News You May Have Missed (15-21 February 2015)

Photo from Muslim Public Affairs Council's Facebook page
Photo from Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Facebook page

A weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I’m following that I think deserve a little more attention.

More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around a synagogue in Oslo, NORWAY on February 21  in response to an attack on a synagogue in Denmark last weekend.  Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” an estimated 1200-1400 Norwegian Muslims formed a “ring of peace” around the synagogue, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community.  See video coverage on the NRK website here.  One of the speakers in the video is 17-year-old Hajrah Asrhad, one of the event’s organizers.

Children began returning to classrooms in LIBERIA this week after seven months of closure due to the Ebola epidemic.  Education is key to development and improving human rights, so the schools are being reopened but UNICEF and its partners are putting in place safety measures to minimize the potential risk of transmission of the virus.  Safety measures, including taking children’s temperatures when they arrive to school and making them wash their hands before entering the classroom, have been successfully used in GUINEA, where more than 1.3 million children have returned to school since January. Nearly all of Guinea’s more than 12,000 schools are now open, and school attendance is at 85 per cent of pre-Ebola attendance, according to data collected by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.  Following Guinea’s experience, UNICEF has worked closely with the Liberian government and local communities to develop similar safety protocols. Teachers have been trained to implement and monitor the safety measures, soap and other hygiene materials have been distributed.  

Beginning last summer, UNICEF collaborated with Liberian musicians to conduct mass mobilization campaigns on Ebola prevention nationwide.  In case you missed it, here is one example from August 2014:

The International Labour Organization (ILO) spotlighted recent progress in the fight against child labour in KOSOVO, where children as young as 10 are forced to work on garbage dumps or in the fields harvesting grapes and onions, risking their health.   Since March 2013, members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce are obliged to observe the ILO’s four fundamental labour principles, including the elimination of child labour.  So far, 40 members of the Chamber of Commerce have adopted codes of conduct on combating child labour in their supply chains and communities. In addition, occupational safety and health issues will be mainstreamed into the compulsory education (grades 8-9) and upper secondary school curricula.

Turkish men aren’t known for wearing skirts. But they are turning out in large numbers in Istanbul later to protest about violence against women in TURKEY.

Men in mini skirts campaign
Men in mini skirts campaign

They’re joining others outraged by the murder of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan who was abducted on 11 February and killed for apparently trying to prevent a bus driver from raping her.

In the UNITED STATES, a federal jury has awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers who were defrauded and exploited in a labor trafficking scheme engineered by Gulf Coast marine services company Signal, an immigration lawyer and an Indian labor recruiter who lured hundreds of workers to a MISSISSIPPI shipyard with false promises of permanent U.S. residency. The trial was the first in a series of cases spearheaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center that together comprise one of the largest labor trafficking cases in U.S. history. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Signal used the U.S. government’s H-2B guest worker program to import nearly 500 men from India to work as welders, pipefitters and in other positions to repair damaged oil rigs and related facilities. Under the guest worker program, workers are not allowed to change jobs if they are abused but face the loss of their investment if they are fired or quit.

The plaintiffs in this case are Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Hemant Khuttan, Padaveettiyl, Sulekha and Palanyandi Thangamani.  Each paid the labor recruiters and a lawyer between $10,000 and $20,000 or more in recruitment fees and other costs after recruiters promised good jobs, green cards and permanent U.S. residency for them and their families. Most sold property or plunged their families deeply into debt to pay the fees.

When the men arrived at Signal shipyards in Pascagoula, MISSISSIPPI, they discovered that they wouldn’t receive the green cards or permanent residency that had been promised. Signal also forced them each to pay $1,050 a month to live in isolated, guarded labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a space the size of a double-wide trailer. None of Signal’s non-Indian workers were required to live in the company housing.  An economist who reviewed Signal’s records estimated the company saved more than $8 million in labor costs by hiring the Indian workers at below-market wages.

Pro bono legal representation was provided in this case by Southern Poverty Law Center, Crowell & Moring, LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sahn Ward Coschignano & Baker, and the Louisiana Justice Institute.

An estimated 93 million children (1 in 20 up to age 14) worldwide live with a moderate or severe disability. #Draw Disability is a new global campaign launched by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), in partnership with the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI) and theUnited Nations Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group (GEFI-YAG).

The campaign has two main objectives: 1) To encourage dialogue and raise awareness on disability and related issues among teachers and learners within educational environments. 2) To create a global art project focused on disability. Schools from all over the planet are encouraged to get involved in the project. Teachers can use the #DrawDisability guidelines to promote critical reflections and awareness on disability within the classroom (guidelines are available in Spanish, French and English).  Children with and without disabilities are encouraged to #DrawDisability. Drawings can portray their understanding and feelings towards disability and related issues, such as accessibility, inclusion and discrimination.

