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February 20 2014

Parlez-vous français? Learning French According to Global Voices Translators

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa.

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I never fully understood the challenges of learning French until my girlfriend decided to take up the language. She would ask me – a native French speaker – questions that I had no answer for. 

My girlfriend speaks Mandarin and English, and as she asked more questions, I began to realise the extent to which the language I had grown up with in Madagascar is loaded with exceptions. Learning a new language can be a daunting prospect for beginners, but for newcomers to France who are starting from scratch, learning French can be especially challenging. 

French was important as a lingua franca until the middle of the 20th century, but its influence has since waned. Some experts blame the relative decline of French worldwide on the the complexity of the language. 

There have been several attempts over the years to reform and simplify the French language, notably at the level of orthography, but they were mostly ignored. A policy introduced in 1990 put forward general rules and lists of modified words, though institutions have been slow to adopt them

Still, the global influence of French language influence in the world should not be dismissed. French, spoken as a first language in France, Monaco, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, and some parts of Canada and the U.S., has an estimated 110 million native speakers. 190 million more speak French as a second language, and it's registered as an official language in 29 countries. The largest numbers of French second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, the largest contingent being from the Democratic Republic of Congo (32 million) and Cameroon (7.2 million). 

A good example of its influence is the scope of Alliance Française, an international non-profit organization that aims to promote French language and culture around the world. Each year, 450,000 people of all ages attend French classes at Alliances Française in 136 countries.

The question remains: how does learning French compare with other languages? We posed the question to a few members of the Global Voices family, and also asked them to share any tips they had for beginners. Here's what they said:

 Carol Bidwell 

As an English native speaker who has learnt both French and German, I have to say both are tricky for different reasons. French pronunciation can be quite tricky if you aren't coming from an Romance language background, and I have found that in some situations (mainly dealing with official/ government stuff) French people can be quite dismissive if your pronunciation isn't perfect, which can be demoralizing. In terms of grammar too, French is full of exceptions to rules, so as soon as you feel like you've learnt something there is more to learn! I don't want this to sound too negative though, because it does get easier and sticking at it is definitely worth it!

 Andrew Kowalczuk

French is one of the most idiomatic languages, and there are thousands of them, too many to study, so you have to learn gradually from context.

Thalia Rahme : 

French is my second language after Arabic. In Lebanon, at home or in the streets, Lebanese people speak basic French. Nevertheless, I think that my Lebanese English-educated friends training have had some difficulties because they only start taking French as a third language in schools when they are 11. 
 
But I notice many don't retain much of what they have learned [and they] also tend to feel embarrassed when speaking in public [especially] the pronunciation…Still, the French taught in schools in Lebanon is the formal one,so if you go to France you will feel as if in another planet when hearing some of the local idioms or slang. Also we have developed our Lebanized French i.e. by turning some of the Lebanese expressions into French 

 Alison McMillan quotes from a blog that explains the struggle of learning a new language:

You speak your native language. It is organized in certain ways: the grammar with its subject, verb and object in a certain order; different levels of politeness; and your culture mirrored in this structure as well as in idiom and metaphor. You express yourself in terms of it; you came to yourself through it; in effect, you are it. When you learn another language, you learn a different way to organize reality. When you grow fluent in this new language, you can say and even do things in ways you could not previously; certain new aspects are highlighted, and some things that you originally could more precisely formulate are now missing.

Danielle Martineau:  

French has its quirks like all languages. I started learning French when I was 9 and like anything else it's just commitment and practice and pushing through the hard part in the beginning. I do recommend this video. It is a TED talk by the Fluent in three months guy, Benny Lewis. He says something that I think is really accurate about people learning a new language. Usually they are shy and afraid to make mistakes so they never really jump right in from the beginning for fear of being judged. They think other people will be offended by their imperfect language skills when most people are just thrilled that you are making an effort and taking an interest in their culture and language. Also a lot of French people will correct you when you make mistakes in speech – it's not considered rude, and I actually really love it.  Nothing like making a mistake to learn how to do things right!

Suzanne Lehn

As a French person, my experience with the issue is an indirect one. I know a Chinese lady who married a Frenchman and they live in the US, so the language they have in common is English. [..] The big difference between Chinese and French languages: the grammar, it seems! Almost non-existent in Chinese and cumbersome in French. Also one must be aware that one can/should learn the oral language first. I know a lady who speaks perfect oral French from having lived in France for 2 years, but still cannot write it at all.

