Thursday, 23 June 2011

Get London Reading

Two weeks ago, the London’s paper, the Evening Standard, launched an inspiring and  successful campaign to encourage and help Londoners to read.

The Get London Reading campaign was prompted by the realization that in this city full of bookshops, libraries, publishers and writers, one in three children grows up without a single book of their own and one million people cannot read. “This is a betrayal of our children because reading is an essential tool for life,” says Editor Geordie Greig.

The paper has joined forces with Volunteer Reading Help, a charity that trains ordinary adults to go into London's most deprived primary schools to provide one-on-one reading support for struggling pupils. The charity does a tremendous job, but needs more volunteers and more donations. The Evening Standard is urging its readers to be part of the solution: “Volunteer today, donate today - and change lives.”

Over the past two weeks, the Evening Standard has published shocking new figures exposing illiteracy in London:

• 1 in 4 children in London leaves primary school at 11 unable to read or write properly
• 1 in 5 leaves secondary school without being able to read or write with confidence
• One million (or one in six) working adults in the capital cannot read with confidence. Nationally, five per cent of adults in England have literacy skills either at or below the level of a seven-year-old
• 40 per cent of 11-year-olds from inner-city primary schools have a reading age of between six and nine when they start secondary school
• 1 in 5 pupils at inner London schools has special educational needs, such as dyslexia

The paper’s chief features writer, David Cohen, talked at a recent Freelance Media Group lunch at the Groucho Club about the Get London Reading campaign.

He shared some of the moving stories he uncovered while reporting on the campaign, like that of the little girl who brought to class the Argos catalogue (home and general merchandise retail) when a teacher asked his pupils to bring in a book from home.  'It's the only one we've got,” said the nine-year-old.

The paper also featured many people – some highly successful – who explained how being unable to read affected their self-esteem and life. One of them, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who is dyslexic, talked of how dyslexic people tend to go "one of two ways", conquering their fears and flourishing, or ending up in jail. And a multi-millionaire property mogul spoke for the first time about his “darkest secret” – that he cannot read – to expose the depth of the illiteracy problem in London.

The campaign has generated huge support from politicians, writers, celebrities, businesses and the general public.

So far, they have raised £145,000 – enough to fund 290 volunteers who will read one-to-one to 870 children.

To volunteer or donate, click here 

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Sound of the Egyptian Revolution

In the early days of the Egyptian revolution this year, three young musicians from Cairo recorded a solidarity protest song and posted it on YouTube.  "Sout al Horeya" (the Sound of Freedom) attracted over one million views within days and became the unoffocial anthem of the revolution.

The song is uplifting and beautiful even for those like me who don't understand the lyrics.  But even better with the lyrics! Here is what they mean: "The sound of freedom is calling, in every street corner in our country, the sound of freedom is calling. We will re-write history, if you are one of us, join us and don't stop us from fulfilling our dream."

Amir Eid, the guitarist and writer of the song, told Amnesty International that he decided to write the song and shoot it like a campaign for Tahrir Square to show the world what was really happening there as the Egyptian media coverage was unfair.

Amnesty UK played the song's video at the Trafalgar Square demonstration in February. "I was so happy. This was Egypt that I wanted the world to see," he told AI.

The mood in post-revolution Egypt is full of hope, he said. "We can see our future ahead of us."

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Afghanistan is world’s most dangerous place for women – followed by DRC, Pakistan, India and Somalia

Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan are the world's most dangerous countries for women in 2011 due to a barrage of threats ranging from violence and rape to dismal healthcare and "honour killings", an international expert poll showed today. India and Somalia are the next worst places to be a woman.

The global report is shocking and also depressing for showing dismal lack of progress. When will things change? Most of these terrible situations, statistics and suffering are well documented – what more do we need?
The survey has been compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark the launch of TrustLaw Women, a website aimed at providing free legal advice for women's groups around the world.
Not surprisingly Afghanistan is named as the world’s most dangerous country for women because of its high levels of violence, poor healthcare and poverty. And the war was supposed to improve the plight of Afghan women…
“Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. That aside, it is also a context that gives a woman minimal opportunity for education, health access, reproductive choice, etc. The lack of hope of the situation of women improving in the near future, as opposed to countries such as Sierra Leone and Southern Sudan, makes the situation comparatively even worse," says Dhammika Perera of International Rescue Committee.

Continuing conflict, Nato airstrikes and cultural practices also combine to make Afghanistan a very dangerous place for women. "In addition, women who do attempt to speak out or take on public roles that challenge ingrained gender stereotypes of what is acceptable for women to do or not, such as working as policewomen or news broadcasters, are often intimidated or killed," says Antonella Notari, head of Women Change Makers a group that supports women social entrepreneurs around the world. 

The second worse place goes to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the staggering level of sexual violence in the lawless eastern part of the country. One recent US study claimed that more than 400,000 women are raped there each year. The UN has called Congo the rape capital of the world.
Pakistan comes next on the basis of cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women. "These include acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse," the poll finds.
The fourth worse place goes to India, which is more surprising for a country emerging into an economic super-power and a country not at war. India’s inclusion to the danger list is due to its high level of female infanticide and sex trafficking.
And Somalia completes the list. The country, in a state in political disintegration, suffers high levels of maternal mortality, rape, female genital mutilation and limited access to education and healthcare.

The poll asked 213 experts from five continents to rank countries on issues like overall perception of danger, access to healthcare, violence, cultural discrimination and human trafficking.

"This survey shows that 'hidden dangers' like a lack of education or terrible access to healthcare are as deadly, if not more so, than physical dangers like rape and murder which usually grab the headlines," Monique Villa, chief executive of Thomson-Reuters Foundation, says.

For more information, go to the TrustLaw website, which provides in-depth information, statistics, interviews and videos on the study. Also read the Guardian’s article by Owen Bowcott. The piece also provides links to case studies in all five countries.

Friday, 10 June 2011

V&A musing

I had lots of time to kill between meetings in London yesterday, so went to one of my favourite places, the Victoria and Albert museum. On my own, with no agenda, I spent delicious hours ambling through its vast labyrinth of eclectic galleries, looking at the amazing ceramics, sculptures, paintings, textiles, jewellery and more - sketching, reading, examining, marvelling, dreaming. 

And I had coffee in the stunning cafe- the V&A's original restaurant, the Morris, Gamble and Poynter Rooms. They formed the very first museum restaurant in the world and were intended as a showpiece of modern design, craftsmanship and manufacturing.
 I had started my day stressed out, but left the museum feeling stimulated, excited and happy.  Beauty, self-expression, colours and creativity are good for the soul, as we all know. And taking time off to wander is sometimes as productive as a hard day at the office.