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October 10 2011

Russia: Deceased Yukos Lawyer's Last Interview

The New Times publishes the last interview [ru] with Vasily Aleksanyan, former Vice President of Yukos oil company, who died on October 2, 2011 due to AIDS complications after his release from jail. “They're terrifying me every day,” confessed Aleksanyan saying that police didn't stop abusing him. Bloggers widely discuss the case [ru] and compare it to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison.

October 08 2011

Bahrain: Teen Protester Shot Dead

This post is part of our special coverage of Bahrain Protests 2011.

Picture of killed Bahraini teen protester Ahmed Al-Qattan

Protests erupted in Bahrain this weekend as angry mourners buried 16-year-old Ahmed Al-Qattan, who was killed by a bird shot according to the ministry of interior affairs, which rarely states the truth about protesters' death causes:

@moi_bahrain: The report of medical examiner of the Public Prosecution attributed the death of Ahmed Jaber to injury of a birdshot.

@moi_bahrain: The Ministry of Interior launches immediate investigation of the death of Ahmed Jaber.

In contrast, the Bahrain News Agency, which led a scandalous performance in fabricating a lot of stories during the February uprising, stated a different cause of death for the killed teenage:

@bna_en: Interior Ministry: Ahmed Al Jaber Died due to Heart Failure http://tinyurl.com/3cxrub4

British blogger Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) tweeted a note on Bahraini media's take on Al-Qattan's death:

@marcowenjones: None of Bahrain's English language newspapers have mentioned the death of Ahmed Jaber al-Qattan. Steve Jobs got a double page spread though.

General Secretary of Al-Wefaq opposition group Ali Salman (@WefaqGS) mourned the death of Al-Qattan saying:

شعب البحرين يزف أحمد القطان شهيدا اخر على طريق الحرية والديموقراطية اللهم تقبل منا هذا القربا

@WefaqGS: The people of Bahrain present Ahmed Al-Qattan another martyr in the path of freedom and democracy. We pray the Almighty to accept this sacrifice.

One of Bahrain's active Twitter users Mohammed Ashour (@MohmdAshoor) tweeted commenting:

@MohmdAshoor: Ahmed Shams 15 y/o .. Moh'd Farhan 6 y/o .. Ali AlShaikh 14 y/o .. Ahmed Al Qattan 16 y/o .. Child martyrs of Bahrain.

Rula Al-Saffar (@alsaffarrula) head of Nursing in Salmaniya Medical Complex who was recently sentenced to 15 years in jail for treating protesters, tweeted about the teen martyr saying:

@alsaffarrula: If our public hospital was safe & had his original medics! Ahmed would have been saved! My heart is bleeding!

Bahraini Twitter user (@BuMuhsin) tweeted a copy of Ahmed's death certificate which states the cause of death is birdshot wounds:

Ahmed Al-Qattan's death certificate

In this video, protesters who were with Ahmed filmed his last moments in life. It shows a group of young people gathered around the body checking it for pulse and signs of life while awaiting medical help in a house. When injured, people injured by police are afraid to go to hospitals because the police will arrest them there.

Bahraini journalist Abbas Bu Safwan tweeted:

@abbasbusafwan: EVERY ONE MUST KNOW THAT WOUNDED PROTESTERS IN #BAHRAIN CANT GET TREATMENTS IN HOSPITALS FEARING PROSECUTION #UN #USA #EU #UK #ARABSPRING

Of course, the death of Al-Qattan was not going to pass with a simple funeral. Bahrainis from different areas gathered in thousands for his funeral which eventually led to clashes with riot police.

@jihankazerooni: Thousands of Bahrainis are participating in the funeral of the Martyr Ahmed Al qattan 16 year old child.

Another Bahraini (@loveforbahrain) posted a video of a riot police car trying to run over those marching to the funeral:

@loveforbahrain: Police trying to run over the marchers in Martyrs Ahmad Alqattan funeral.

Here is also one of the videos from Al-Qattan's funeral which turned into a demonstration with chants against the regime

Several injuries were reported throughout the evening.