Georgia Popplewell

I come from staunchly Anglophone Trinidad and Tobago, but I enjoy learning languages, and didn't find French particularly difficult. After studying it for three years in secondary school, I changed to Spanish, then somehow decided to major in French at university. I don't think I'd still be speaking French fairly fluently today, however, if I hadn't spent five months living and working in Martinique shortly after graduating. Having to communicate exclusively in French for that period seems to have locked the language into my brain.

I also have a far larger vocabulary in French than in Spanish, and I attribute that to the fact that I've read more widely in French. Gaining a solid grasp of a language, in my opinion, entails engaging with both living, contemporary examples of the language, such as you encounter in films, newspapers and magazines, and the more formal kind of language you'd find in literary works as well.

Jane Ellis:

French is a language where, the more you know, the harder it gets. One of the hardest things is definitely the grammar. In particular, I have found the passé simple very hard to use, as well as the subjunctive. I am getting a lot better at the subjunctive, but it is very difficult for a British person who has never even been taught about the existence of the subjunctive in English (!) to compute/process a whole new way of theoretical thinking.

Also, for me, the speaking is definitely the hardest. I freely admit to being hopeless as speaking French! I am confident on paper, but not orally. Lack of practice since I have been living in a Spanish-speaking country for the past three years and learning the local lingo, plus, I have to say, also due to rebuffs when trying to speak French to French-speakers.
As a result, although my Spanish is garbled and pretty hopeless, I am MUCH more confident about trying to speak it because the locals are so encouraging and friendly.

Lova Rakatomalala is Global Voices’ editor for the Francophone region. When he first arrived from Madagascar to the US as a freshman at Tulane University, his fear of speaking English with a French accent was so overwhelming that he selected classes on the sole basis that they not require him to speak in public. He tweets—in French, Malagasy and English!—at @lrakoto.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Spain's Love-Hate Relationship With The New York Times

A news stand in Madrid. Photo by Flickr user Juanedc. CC BY 2.0

A news stand in Madrid. Photo by Flickr user Juanedc. CC BY 2.0

When The New York Times reports on Spain, Spanish media report on The New York Times. The American newspaper's coverage of the country throughout the crushing economic crisis of the last several years has routinely made headlines, and a February 18, 2013 story about the relative lateness of Spain's national schedule was no exception.

The article, titled “Spain, Land of 10 P.M. Dinners, Asks if It’s Time to Reset Clock“, profiles a small movement that wants to bring the country's traditional schedule – with its late bedtime, long lunches and even longer workdays – in line with the rest of Europe in the hopes of boosting productivity. 

The Gray Lady's story, which ran on the front page of the print edition below the fold, made its way into the Spanish news cycle throughout the day, appearing on more than a dozen news sites. Criticism was heaped on reporter Jim Yardley for evoking the stereotypical siesta, or midday nap, a thing of the past for most working people in Spain and a sore spot for Spaniards fed up with skewed foreign coverage. 

Some outlets used headlines claiming that The New York Times “criticizes the Spanish lifestyle” or was outright “against the siesta and Spanish schedule.” A poor translation of the story's own headline that traded “Spain [...] Asks if It's Time to Reset Clock” for the more accusatory “Spain, [...] Ask Yourselves if It's Time to Change Schedules” (“España, el país de las cenas a las 10 P.M, preguntaos si no es hora de cambiar los horarios“) further fanned the flames.

While some Spaniards got behind the idea of dialing back their country's clock, others took to social media to defend Spanish culture.

And we're all bullfighters and play the guitar

It seems that to work at The New York Times it's essential to hate Spain and its customs

Totally in favor of changing our schedule habits, but I prefer dinner at 10 than having a handgun at home

Kick ‘em when they're down

It's not the first time during the economic crisis that The New York Times or other American and British media have acted as a rallying point for Spaniards who see the reporting as sensationalized or arrogant. British newspaper The Telegraph ruffled feathers with a similar report in September 2013 (“Time's up for siestas, delayed meetings and late nights, Spaniards told in effort to make them work better“) on a Spanish parliamentary commission's call to reform the working schedule. A photo of a shirtless pot-bellied man sleeping upright in a chair outdoors originally accompanied the story, but was swapped after the paper received complaints for a less crude shot of a man in a button-up shirt and newsboy cap napping in a horse-drawn carriage. 