All drawings received will be uploaded and displayed on a website and shared on social networks using the hashtag #DrawDisability. Early submissions by April 1, 2015 are highly encouraged as selected drawings will be showcased at the World Education Forum in May 2015 in Incheon, SOUTH KOREA, and the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP-CRPD) in June 2015 New York, USA. The final deadline for all submissions will be July 15, 2015. Check out submission information here.  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

gvarv

My boys, who seem to have spent much of their young lives squabbling, somehow found detente

while staying at my great-grandparents’ farm near the town of Gvarv in Telemark, Norway.

Perhaps it was being out of their normal routine? Or perhaps it was the serenity of their surroundings?

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This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity. 40953_1556723965443_6925402_n

Ski Selfie

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Skiing on my neighborhood lake
February 2014

I first learned to cross-country ski  when I was 19 and living in Norway.  Learning to ski in a country where skiing is the national pastime was both a blessing and a curse.  (The national slogan”Nordmenn er født med ski på beina” or “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet” may help you understand why little Norway is so dominant in the Winter Olympics.)  The curse part was that I was 19 the first time that I strapped on skis; I think I spent most of that first afternoon either falling down or trying to get up.  To add insult to injury, as I struggled to complete the “beginner” 2K loop, dozens of skiers zipped right by me – including both a 90+ year old pensioner and a baby.  I would call him a toddler, but not for the fact that later I saw him crawling around on a blanket in picnic area by the parking lot.  Nothing bursts your bubble quicker than the realization that even a kid who can’t walk yet can ski better than you can.

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The blessing part is that cross-country skiing can be such a joyful experience.  I learned in Norway that it is cross-country skiing is a sport that just about everyone can do.  I also learned that skiing allows you to get out and experience nature in a way that is very different from the rest of the year. The stillness of the snowy woods can be breathtaking.  In the silence, you hear your breathing and the rhythmic sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh of your skis, interrupted occasionally by the sound of an animal or a bird. Unlike summer’s cacophony, in winter each sound is individualized and accentuated, carrying alone across long distances. From afar, I heard the yank-yank-yank-yank of the red-breasted nuthatch while skiing on Lake Harriet last week; it was still calling when I skied up to it 10 minutes later.  When you are out in the cold, but not feeling it because your arms and legs are working hard, pumping heat through your body – that’s when cross-country skiing makes you feel the power for conquering winter.

And then there is this.  The unique light and colors of a deep winter day that perhaps can only be experienced on skis.

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It’s been years now since I learned to ski.  I rarely fall down anymore, although I am still passed on the trail by faster skiers.   Truthfully, I haven’t been out on skis much in the recent past.  Climate change and the warmer winters of the past decade have meant the snow conditions have been less than perfect in Minnesota.  This winter, however, the snow conditions are wonderful.  And I have rediscovered my joy in cross-country skiing.

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Skiing the Luminary Loppet with my oldest son.
February 2014

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie.   See additional posts here.

Window on the World: Gvarv, Telemark, Norway

Gvarv window

 Windows look out over farms and apple orchards.

My grandfather came from this area near the town of Gvarv in mid-Telemark, Norway.

(Photo credit to my husband Charles.)

More photos in this Window on the World series:

Sankhu village in Nepal

Charleston, South Carolina 

Rabat, Morocco

Machu Picchu, Peru

For more interpretations on the Weekly Photo Challenge theme: Window, click here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

Bunadsparade
photo by Katharine “Ingeborg” Spencer

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge invites us to share a picture of a”companion” with an explanation of the choice.  In encouraging bloggers to interpret the theme broadly, the WordPress editor writes:

You might think “companion” refers to a person with whom you share experiences, but the definition is much broader:

  • A person who is frequently in the company of, associates with, or accompanies another.
  • A mate or match for something.
  • A handbook or guide.
  • A member of the lowest rank in an order of knighthood.

(The Weekly Challenge also states: If your companion is actually a low-ranking knight, you win.)

I chose this photo of myself with four (I include my daughter, even though only her blonde curls can be seen in the lower right corner) of my favorite companions.  A dear friend since childhood and former roommate, who has accompanied me though each stage of my life.  The daughter of another dear friend and my own daughter, a new generation seeking guidance as they grow into the women that they will one day be.  Another longtime friend, a leader and mentor to hundreds if not thousands of young people over the past 30 years – who just happens to also be a knight*.

