  Congo Now! is calling on the UK to maintain its funding and strengthen its political efforts on the DRC. 
In particular it is calling on the UK to:
•      Stop natural resources fuelling the conflict – by adopting legislation to ensure that materials purchased by UK companies neither finance armed groups nor contribute to human rights abuses.
•      Protect civilians from violence – by calling on the Congolese government to reform their armed forces, which too often prey on rather than protect civilians; and urging the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Congo to protect people and ensure guarantees for civilian safety are put in place before any significant reduction of peacekeepers takes place.
•       Promote non-military and regional solutions to the conflict.
•      Address the devastating causes and consequences of conflict and sexual violence particularly for women and children  by providing effective humanitarian and development assistance across the country, including for projects focused on the care for survivors of sexual violence and former child soldiers.  

For more information and a list of events, click here.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Behind Miss Butterfly - Beautiful Soul

Fashion, even eco fashion, is not one of my usual topics, but I was so enchanted and inspired by Nicola Woods and her creations that I wanted to write about them. Nicola is the designer behind “Beautiful Soul,” a rapidly rising eco-fashion label. 

I’ve met Nicola at the one of my favourite hangouts in London, the deliciously bohemian Candid CafĂ© in Angel Islington. While I was waiting for a friend, we got to talk and she told me how a trip to Japan in 2005 had changed her life.

Before the trip, she was a successful insurance broker. She was making good money, but didn’t particularly love her job. In Tokyo, surrounded by beautiful fabrics and designs, she had an epiphany and resurrected her childhood dream of being a fashion designer. 

 She went back to school and after graduating from  London College of Fashion in 2008, won a scholarship through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and worked as a designer for Tabeisa, a South African charity supporting disadvantaged communities across Africa. “This sparked a determination to set up my own sustainable fashion label,” she says.

And so, she set up a studio in her bedroom and got to work – and Beautiful Soul was born.

Beautiful Soul’s pieces are beautiful and elegant, but it is their fabrics and multi-functionality that I found so exciting. The garments adjust and can be worn in a multitude of ways to suit different moods, body shapes and seasons. For example, the Mari Coat from her autumn/winter 2010 collection can be worn in five different ways from full coat with kimono sleeves to coat body without sleeves or kimono sleeves worn alone.

“Garment adjustability is important to a woman as her favourite piece can be cherished for a lifetime, regardless of a few additional pounds,” says Nicola.

Her fabrics of choice are Japanese vintage kimonos, vintage saris, Fair-Trade organic jacquard, British wool, handloom cotton and bamboo jersey – all recycled and/or from a responsible source. Embellishments and accessories are hand made by a small cooperative in South Africa.

“The vintage kimonos date back to the 1940s and by giving them a new lease of life, it is hoped that a Beautiful Soul garment can be cherished for a lifetime, maybe even passed down through the generations,” she says.  

Beautiful Soul’s SS10 collection - Miss Butterfly - is currently on display and stocked at the V&A Museum in London (in the gift shop). The collection was inspired by Puccini's Madam Butterfly and each of its unique pieces borrows its name from a famous Japanese Geisha.

Last year, Beautiful Soul has won the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Innovation award, was a finalist at Fashioning the Future and showcased at the Interstoff Asia, Hong Kong, promoting sustainable fashion design. And this year, Nicola presented her collection for the second time at London Fashion Week (Estethica) and has just created a bespoke piece for Lily Cole from a deep purple vintage kimono.  She likes her customers to visit her brand new Notting Hill studio overlooking Portobello Road to select their own  kimonos from her large selection, which she'll fashion into unique garments.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

2010 World Cup - Outside the Stadium – young people’s alternative channel

If you need a break from watching the fortune of our boys in South Africa, take a look at Outside the Stadium,  “the 100% unofficial video channel for the 2010 World Cup”. 

Made by young people from a community football programme in Paarl, Outside the Stadium takes a look at the life of young people from the underprivileged Paarl East region and the impact the tournament has on their lives.

Throughout the tournament, Outside the Stadium is showing videos filmed and produced by young people about growing up in the townships, the local football scene and the world cup.  They have already shown videos on what local  students think about the World Cup coming to South Africa; about alcohol misuse, which is common in Paarl: and the excitement around the arrival in Paarl of the World Cup’s trophy.

 The youngsters are also running a parallel tournament mirroring the real world cup with the final played on the same day. 

The children are part of the Community Football Programme, which uses football as a means to address social issues faced by children from the area, such as family breakdown, restricted access to education, gang and drug culture, unplanned teenage pregnancy and high youth unemployment levels.

So far 20 local coaches have been given support and training to improve their skills. There are now over 30 boys teams in the U13, U15 and U17 leagues and 16 teams in the girls’  league, and plans to increase the number of coaches and teams. The 1200 children in the programme also have the support of ‘life skills’ coaches who work alongside the football coaches.  The organizers hope to eventually build three full-sized and two junior pitches, a permanent office building, with storage and changing facilities and a large playground for younger children.

The Community Football Programme is run by WER in partnership with Monte Christo Ministries (MCM).  World Emergency Relief (WER) is a leading international child relief and development organisation.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Iran Green Revolution – one year on

Remember Neda

It is a year since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bitterly disputed re-election sparked the Iran's Green Revolution, and the Green movement is down but not out.

