Saturday, 29 January 2011

Over 100 countries mark World Leprosy Day

Tomorrow (30 January 2011) is World Leprosy Day – a day to remember that this biblical-times disease is still with us and millions of people across the word still suffer from it.  To mark the day, over 100 countries will undertake activities and advocacy to raise awareness of leprosy and to ensure that this neglected tropical disease is not ignored.

When I was very young – just after high school – I worked in a leprosy centre in Polambakam, Tamil Nadu, India, for a few months.  At the time, the multidrug therapy hadn’t been developed yet and the stigma of the disease was so strong that very few Indian medics wanted to work there.

Leprosy has now been curable for the past 25 years, but is still a global problem, affecting more than 15 million people worldwide  (including 100 in the UK), and each year, nearly a quarter of a million new cases are detected - that is almost one person diagnosed every two minutes. Over half of all newly-reported cases of leprosy occur in India.

And the stigma of the disease is still as present as it was when I was young and often more damaging than the disease itself. Many countries around the world, including India, China and even England, still have discriminatory policies that mirror the social exclusion people with leprosy face daily. Too often, people with leprosy cannot get married, lose their jobs, are rejected by their families and communities, and their children are not allowed to go to school.

 “I can endure losing fingers and toes, but not the rejection of my family nor my family being rejected by society,” said one sufferer at Kothara hospital in India, run by the Leprosy Mission England & Wales (TLMEW).

On World Leprosy Day, schools, groups and churches will organize activities and events focused on advocacy, education and fundraising for leprosy. In the countries where leprosy exists, the day will be used to lobby governments and to publicly campaign to dispel some of the myths about the disease: that it is highly contagious and not curable. Since 1982 leprosy has been curable with a combination of antibiotics called multidrug therapy.

Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease, which attacks the nerves. If treated early there will be no long-term damage, but if treatment is delayed the person may develop permanent nerve damage and disability.

The Leprosy Mission England & Wales provides a free resource pack to help people mark the day.

Monday, 24 January 2011

New human rights magazine by and for young people launched in UK

I stumbled into a very exciting and unexpected new magazine called The Right Stuff - a human rights magazine by and for children and young people.
When you’d think that young people are only interested in appearing cool on Facebook or the latest fashion and celebrities’ antics, here is a bunch of under 18 year-olds from across England, who have designed and written a magazine to try to promote young people’s interest in children’s human rights and encourage them to take action.
The first/taster issue, launched last week, covers wide-ranging topics, such as the experiences of children in care; how children seeking asylum in the UK are treated; student protests; human rights fashion; protest music; and discrimination based on hair colour.  The magazine feels passionate and relevant. It is engaging, accessible and visually appealing.
A management team of 10 young people made sure the project ran smoothly and made decisions about the budget, distribution and the launch event, while more than 20 others contributed creative content, illustrations, photographs, and worked with the design company.
Young people were supported throughout the project by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and received advice and training from media and human rights experts.  The project is funded by Mediabox, a consortium, which enables young people to create media projects and get their voices heard.
Phillip, 18, a member of The Right Stuff’s design and content team, says:
“I was really surprised to hear this would be the first ever magazine dedicated to children's rights, so it was great to be able to get involved! It's so important that young people can gain this type of knowledge through a medium they can enjoy. I have learnt a lot, such as the inner workings of creating a magazine and I have had a great time doing so."
Kiran, 13, a member of the management team, adds: ''I really enjoyed the project of creating the magazine. It was great getting to know people from all around the country and learning more about the rights that we have. It felt so good knowing that there are people out there who are working hard for children’s rights.''
1,000 printed copies of The Right Stuff will be distributed to children and young people across England. To read an electronic version of the magazine, click here.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Haiti earthquake - one year on: international failure, suffering, but also resilience

Photograph: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images 


Haiti one year on looks depressingly similar to Haiti six months ago. Things have hardly moved:  the country is still in ruins, nearly one million people are still living under tents and tarpaulin and only 5% of rubble left by the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake has been cleared.

An Oxfam report, published ahead of the earthquake anniversary on Wednesday, says government dithering and lack of coordination between aid agencies and donors have crippled rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

The destruction of the capital and death of an estimated 230,000 people prompted a huge international relief effort last year, with $2.1bn (£1.4bn) pledged. Thousands of aid agencies and missionary groups flocked into the Caribbean nation.  But according to the UN's special envoy for Haiti, only 42% of that was spent.

The country's Oxfam's director said near paralysis in Haiti's government had been compounded by mistakes in the international response. "Too many donors from rich countries have pursued their own aid priorities and have not effectively coordinated amongst themselves or worked with the Haitian government.”

The agency also accused the interim Haiti recovery commission, led by the former US president Bill Clinton and Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, of being "lacklustre" in managing funds and improving Haiti's technical capacity to spend them.

Haiti's sense of drift was underlined by last week's announcement that political wrangling has delayed the second round of the disputed presidential election until February, leaving Haiti's leadership also in limbo.

To a litany of woes – unemployment, cholera, extreme poverty – an Amnesty International report last week added sexual violence. Armed men prey with impunity on girls and women in displacement camps, worsening the trauma of having lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones, says the report.

But as cholera and political instability dominate headlines around the quake's one-year anniversary, life goes on in Haiti, even in the shadow of tragedy. People do what they can to cope.

AlertNet, the global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, has created a space for ordinary Haitians to tell their story.   Their multimedia documentary One-Day in Port-au-Prince transports us to the streets and tent cities of Haiti’s capital.  Each of the 14 people featured, tell their story in their own words and evoke issues central to the country’s recovery, from education and health to resettlement and reconstruction.

From the homeless schoolgirl who studies science by candlelight to the doctor who built a makeshift operating theatre in the ruins of a hospital, One Day in Port-au-Prince tells stories of resilience, ingenuity and courage.

There is a Voodoo priest who takes a stand against mass burials, a young mother forced to sell her own body, a former professional goalkeeper who rhapsodises about soccer's power to heal and a woman who sells textbooks yet can't afford to send her own kids to school. 

AlterNet hope that "One Day in Port-au-Prince" will be the beginning of an exchange between those who are doing their best to cope with the Haiti quake and people around the world who support Haiti's recovery.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Passing Clouds

Happy New Year everyone!

I wanted to start the year writing about something warm, cozy and fun, so how about Passing Clouds in Dalston, East London? This hippy-named newish venue on Richmond Road is a collective of artists and musicians. The house, once occupied by the Hackney Gazette, is split on two floors with a stage and bar on the bottom floor and another bar, DJs and film-screening areas on the top floor. The club is furnished with a mishmash of fabulous makeshifts objects, and offers an eclectic programme of funk and reggae nights, drum workshops, golden oldie film screening, jam sessions - and every Sunday, "the People's Kitchen."

You can come to "the People's Kitchen" on Sundays to chop, peel, dice and cook food collected from Spitalfields Market and local businesses, which would otherwise have been thrown away. And so, you can eat a leek and courgette tortilla or a bowl of spicy aubergine pasta, curled up in one of the worn velvet and leather armchairs in front of a film or later, grab a plate of bread and cheese before settling in for the evening's jam session. And the food is free (although they ask for donations). Bliss!