These are all companions who I have met through Skogfjorden, Concordia Language Villages‘ Norwegian immersion program. This is my fourteenth summer and my ninth on staff.  As we sing in Norwegian, “Vi er kompiser på Skogfjorden!” (We are companions at Skogfjorden). This photo captures that spirit of companionship for me.

*In 2009, Tove Irene Dahl, the dean of Skogfjorden, was named a Knight (Ridder) of the First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway for the advancement of Norwegian language and culture in the United States.

The Order of Merit is lower than the Order of St. Olav – does that count as a low-ranking knight?

If so, what do I win?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rosemaling

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Rosemaling, the decorative folk painting of Norway, began in the low-land areas of eastern Norway about 1750.  Persons who rosemaled for their livelihood would not have been land owners but poor, city dwellers. After being trained within a “guild” they would travel from county to county painting churches and/or the homes of the wealthy for a commission of either money or merely room and board. Thus rosemaling was carried over the mountains and toward Norway’s western coast. Once farther away from the influence of the guilds, these artists tried new ideas and motifs.

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Soon strong regional styles developed. The Telemark and Hallingdal valleys became especially known for their fine rosemaling.Upon their exposure to rosemaling, rural folk would often imitate this folk art. Not having been taught in an urban guild, the amateur became spontaneous and expressive in his work on smaller objects such as drinking vessels and boxes.

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Rosemaling went out of style in about 1860-1870. Rosemaling experienced it’s revival in America in the 20th century when Norwegian-Americans gave attention to the painted trunks and other objects brought to America by their ancestors.

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The rosemaling pictured above were painted by Sigmund Aarseth.

They decorate the walls and ceiling of Gimle (the dining hall) at Skogfjorden,Concordia College’s Norwegian Language Village in Minnesota.

History from Rosemaling.org

To see other interpretations of the theme Curves, click here.

The Lessons of 22 July

My daughter in Norway in August 2010.
For many in Norway, the terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011 represent the loss of innocence.

On the morning of July 22 last year, I read the breaking news of a car bomb attack in Oslo, Norway.  I clicked on the link to the NRK live coverage, forgetting that my three children rise and swarm, like mosquitoes from tall grass at dusk, at the slightest potentiality of a video.

“WHAT IS HAPPENING?” yelled my then-9-year-old son.

“It looks like a car bomb exploded in downtown Oslo.”

Gasps all around. We had been in downtown Oslo less than a year before.   We had been in that part of town and I think we may even have walked down the street where the explosion damaged several government buildings.

Damage to government building on July 22, 2011

Image Source

“WAS ANYONE WE KNOW HURT?” screamed my then 6-year old daughter.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied.  “Let me listen to what they are saying about it.”

I was trying to remain calm; I was struggling with a decision. As a parent, you have to make a choice about what horrific events you introduce to your children.  And you have to decide – often on the spot – how to talk to them about tragedy and violence.  You have to find the words to explain the evil that exists in the world while you simultaneously reassure them that,  for the most part, they are safe.  Obviously, this is not easy and there is no manual.  But it is part of your job as a parent to help them make sense of life as a human on this planet.

“IT’S LIKE NORWAY’S 9/11!” blurted out my then-nearly-12-year-old son.

Presciently, in hindsight.  It was that statement that decided me, that hardened my resolve.  You see, like everyone else, I have a story to tell about 9/11.  That’s a story for another day, but, suffice it to say, it committed me to engaging my children in a year-long discussion about the tragic events of July 22, 2011.

The Norwegian media were cautiously talking about how preliminary evidence indicated a terrorist attack.   So we had a fruitful discussion (or at least what passes for a “fruitful discussion” when your kids are 6, 9 and 11) about 9/11 and the impact of those events on America. My children do not remember our country before 9/11.  It was good to talk to them about the need for security, as well as the need to balance security with the protection of individual rights, including discrimination based on race and religion.  They were engaged.  They asked questions.  Then, with the  request to be kept informed of the emerging news of the Oslo bombing, they went on their way to do whatever it is that 6, 9 and 11 year old boys and girls do on a bright summer day.

But as the day went on, the news from Norway got dramatically worse.  Eight people were killed and nearly two-thirds of the 300+ people in the government buildings were injured (and had it not been 3:30 pm on a Friday in the holiday month of July, there would certainly have been many more casualties).  But the car bomb in Oslo was merely a distraction.  Less than two hours later, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Brevik, dressed as a police officer in a fake uniform that he bought on the Internet, took the ferry to the island of Utøya in nearby Buskerud.  There he killed 69 people – mostly under the age of 18 – at an summer camp for politically active young people in the AUF (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking), which is affiliated with Norway’s Arbeiderparti (Labor Party).