Sporadic demonstrations in Tehran and other Iranian cities have been reported over the weekend, but a massive security presence prevented any larger gatherings to mark the first anniversary of the stolen election.
Last year, people came on to the streets in their millions in a spontaneous outburst of anger.
Since then, the opposition have been steadily battered into submission, beaten up when they demonstrate on the streets, arrested, tortured and abused in prison, and even executed.
Faced with such a brutal repression, the Green movement is a long way down – but not out.
In its new report From Protest to Prison – Iran One Year After the Election, Amnesty International reviews a year of arrest and detention of those who have spoken out against the government and its abuses. The report marks the launch of a one-year campaign calling for the release of prisoners of conscience held since the disputed 2009 election and ensuing repression. 

Hundreds of people remain detained for their part in the June 2009 protests or for expressing dissenting views. The imprisonment of ordinary citizens has become an every day phenomenon in an expanding ‘revolving door system’ of arbitrary arrest and detention. Those with only tentative links to banned groups as well as family members of former prisoners have been subjected to arbitrary arrest in the past year.

Lawyers, academics, former political prisoners and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities have also been caught up in an expanding wave of repression that has led to widespread incidents of torture and other ill-treatment along with politically motivated execution of prisoners. 

Don’t  forget them.

Take action. To call all on the Iranian government to release prisoners of conscience detained since the 2009 election, click here.

Watch the American film For Neda on YouTube.

Monday, 7 June 2010

A Child from Everywhere – a kaleidoscope of multicultural Britain

Alissa, Dominica Caroline Irby

Three years ago Khulan lived a nomadic life on the Mongolian steppe, sleeping in a yurt and herding sheepand camels; Mansury fled the war in Rwanda; Oumou had only seen a white person once in Mali…Now, they go to school in Leicester, Manchester and London.

Sibongile from South Africa says she got moody since living in the UK; Lukas dreams about Lithuania and misses his friends and his grandma; Amna from Bahrain feels happy and at home here: “People don't judge me, they're just accepting.”

In her new book, “A Child from Everywhere”, award-winning photographer Caroline Irby has interviewed and photographed a child from 185 countries living in the UK.

The children, aged from nought to 16, talk about their expectations of the UK, feelings upon arrival, cultural differences, ideas on community and family, and thoughts on their future, along with details on their everyday life. Their short, simple statements - sometimes thoughtful, sometimes moving or funny - paint a multi-layered picture of being an immigrant in the UK and the worlds they have left behind. Caroline’s pictures reflect that too. The 185 portraits are all very different - close up, in action, happy, reflective, casual, carefully composed, cropped, bright, tonal, inside, outdoors – each conveying strong feelings, each moving and incredibly beautiful.

I’ve worked with Caroline in Guinea, Haiti and elsewhere, and noticed how naturally drawn to children she is. “I tend to tell the story through the children I meet. I feel that they give the most sensitive, and maybe more accurate expression of what is happening in almost any given situation,” she says.

Caroline has photographed children all over the world, but found one of her most extraordinary stories right here. “The United Kingdom has long been a focus of immigration, but whereas in the past there have been concentrated influxes from isolated areas, we now have almost all the world converging on one place - we have an unprecedented demographic event unfolding right here.”

Of the estimated 565,000 migrants who arrive in the UK each year, 26,000 of them are children. The numbers are often analyzed in the media, but for every number there's a story. “There are stories dancing around in playgrounds across the country and they are seldom told,” she says. “I learned, from talking to all these children, that they rarely speak about where they have come from or what they've been through. And I think we should take the opportunity to ask and listen to them: we can learn a lot on the subject of globalization no less than any other.”

She was surprised that some of the children from war-torn countries were so uninformed about the situations they had left. “I soon realised, through talking to their parents, that this occurs because the parents want to protect their children from the past, want them to start a new life here and to integrate with children who have not experienced similar trauma.”

One of the most recurrent themes in the children's interviews was that they miss their grandmothers. “They miss their friends, their food, their animals and homes, but it was almost always the Grandmas they said they miss most - I'd say 90% of the children gave me that answer.”

I used to play with my Granny, and my Granny would teach me lessons about life: how to be careful because there was a war in my country. I was crying on my way into the airport: every time I turn my back, I feel like seeing my Grandma.

Israel, 10, Congo (DRC), Southampton

Another recurrent theme is the lack of community the children see in this country. In many of the countries they have come from they know their neighbours intimately, and depend on them. People look after each other.

In Lebanon the neighbours eat with each other: all the people is brothers and sisters. Here not all the neighbours speak with each other but there is something beautiful: people speak with you in a nice way. They can't be mad very fast. They don't fight, they are peaceful.

Rabie, 15, Lebanon, Leicester

“A Child From Everywhere” started as a commission from Guardian Weekend magazine to find a child from each of the 192 countries in the world (as recognized by the UN as sovereign states) now living in the UK. It took Caroline a year and a half to find 185 of them - through schools, GP surgeries, refugee groups, religious organizations, football teams, embassies and more. To meet them, she crisscrossed the country from Orkney Isles to the Isle of Wight and from Belfast to Cornwall - in the process, experiencing the hospitality of families from every continent. “I was given both a glimpse into the countries from which the children came and a 185-layered image of my own country.”

A Child from Everywhere is published by Black Dog Publishing. To order a copy of the book, click here or here