This post is part of our special coverage of Bahrain Protests 2011.

October 07 2011

Yemen: Celebrating Tawakkol Karman

This post is part of our special coverage Yemen Protests 2011.

Tawakkol Karman, an outspoken journalist and human rights activist, described in the Guardian as a “thorn in [Yemeni President Ali Abdullah] Saleh's back”, was today named as Yemen's first Noble Peace Prize winner. She has been a prime example of courage and bravery in Yemen since 2007.

In the following video, posted by the channel of “Women Journalists Without Chains“, which Karman heads, she is shown leading a peaceful march condemning Saleh and Saudi Arabia's interference in Yemen's revolution and vowing to bring back the days of former president Ibrahim Alhamdi, whom Yemenis choose to honor today (October 7) calling it “Friday of Martyr Ibrahim Alhamdi”. (Video posted: belaquood

Reactions to Tawakkol Karman's win were expressed all over Twitter. Here are some of them.

@tota770::

OH MY GOD ! The Yemeni activist Tawakol Karman was awarded the #Nobel peace prize , VIVA #Yemen #YF

@Dory_Eryani:

She is Yemeni and woman and she made it! #yemen #woman #tawakkolkarman #nobel

@mainoman:

Yemeni women have always been proud, and they have every right to be! But today the world recognizes why #Yemen #tawakkolkarman #nobelprize

@brrhom::

#TawakkolKarman trends worldwide on twitter #Yemen

@OmarMash::

Yemeni female activist Tawakol Karman has today won a Nobel Peace Prize, this is win against Saleh, a win for Yemen & Arab women empowerment

@Saphsaf:

Good Friday for #Yemen and #Peace and #Women and #ArabSpring and #TawakkolKarman our very own Aung San Su Kyi for #democracy

@WomanfromYemen:

what should be remember about #TawakkulKarman is her role in speaking out against injustice & oppression since 2007 #supportyemen #yemen

Twakkol Karman's own reaction was quoted:

@OmarMash:

Tawakul Karman: “I am very very happy about this prize. I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people.”

This post is part of our special coverage Yemen Protests 2011.

Yemen: Congrats to Tawakkol Karman

Congratulations are pouring in from all corners as the winners of this year's much anticipated Nobel Peace Prize winners are announced. Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman joins Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee as their year's winners.

The Arab world is beaming with pride as its revolution fervor is being recognised as a peaceful movement. The prize is more valuable as it recognises the effort and sacrifice of women and the role they are playing in instituting change in their societies.

Yemeni blogger Afrah Nasser cheers:

@Afrahnasser: Never underestimate Yemeni women!!! NEVER! GO GO GO Tawakkol !!

Yemeni WomanfromYemen tweets:

@WomanfromYemen: what should be remember about #TawakkulKarman is her role in speaking out against injustice & oppression since 2007 #supportyemen #yemen

And, from Doha, Qatar, Abdulrahman Warsame notes:

@abdu: Giving the prize to Tawakkul Karman gives a huge moral boost to Yemen's revolution against Saudi/America's support for Salah #Yemen #arab

and adds:

@abdu: Tawakkul Karman created Yemen's first women journalists association and was the main organizer of Yemen's revolution #Nobel #Yemen

Ibrahim Al Qahtani, from Saudi Arabia, reminds us [Ar]:

‎#yemen‏ قادت توكل كرمان اكثر من ٨٠ اعتصام سلمي في ٢٠٠٩ و ٢٠١٠ واليوم تفوز بنوبل للسلام.شفتو ان الإعتصامات السلميه اكثر سلميه من السكوت المؤقت

@brhom: Tawakkol led more than 80 peaceful sit ins in 2009 and 2010 and today wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Did you see how peaceful protests are more peaceful than remaining quiet momentarily

And Sally Mens has advice to Yemeni president Ali Abdulla Saleh:

@Snemyllas: If I were #Saleh I withdrew all troops from #Sanaa streets as international press will stroll with Tawakkol Karman this #Yemen Friday march.