AUF describes itself as “Norway’s largest political party youth organization and champion for a more just world (“AUF er Norges største partipolitiske ungdomsorganisasjon og kjemper for en mer rettferdig verden”).  Anders Behring Breivik carried out the massacre in cold blood, coming back to shoot again those who were lying injured, shooting kids in the water as they tried to swim to safety.  He later claimed that he was trying to save Norway from Muslims world by attacking Social Democrats, Norwegian immigration policies and the concept of multi-culturalism.

This photo of participants at the AUF summer camp on Utøya was taken July 21, 2011, the day before the massacre.

Image source: AUF

It was one thing to talk to my kids about car bombs and 9/11.  It was something else entirely to talk to them about Utøya. I  didn’t tell my kids right away about the massacre.  I waited a few hours, sifting through the emerging stories of horror until the basic narrative was clear.  When I did tell them, what they most wanted to know was:

“WHY?”

I said something about hatred, but there was really nothing I could say by way of explanation.  Far too many  lost their lives on July 22, 2011. And Anders Behring Breivik’s hateful, violent acts stole not just the future of scores of young people, but also the innocence of a peaceful nation.  Just as we demarcate contemporary US history as pre- and post-9/11, so for Norway is tjueandre juli (22 July).

Luckily for me as a parent, stories began quickly emerging about what happened on Utøya. Amazing stories of luck and bravery. Young people not much older than my own children who showed great presence of mind in an unthinkable situation.  Leadership and sacrifice.  These are stories – and there are many – that deserve more space than I have to give here.  But we followed these stories in the days and months following 22 July.  They gave us hope. They showed us that ordinary people – most of them still kids – could do extraordinary things.

There is much in our interactions with the world that we cannot control. We can control, however, how we act; how we REact to events and actions by others.  This is a lesson I strive to teach my children.  I don’t always provide a good role model, but Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg certainly did. I’ve been reading the speeches of Jens Stoltenberg this summer.  From the beginning, he encouraged Norwegians not to give way to fear and hate and prejudice. He urged Norwegians to react to the attacks of 22 July by being MORE welcoming to the outsider, to the foreigner. Invite him in for cake and coffee, the Prime Minister suggested.  Invite her to take a walk. Get to know one another.

When local elections were held in September 2011, fear was not used as a campaign tactic in Norway.  I showed my kids the AUF campaign materials which said, “This summer, our democracy was attacked.  The terrorist chose cowardice and ruthless violence over argument and political debate.  Our answer is not more violence, but more democracy.”

“Our answer is MORE democracy – Vote Now!”

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I’ve heard people say that Norway’s response to July 22 was simplistic.  Idealistic. Naive. Maybe it wouldn’t work in other countries.  But if you doubt that words matter, let me tell you what happened after the trial of Anders Behring Breivik began on April 16, 2012.  Breivik had testified that a particular song, Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) by well-loved Norwegian folk singer  Lillebjørn Nilsen, with its concept of living together in a multicultural Norway, was brainwashing children into supporting immigrants.  This is a song that Mr. Breivik, apparently, detests.

So, shortly thereafter, in a chilly spring rain in a square near the courthouse in Oslo, a crowd of more than 40,000 people joined Mr. Nilsen in singing Barn av regnbuen.  Many more were singing the song at the same time in smaller communities around the country. Norwegians throughout the country sang it as a form of protest against hatred. They sang it so loud that it could be heard in the courtroom.

Once again, I clicked on a link to a video from Oslo.  Together, my children and I watched this video.

Folksinger Lillebjørn Nilsen and a crowd of 40,000 sing Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) at the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo (Source: NRK)

This is a song that I learned many years ago.  It is actually a Pete Seeger song called My Rainbow Race, translated into Norwegian by Lillebjørn Nilsen.   I did a rough translation of the lyrics of Barn av regnbuen in a blog post in April. The song’s title comes from the verse:

Sammen skal vi leve
hver søster og hver bror.
Små barn av regnbuen
og en frodig jord.

Together we will live
every sister and every brother.
Small children of the rainbow
and a flourishing world.

One night last week, I heard my now-10-year-old son singing in his bed.  He was singing Barna av regnbuen.  He sang the whole song, the refrain and every last verse.  And then he sang it again.

There will be many tributes on July 22, 2012.  Remembrances and roses to honor the innocents who lost their lives one year ago, the survivors who will never be the same again.  Add to them this tribute,  from a kid in a bunkbed half a world away.  A kid who, hopefully, has learned something from the tragedy of 22 July.