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.  

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Beyond The Horizon

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Farmland near Nerstrand, Minnesota
October, 2013

Recently, our family took a daytrip down to visit some friends who live near the town of Nerstrand, MN about an hour outside of the Twin Cities.  When I first moved to Minnesota, I was struck by the fact that people here always give you directions in north, south, east or west – as in “Go two blocks north and then turn west”.  I had never before used the cardinal directions as a point of reference, so this was confusing to me at first.  But I soon discovered that it makes sense in a Plains state where you can actually see the horizon.  It becomes only natural to use the horizon and the sun’s relation to it as a frame of reference, a way of understanding the natural order of the world.  When I took this picture, for example, I knew that I was facing north because it was afternoon and the sun was clearly in the west.

We happened to visit the country on a glorious fall day.  The kids rode the horses (and pony) through the fields and down the road to an old graveyard that is populated by German and Norwegian immigrants to the area who settled here beginning in the 1850s.  Some of the gravestones were so old that the carved names and dates had been all but erased by the elements.  Others were propped against a birch tree. Having lost all connection to the graves that they once marked, they now appeared to gaze out beyond trees and fields and farms to whatever lies beyond the horizon.

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Gravestones in Wheeling (German) Evangelical Cemetary
Nerstrand, MN

It reminded me of the melancholy, nostalgic-sounding song Beyond The Horizon by Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan.

Beyond The Horizon

by Bob Dylan

Beyond the horizon, behind the sun
At the end of the rainbow life has only begun
In the long hours of twilight ‘neath the stardust above
Beyond the horizon it is easy to love

My wretched heart’s pounding
I felt an angel’s kiss
My memories are drowning
In mortal bliss

Beyond the horizon, in the Springtime or Fall
Love waits forever for one and for all

Beyond the horizon across the divide
‘Round about midnight, we’ll be on the same side
Down in the valley the water runs cold
Beyond the horizon someone prayed for your soul

I’m touched with desire
What don’t I do?
I’ll throw the logs on the fire
I’ll build my world around you

Beyond the horizon, at the end of the game
Every step that you take, I’m walking the same

Beyond the horizon the night winds blow
The theme of a melody from many moons ago
The bells of St. Mary, how sweetly they chime
Beyond the horizon I found you just in time

It’s dark and it’s dreary
I ponder in vain
I’m weakened, I’m weary
My repentance is plain

Beyond the horizon o’er the treacherous sea
I still can’t believe that you’ve set aside your love for me

Beyond the horizon, ‘neath crimson skies
In the soft light of morning I’ll follow you with my eyes
Through countries and kingdoms and temples of stone
Beyond the horizon right down to the bone

It’s late in the season
Never knew, never cared
Whatever the reason
Someone’s life has been spared

Beyond the horizon the sky is so blue
I’ve got more than a lifetime to live lovin’ you

(If you don’t know the tune, you can listen here)

This post is a response to Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon.

 

Chronicles of a Bike Commuter

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I’ve been a bike commuter on and off for twenty years.   But it wasn’t until I began posting about it on Facebook recently that I began to realize that maybe biking is more for me than just transportation to and from work.  I know that bike commuting impacts my daily  life (I’m definitely grumpier when I have to drive), but is it possible that the simple act of riding a bike has also influenced me in other ways?

I started bike commuting back when I was in graduate school in the Boston area, motivated partly by the fact that I had no money and partly because driving, parking and everything associated with cars is a PAIN in that city.  I biked to law school a lot, but I took a break during the long years of managing babies and daycare pick-up for young children.  Although I don’t consider myself a serious cyclist, I have returned to steady bike commuting now that my children are older.

I have to admit that, living in Minneapolis – America’s most bike-friendly city,  I have it easy as a bike commuter.  It is only a 4 mile commute to my office downtown, with most of the ride in a dedicated bike lane (thanks to the 2008 economic stimulus package for cities).  We even have a shower in our office building.  While I don’t ride in the ice and snow of the Minnesota winters, I do bike commute almost every day from late March until early December.

Everybody knows that there are obvious benefits to bike commuting.   Riding your bike to work increases your physical activity,  thus helping you drop pounds, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves your mental health, etc etc.    There is an environmental benefit as well in terms of reduced emissions.  While I can’t do anything about my carbon footprint when I travel internationally, I can do this one small thing when I am at home.  And, of course, there are economic benefits:

October 10, 2012:  The financials are in! By bike commuting for 5 months, I saved more than $700 in gas and parking. (There’s probably a way to calculate the calories burned, too but that’s too complicated for me.)

Upon reviewing and reflecting upon my Facebook posts, however, I think I can identify some other benefits of bike commuting that are a little more intangible.

I have learned to be a little more organized.  Bike commuting  require some planning.    I have a stash of work clothes in my office and a collection of shoes under my desk.  Shopping when you have to transport things in your bike panniers really forces  you to plan ahead. Many a time, I have felt like a Parisian, peddling home with a baguette in my bike pannier.  Other times I have kind of pushed the limits…

July 17, 2012: I’m getting to be an expert bike commuter. Tonight I rode home with two bottles of wine and a litterbox in my pannier.

I definitely notice a lot more about the world around me. I think it may be the combination of the need to watch out for cars and the time to reflect, but I have become a bike seat philosopher.