Last but not least, NoonArabia, a Yemeni blogger, sums up the sentiments of many Yemenis. She writes:

@NoonArabia: Yemeni Tawakkol Karman recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for 2011. This is an honor and pride to all #Yemen. Congrats #TawakkolKarman

Tweeps are also suggesting that Ms Karman is on Twitter. We traced a protected account bearing her name here.

October 06 2011

Africa: Famine is Man-made but…

Famine is man-made but….:”21st century solutions should be founded on collective responsibility. Describing famine as “man-made” is a step in the right direction, but let's not just look to foreign governments for handouts let's have the courage to call for responsibility and action from those closer to home.”

Madagascar: 164 homes burnt down in Fort Dauphin

The second serious fire in the region within the last 3 weeks burned down 164 homes in the the fokontany of Amparihy in Fort Dauphin, Azafady reports. The fires have been amplified by continuous strong winds across the SE region of Madagascar. An online fundraising page has been set up for anyone who would like to support the victims.

September 29 2011

Pakistan: Update On Flood Relief

Teeth Maestro posts updates of some ongoing flood relief projects of SARelief in Pakistan. You can track the relief activities by following the hashtag #pkrelief on Twitter.

September 26 2011

Bangladesh: Does Anyone Care About The Urban Poor?

Unheard Voice breaks a news that authorities had started evicting the new settlements including the Jaago Foundation school for the underprivileged along the Gulshan lake in Dhaka city. When challenged they could not show any prior notice or proper authorization. The blogger questions: “does anyone really care about the urban poor?”

India: To Be Poor In India

Project Why exposes that there is a serious flaw in determining who is poor in India and who will get social welfare benefit from the government. The blogger asks: “what are we trying to do: show the world that we are not poor?”

Book Review: ‘Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea'

Change in Longitude blog posted a thorough review of the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea' by Barbara Demick. The book’s title comes from a song that North Korean school children recite, “We have nothing to envy in the world” in spite of chronic malnutrition and famine rampant in the country.

September 23 2011

North Korea: Google Earth Reveals Death Camps in Detail

Kyle Wagner from Gizmodo site wrote a post on one of the most detailed images of the North Korean concentration camps taken by Google Earth. It is estimated that over 200,000 North Korean citizens are imprisoned in the camps under unimaginably harsh conditions.

Reposted bysciphex sciphex

China: “Dog Meat Festival” Cancelled

Fauna from ChinaSMACK translates the Chinese netizen's online campaign to petition against the Dog Meat Festival in Zhejiang province.

September 21 2011

Pakistan: Neglected Millions Of Sindh Floods

The 2010 floods in Pakistan displaced millions and were a major setback for the national economy. They affected vast areas mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh and took a toll of hundreds of lives.

Despite the repeated statements from the government, no practical steps were taken to tackle the possibility of future floods and the consequence of this gross negligence is that floods are yet again wrecking havoc this year. Unlike last year, the eye of the storm this year is Sindh where flood waters have razed in numerous villages and displaced millions. According to Asian Human Rights Commission, the loss of crops due to floods in Sindh is estimated to have caused 5.6 billion rupees in damages. The extent of inundation can be gauged from the fact that out of 23 districts of Sindh, 22 have been directly or indirectly affected by the deluge.

An Aerial view of Shahdadpur

An Aerial view of Shahdadpur, which has been practically taken over by widespread flooding. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (18/9/2011)

Lamenting the utter lack of efficiency on the part of the government to tackle the situation, the Human Rights Commission article states:

“It is only now that the government is examining the conditions of the bunds and embankments which are only just, if at all, holding the flood waters at bay. In the meantime hundreds ofthousands of people are trapped due to the flooding of the roads and it is the women and children who are suffering the most due to the lack of safe drinking water, milk and food. As was seen in the last catastrophe the response from the government was very slow due to the lack of a proper relief system and resources.”

Like last year, a number of social initiatives have been launched to help out the displaced flood affectees. Among these efforts is the one launched by Faisal Kapadia and Dr Awab Alvi, two notable social activists and bloggers (and Global Voices authors). Faisal, writing about the objectives of his relief efforts states on his blog:

“Our plan is initially to provide them cooked meals for the next 15 days, in order to at least give them a chance of returning to their lives once the rain waters subside.”

A man with his children under the water moving towards a safe place

A man with his children under the water moving towards a safe place. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (16/9/2011)

Commenting on the disaster wrecked by the floods, Faisal tells:

“Vast swathes of land on either side of the road were completely inundated with water. I have been working in flood relief since 2010 and I have to say that I have not seen this much water in my entire life. The flooding is so intense, that for several stretches there is no land in sight at all. In fact, I felt like I was driving in the middle of the sea – it was terrifying and saddening at the same time.”

Beena Sarwar, a notable Pakistani journalist and activist, has been actively highlighting credible relief efforts on her blog. The groups she highlighted include Pakistan Medical Association, Indus Foundation Trust and IRC. A recent post on floods details upon the updates from Khairpur, a region in Sindh,

“There is no proper arrangement of medical facilities neither from Government nor from the NGOs.

There has been an outbreak of skin disease, flu, gastro and malaria

People are drinking stagnant flood water, and are demanding safe drinking water

Temporary latrines have not yet been installed and school latrines are insufficient and non-functional

Protection of most vulnerable particularly women and children also seems to be one of the major issues.”

Millions have been affected by floods across Pakistan with thousands forced to vacate their homes.

Millions have been affected by floods across Pakistan with thousands forced to vacate their homes. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (7/9/2011)

The most unfortunate part of the entire episode is that the media and Pakistani blogosphere barely seems to care about the floods, at large. Of course there are exceptions but compared to last year’s immense response, Pakistani netizens are relatively mute. Commenting on this apathy, Tazeen, an active Pakistani blogger, says in her post titled ‘South is flooded and the rest of Pakistan does not care”,

“This year, districts in Sindh and Balochistan are affected with yet another flood but this time netiher the media nor the citizens are taking it as seriously as they did it last year…I have not seen a single camp, either in Rawalpindi or Islamabad, receiving donations and goods for flood relief efforts in Sindh and Balochistan…I find it mind numbingly cruel that parts of Sindh and Balochistan are submerged in water and the rest of Pakistan couldn’t care less. If this does not breed discontent and dissent, I would be most surprised.”

Currently, thousands of flood victims await food and relief. Women and children lie under open sky, waiting for the concerned authorities to take notice of their plight. Sadly, though, this barely seems a primary concern of the government. Chowrangi provides an excellent list of donor agencies which are actively working for the relief of the flood victims. The list can be found here.

Mozambique: Sant'Egidio Community Fights Back Against HIV/AIDS

Lack of access to care for HIV positive people has been well documented on the African continent. Many initiatives strive to show that things could improve with collective effort, and among them is the Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition (DREAM) program.

DREAM was created in 2002 by the Sant'Egidio Community in Mozambique, and takes a comprehensive approach to fighting HIV/AIDS. Cristina Cannelli, leader of the Guinea DREAM program, explains the special relationship [it] with the African continent, especially Mozambique:

"Free care here". Image by Sant'Egidio photo service.

"Free care here". Image by Sant'Egidio photo service.

La Comunità di Sant'Egidio è profondamente legata all'Africa, anche perchè la Comunità stessa è una realtà africana. Esistono Comunità di Sant'Egidio in 26 paesi  del continente con più di 20.000 membri africani. Un legame particolare con il Mozambico, dove nel 1992 fu firmata la pace che pose termine ad una terribile guerra civile grazie alla mediazione della Comunità, condusse a scegliere il Mozambico qualeprimo paese in cui lanciare il programma DREAM.

The Sant'Egidio community is deeply linked to Africa, in part because the community itself is anchored on the continent. The community is present in 26 African nations and has more than 20,000 members. A special relationship exists with Mozambique because in 1992, the Sant’Egidio community contributed to the peace treaty agreement that ended the civil war. That's why Mozambique was the first choice for implementing the DREAM program.