April 29, 2013: I saw some interesting things on the bike ride home from work tonight: old guy strolling cheerfully down the street in his boxers and fedora; lady going for a walk with her cat in a Baby Bjorn; guy singing at the top of his lungs while driving a black Cadillac convertible, MN license ISLAM4U; guy tossing hot sopapillas out of his apartment window to delighted passers-by on the sidewalk below; lady biking with her little-dog-Toto (whatever breed that is) in a Camelbak; and a lady in a motorized wheelchair racing a lady pushing a baby in a pram, both laughing hysterically.

I guess spring brings out the crazy in all of us!

October 15, 2013:  I’ve noticed that people in convertibles smile a lot more than people driving regular cars.

I feel more connected to my community.  You interact with people much more when you are on a bike than when you are in a car.

October 2, 2013:  On this gorgeous fall morning, the cop directing traffic near the Convention Center called out to me as I passed him, “Have a good ride, miss!”

October 3, 2013:   I am chronically late, always rushing to get to the place I was supposed to be 5 minutes ago. So I had to laugh at the guy who called out to me as I passed him on his bike, “Slow down there, girlie! You’re gonna get yourself a speeding ticket!”

There are certain characters along my bike route that have become familiar to me.  People that I once would have zipped by without noticing are now friendly faces.  There’s a tall homeless guy who wears a gray polarfleece jacket regardless of the weather.  I pass him walking near the Convention Center most mornings and he shouts a hello.  I can tell by his accent that he is from West Africa.  There’s a kid who goes to Whittier Elementary who I have ridden with several times for half a mile or so on his way to school.  He’s saving up to buy a day-pass to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America.   There is an elderly Somali gentlemen who raises a hand to salute me every afternoon near the Horn Towers.  And then there is Gandalf in Boxer Shorts, a grizzled old guy with a long flowing beard who generally strolls down Blaisdell Avenue wearing nothing but boxer shorts and dress shoes.

May 23, 2013:  I spotted Gandalf in Boxer Shorts again on the bike commute home. Then, one block later, a new character – Smeagol, Tan and Extremely Cheerful!

Is it possible that bike commuting has made me into a more compassionate human being?

October 1, 2013:   This morning, I stopped and helped a kid who took a wrong turn and got lost while biking to school. So I was in Good Samaritan mode, see. On the ride home, I stopped to help an old man lying face down on the sidewalk. Imagine my surprise when it turned out he was just taking a little rest between sets of push-ups.

Nope, I guess not.

October 11, 2013: If I were a”Spiritual Healer” (which admittedly, I am not), I do not think I would choose to solicit customers by standing in front of the White Castle on Lake Street and darting out to the the bike lane when the light is red. Also, I would be a little less judgmental when the bikers refuse to take my “Spiritual Healer” card.  And I would definitely not say to them,  “Ohhh-kaaaay. Your loss!”

Of course, bike commuting is not all smiles and sunshine.

October 3, 2013:  On this misty morning, the whole city smells like wet dog.

October 7, 2013:  This morning, I rode over a banana peel in the road and almost fell off my bike. Much funnier in the cartoons than in real life.

October 8, 2013:  Strong winds on the ride home tonight. Once or twice, I was standing up and peddling as hard as I could but literally going nowhere. I felt like I was in the cyclone scene from the Wizard of Oz. (Cue the Wicked Witch of the West theme song!)

 

October 10, 2013: I was biking home from a lovely event on a perfect fall evening under a canopy of majestic elms, gloriously ablaze with color …   when a bird pooped on my shoulder.

 Stay tuned!  More Chronicles of a Bike Commuter to come!

October: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota
October: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota

In Small Places, Close to Home

This is my first original post on World Moms Blog

Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

She knew what she was talking about.  Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and even wrote part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948).  Eleanor Roosevelt was also the mother of six children.

Mothers have an important role to play in making the world a better place for all children.   This is not to minimize the roles of fathers or grandparents or guardians or anyone charged with the responsibility of raising children. But I do believe wholeheartedly that mothers have a special role.  It is our job to change the world, one kid at a time.

Often mothers are the most vocal advocates for the rights of their children.  This is true whether you are a mom trying to get your special needs child the services she deserves or trying to get your child out of arbitrary detention in Iran (like Shane Bauer’s mom).  There are many examples of mom/human rights advocates-  Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, Mothers of Soldiers in Russia .

I personally have had the chance to meet and interview mothers involved with the organization ANFASEP in Ayacucho, Peru.  These are mothers whose sons were disappeared during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out what happened to their family members and where their remains are.  One of the women we talked to had four family members who were disappeared.  She wants to know where they are and who killed them.  “We’re looking for justice,” she said, “and we want to know the truth.”  As Mama Angelica Mendoza, President of ANFASEP, told us, “We’ll never forget about all the killings.  We’ll fight to the end.”

Mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Peru. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt implied more than 50 years ago, the most important place for human rights to begin is at home.

Human rights are the standards that allow all people – each and every one of the 7 billion of us on this planet- to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.

Aren’t these the principles that govern the way we want our children to be treated?  And, in a nutshell, aren’t these also the core values that every parent wants to instill in their children?

The secret to a better world is not only protecting our children from human rights abuses inflicted on them by others, but also by making them better citizens of the world.  Caring about others, judging right from wrong, standing up against bullying or racist comments or sexist jokes. These are the human rights that are essential to the full development of each child as an individual, as well as to the community in which they live. This is the human rights work that changes the world.

Here are my three reasons to work for human rights.  I’d love to see and hear about yours!