Today DREAM is present in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea (Bissau), Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. The basic philosophy of the program is:

…that DREAM is meant to provide excellent care, diagnosis, as well as top health structure and technology. DREAM offers a customized adaptation of the Western standards by routinely testing for viral load in Africa and introducing Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART)

A DREAM success

The sheer numbers of the DREAM activity throughout the continent are impressive: 150,000 people have been treated of which 25,000 were aged 15 years or younger,  65,000 patients have benefited from anti-retroviral therapy of which 6,000 were children. DREAM also successfully interrupted vertical mother-to-child HIV transmission for 14,000 births from HIV positive mothers.

Since the beginning of the program more than 1,000,000 people have benefited from the DREAM program via health education, water filtration, food supplies, mosquito nets, prevention programmes on television, radio and the workplace.  In total, the DREAM centers have performed 1,300,000 medical consultations, 276,000 viral load tests and 540,000 CD4 tests.

Celebrating the good health of the children at the mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention centers. Image courtesy of the Sant'Egidio community.

Celebrating the good health of the children at the mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention centers. Image courtesy of the Sant'Egidio community.

For such a large organisation to run properly in so many countries with many different spoken languages, qualified personnel is a must, which is why the community has organized 18 workshops throughout the continent for 4,000 health professionals. Mobile teams travel to reach the most isolated patients.

In order to engage the local institutions, DREAM states that:

Many structures are active thanks to the collaboration and agreement between  local health centers and DREAM to reproduce the DREAM program.

However, patients also are actively contributing by committing to actively fight the HIV pandemic by becoming volunteers:

In each and every DREAM centre, medical and paramedical personnel are flanked by local men and women who have decided to commit themselves to working for patients who come to our centres. They decided to do so when their own lives were remarkably transformed after they came in contact with our services.
There are relatively large groups of such people and they constitute an indispensable resource for the success of the programme. Most, but not all, of them are sick. They are our “campaigners”.

Turkmenistan: Global village or village behind the globe?

Turkmenistan is known as one of the most secretive and isolated countries in the world. Foreign presence in this country is limited to a few diplomats and branch executives of a couple of large energy or construction companies.

In this sense Turkmenistan can also be called a global desert. A recent conversation titled “The Americans in the villages” on the newly opened Turkmen language chat forum www.ertir.com is illustrative of Turkmenistan’s isolation having influenced the mentality of the people.

Turkmenistan is a country of 5 million people and rich in hydrocarbon resources. Having seen the Tsarist conquest in the nineteenth century and consequently incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1924, sandwiched between Iran and Afghanistan, the fear of the powerful neighbors and big powers in Turkmenistan is all present. Nationalism has just begun to grow after 20 years of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. The unpredictability of a dictatorship adds to the popularity of ‘spy’ scenarios or ‘conspiracy theories’ circulating among the population.

The government maintains secrecy in its policies and public discussions on political issues are considered a taboo. The heavily censored and state controlled media only reports official news. Consequently the people know or understand very little about the government’s policies. Statistics and a variety of information that is available freely elsewhere is considered a state secret in Turkmenistan.

Therefore, an American’s presence in a Turkmen village can cause a real surprise and lead to all sorts of curiosity and speculation among the population. But like a Turkmen proverb is saying the “there is a logic is in the crowd,” the conversation that took place on 10 September has brought some clarity to the issue.

Görogly who opened a conversation titled “the Americans in the villages,” wrote [tm]:

“I don’t know whether you have also a similar situation in the area you live but in the neighboring village an American is working as an English teacher. It is obvious that they [the American teachers] aren’t coming here because of the salary of a village school. At the celebrative ‘toy’ events he is filming everything so that some aunts (elder women) from the village started to swear: ‘The haram who should be swallowed by the earth' (a Turkmen expression meant for someone who is wished to disappear.) He is exhausting our patience by using his camera. What are your views about them? What do you think they are doing in Turkmenistan?”

Turkmentalyp was first to share his opinion [tm]:

“Of course it is not a coincidence. They have institutions learning the people. They are learning the economic, political and social aspects of the people. Hence, they are constructing a ‘vicious’ strategy. In short they learn the anatomy of the people, they learn the strengths and the weaknesses. Like in a struggle they use the opponents’ weaknesses.”

Görogly joined the discussion saying [tm]:

“During the era of Güljamal Han they were also living among the population and they came with Skobelev [the Russian army general who defeated the Turkmen at Gökdepe fortress]. Who knows what their aims are. We should fear them.”

Abadan added [tm]:

“they want to learn the Turkmen traditions.”

Gudrat agreed [tm]:

“Yes, sure they want to learn our culture. Do you sincerely believe that a spy would film with a camera? If he were indeed a spy you wouldn’t even know that he’s an American.”

Kural had the following to say [tm]:

“What are you talking people? The human being is curious, he wants to learn other cultures, wants to teach his own culture, wants to gather experiences…Wasn’t that an American girl who died under the Isreali bulldozer? If I had traveled to a foreign country, even if it were in Africa, I would take my camera with me.

We are not going to villages in the holidays to teach what we know. The people need someone to teach them. They don’t know what’s right or wrong. If one is afraid of the camera, he should correct it. The [Turkmen] government which did not accept the Israel’s two diplomats credentials, should be able to manage that.”

Senem disgreed [tm]:

“Kural but it is America. We shouldn’t be expecting anything better from America.”

Kural responded [tm]:

“Senem, to be honest, I have seen all of the difficulties in my life in Turkmenistan. I got past it. But even if the people are being beaten or reprimanded, they are soo content with the government. One shouldn’t be afraid but act boldly. They shouldn’t come to teach us, we should teach the people.”

Abadan asked [tm]:

“Why is there a sign on the wall of the American Embassy showing that taking photos are banned? Every time I go past I am wondering. There is nobody here taking a photo to stage an attack.”

Senem responded [tm]:

“They think that everybody is like them.”

Leo Messi said [tm]:

“If I go out of the country I film everything that I am not used to see. I film the taxis, the restaurants, even when the people are talking. Now, am I a spy? LOL to you. Is the dead village a military or strategic point worth of filming? Are you comparing Skobelev’s period to our time? Once more LOL to you. The technology has progressed now the spy info is being obtained through cyber spies not by sending one of their citizens to a dead village. Besides not all Americans are bad. If instead of America, Turkey or Russia were the superpowers they would be worse. I don’t see anything bad what America is doing. They are trying to clean countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan form dirt. America forever.”

Turkmentalyp insisted [tm]:

“They have finished the Iraqi state calling it democracy. To clean up the dirt we don’t need America. It would be better for them not to get their nose into the affairs of others. To learn the people’s opinions is a large information. It also includes learning the traditions, But to invade a country there is not only military information necessary. The media and the disputes that derive from the thinking of the people are also important. To make it perfect, learning the traditions is a must.”

Leo Messi replied [tm]:

“Turkmentalyp, to learn the thinking of the people they have special services. Besides there are no Americans working in these services. The people of the country under study are passing it. For example, on Turkmenistan, it is azatlyk.com’s workers find for them.”

Halasgär sounded pessimistic [tm]:

“Their goal is not only to spy but also to find young collaborators for the future. To raise people like Sylapmen ( a Christian turned Turkmen). One should be very careful. May Allah not separate the people from their belief, their beautiful life, and their homeland. Omin.”

Heromant joined saying [tm]:

“I am currently working in the Azatlyk Farmers Union in Yoloten. I am video taping whatever I see because here it looks like Afghanistan. Am I also a spy? LOL to you. Go to see America as well, to see their villages with cameras. You won’t be called a spy. Learn and let your thinking progress. Rather than gossiping about America let your thinking grow.”

YaSwami opined [tm]:

In my opinion they know what we the Turkmens don’t know, in politics they know that we are the ass cleaners of the Russians. God knows what you are trying to hide from the cameras. “

Belulym said [tm]:

“Who has appointed him as a teacher? It is unlikely that he who came from America would become a teacher in a village. If anything, he would come to work in the cities. Hmm, it’s a highly suspicious situation.”

Mylayym explained [tm]:

“The English teachers are being sent by the Peace Corps. Likewise, our people are being sent to the States for learning English. There is nothing to be afraid of. Our people can also video tape there. I have seen with my own eyes that how many of them have been taught English. If my family had allowed me I would have brought a girl to live with us if we were a family but the relatives at home didn’t allow and the Corps said that they don’t locate their people in Ashgabat. When I asked why they said to teach the village people English and second they said it is easier to learn the Turkmen language in the villages than in the cities.Not only in Ashgabat but in all the U.S. Embassy taking photos is not allowed.”

Explorer had the last word on the issue [tm]:

“You are behaving like if you were living in the 18th century. Let them video tape if they want. Are our villages also a state secret now? Don’t let foreigners listen to what you’re saying cause you will make them laugh about you. This is a mentality issue. The issue about not believing that one person can indeed travel into another country to learn the culture and its people. Because our computers don’t have such a code in their BIOS. It should be a spy or an enemy or the like. Consequently he should be hanged, stoned to death or extradited. “

September 20 2011

Colombia: Controversy Over New Methodology to Calculate Poverty

Nazih Richani in Cuadernos Colombianos –a NACLA blog– has written two posts (1, 2) on Colombia's new methodology to calculate poverty: “The newly adopted Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) factors in health, housing, living standards, and government subsidies, alongside income. The problem is, regardless of the ‘methodological rigor,' there are many doubts over whether the new methodology actually captures the magnitude and scope of the problem.”

September 17 2011

CIVICUS: Reflections on the Power of Civil Society

For three days several civil society representatives met in Montreal, Canada for the CIVICUS World Assembly to discuss different ways to mobilize people, starting with their own aspirations.

The subjects were (and still are) diverse: from civil movements, social equality, and the effects of new technologies, to climate justice. Participants discussed the role of technology in empowering communities, the necessary changes in the relationship between citizens and governments, the online and offline world, movements in the Arab world, and the role of youth in building new societies.

Tristan Brand | CIVICUS World Assembly 2011 - Used with permission

Between activists, academics, workers, thinkers and bloggers, the discussions filled webpages, posts, tweets and other media. Ideas where exchanged with the purpose of continuing with the activities that have made changes in civil participation visible.

In order to maintain ideas flowing, here are some posts that covered the assembly, particularly during the end of it. The discussions are far from over, and the more you read and share, the better!

Paul McAdams wrote his reflections in a letter dedicated to his children. He named it “You can make a difference”:

The people I met agreed that “new technologies” like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and text messages (none of which were ever new to you) are important tools to connect us together and learn more about struggles happening half a world away. But (…) is not enough.

Anna Mazgal says in her post “All Kinds of Mushrooms”:

I think big thanks go to both the facilitators and the audience that posed very good questions to inspire the rest and avoided easy answers. Any answer conceived in an hour-and-a-half workshop would be strikingly false on the issue that still belongs to the future.

In the post “When Communities of the Poor Empower Themselves“, written by one of the organizers, there were some interesting thoughts:

The heady events we have come to know as the Arab Spring are just one recent example of the aspirations of millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East for a greater say in their lives, for more just and economically equitable societies. In many other countries, from Brazil to Thailand to Senegal – to name only a representative few – social movements already decades old have also been struggling to define their own development processes.

Finally, in a blog post in French, Sophie Verdon shares her conclusions :

(…) la participation citoyenne est bel et bien présente à travers le monde, les citoyens de partout veulent exercer leur pouvoir citoyen de diverses façons. Le contexte amène souvent des complications à cet exercice, mais la volonté y est! Le pouvoir du nombre et la solidarité pourront amener les citoyens à se mobiliser (…). Profitons de la conjoncture favorable qui nous est offerte ici, et dont nous ne profitons malheureusement pas assez…! Tout cela est en émergence et en évolution constante, tout cela m’a beaucoup inspirée.

Citizen participation is well represented around the world, people everywhere want to exercise their civic power in various ways. This context frequently leads to complications, but the will is there! The power of numbers and solidarity can lead citizens to mobilize (…) Let's take advantage of the connections that favor us here and which, unfortunately, we do not use enough! Everything is still growing and continually evolving, and has been so inspiring for me!

Tristan Brand | CIVICUS World Assembly 2011 - Used with permission

This is just a small sample. It is worth going to the Assembly's blog and reviewing what has been said. Bloggers have shared their perspectives in English, French and Spanish, and through various tweets.

The hope is that after this event more voices in favor of empowering citizens will join in. Ideas and experiences gain strength when they are shared, as we have seen before. Technology has come to the aid of those who did not attend CIVICUS: the videos of the conferences are available here. The public space is open, may ideas keep flowing!

September 12 2011

Russia: Connecting Neighbors, Saving Lives

Website "Virtual Alarm" maps alerts for help and need, and then coordinates locals to respond.

In the summer of 2010, when peat fires spread across Russia, choking and suffocating villages, internet activists got organized. While the Russian government response was slow and piecemeal, bloggers responded by quickly launching the site Russian-Fires [ru], which allowed internet users in small towns to relay information about where fires were still burning and what supplies were needed.

The site was immensely popular, at one point experiencing 10,000 visits a day.

When the crisis was over, the bloggers behind the project - Anastasia Severina, Alexey Sidorenko, Lev Zvyagintsev, Valery Ilyichev, and Gregory Aslomov - noticed that the website was still buzzing with activity. Users continued to send messages about other problems and needs in their towns.

“People saw that it was an effective platform for sending help when and where it was needed,” says Severina.

Connecting people in new ways

The site was redesigned and renamed Rynda.org (Virtual Alarm) – and now consists of three maps: a “General Map”, a “Fire Map”, and a “Blood Donation” map.

The locations of people who have sent requests are indicated in red, while offers to help are in green. Severina says they have tried to make the site as simple as possible, so that people, “who have no idea how to operate a computer can go to the page and see two buttons: ‘I need help’ or ‘I want to help.’”

The site team in Moscow does not physically transport or receive goods. Instead, “Virtual Alarm” connects people who live in the same city, with those who have what they need.

“Let’s say a mother needs supplies, like clothing for her children. It makes no sense to send clothes from an NGO in Moscow to Vladivostok,” Severina explains. Instead, alerts for help or need are marked on a map, and people registered as willing to help are notified of new requests via email.

After about two weeks, they follow up on any outstanding alerts to make sure someone has responded to the call for help.

Mapping blood donors

The newest map on “Virtual Alarm” charts blood donation and blood banks throughout Russia. The map marks donation centers, and also connects those who need blood donations with donors of the same blood type nearby. Registered users can also leave comments about their experience donating blood, which Severina hopes will help show people how easy and necessary it is to donate blood at least once a year.

A woman donates blood

An image from Russian ministry of health site encouraging citizens to donate blood.

According to 2010 statistics [ru], only 13 out of every 1,000 people in Russia donate blood every year, in comparison with rates 3-4 times as high in Europe and the United States. The Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development say they need to reach a rate of at least 25 out of 1,000 people [ru] in order for hospitals and clinics to function adequately.

The ministry has recently launched a hotline number and website called “I'm a donor” (Yadonor.ru) to inform the public and make blood donation easier.

In the near future, Rynda hopes to partner with local businesses in order to offer registered users small rewards – like discounts or movies tickets – as a thank you for volunteering.

As far as the future uses of the map, Severina says, “If, god forbid, something should happen, and some new crisis should arise, we would make a new map and connect people.”

September 11 2011

Iran: Photos from a Candlelight Vigil for 9/11 Victims

Shabe Haftom has published several photos from 10 years ago of ordinary Iranians holding candles during a vigil in Tehran, Iran to mourn the loss of life in the United States after hijackers crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York.

September 10 2011

Tanzania: Real-time Information on Zanzibar Boat Accident

You can follow real-time information on the Zanzibar boat accident 10th Sep 2011 or send report by sending a tweet with the hashtag/s #ZanzibarBoatAccident or #Zanzibar or #Pemba.

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