Much more outcry followed another front-page, below-the-fold story published in The New York Times in 2012 that featured a black-and-white photo of a man rummaging through a dumpster. The article detailed the problem of hunger against the backdrop of Spain's high unemployment – about a quarter of all Spaniards are out of work, while the number is closer to 50 percent for young people – and cited Catholic charity Caritas’ report that it had provided meals for nearly one million Spaniards in 2010, more than twice the number in 2007 before the crisis. A slide show of photos capturing scenes of protest and poverty was published online alongside it.  

The story and accompanying photos sparked heated discussions online. An Internet campaign #paraNYTimes countered the narrative by collecting more positive snapshots of daily life. One user on Reddit-like website menéame wrote:

Sensacionalista, podría poner fotos similares sobre los EEUU, en blaco y negro y todo, y hacerlos parecer un país tercermundista.

Sensationalized, you could find similar photos about the US, in black and white and everything, and make it seem like a third-world country

In a different discussion thread, user “josejon” argued

El reportaje da una imagen parcial de España: realidad cierta, pero no completa. Es comprensible que media docena de fotos no pueden abarcar todo un país, y que el fotógrafo tiene derecho a escoger y mostrar una parte del todo, según su interés o el tema que desea reflejar, pero después nos encontramos con la opiníon generada por ello en quienes, desde el desconocimiento y la distancia, juzgan el todo por la parte, lo unifican y España entera somos los de las fotos. No es así, y lo sabemos.

The report gives a partial image of Spain: true fact, but not complete. It's understandable that half a dozen photos can't cover the whole country and that the photographer has the right to choose and display only a selection according to his interests or the theme that he wishes to convey, but afterward we are left with the opinion that it generates in people who, in ignorance and from a distance, judge the whole by the part and put it together that all of us in Spain are those in the photos. It's not like that, and we know it.

Holding up a mirror

Others saw the story as confirmation that the situation in Spain had indeed gone from bad to worse. Responding to an analysis published by online news site eldiario.es, “What happens when the most influential newspaper on the planet gives you the third degree,” commenter “kio” wrote:

Muy de marca españa eso de invertir más energía en preocuparse más por la imagen que se da al exterior, “el que dirán”, que de arreglar las cosas de casa. No importa que haya gente que pase o se muera hambre, lo importante es que no se enteren los de fuera. Patético.

Very much in line with the Spanish brand, all this investment of energy in worrying more about the image being broadcast to the world, “what they will say”, than about fixing things at home. It doesn't matter that there may be people starving or dying of hunger. The important thing is that those abroad don't hear about it. Pathetic.

When it was revealed last summer by an ex-Popular Party treasurer that current Spanish President Mariano Rajoy had received payments from a secret slush fund for years, the international media coverage was taken by some as an important echo of the corruption in the country's politics. 

Shameful…even the New York Times says that Rajoy should beat it. How pitiful Spain is, damn…

Even the Financial Times is talking bad about Rajoy, let's see if he has a little bit of dignity left, I doubt it, and steps down once and for all

And a New York Times piece from May 2013 detailing the culture of corruption in local and national politics – about 1,000 officials were under investigation at the time, according to the article – stirred up similar reactions.

“I hope the damage that this New York Times article causes to this rotten system makes it so that there are more and more people who are ready to change this terrible reality of corruption, abuse and power,” a menéame commenter wrote.

The power of foreign coverage 

But why is so much attention given to foreign media's editorial choices? With tourism a major driver of the Spanish economy, accounting for 10.9 percent of the country's economic output in 2012 according to Spain's National Institute of Statistics, many worry about the marca España, or Spanish brand, being portrayed to the rest of the world.

Positive coverage can certainly have an impact. After The New York Times included Burgos in its list of “46 Places to Go in 2013,” the northern Spanish city saw a staggering 145 percent jump in American tourists, what one local paper dubbed “the New York Times effect.” And the level of confidence that potential overseas investors have in the stability of a country can make or break their decision to put money there. 

But with foreign coverage sticking to its largely negative focus and the country's political and economic struggles still ongoing, #MarcaEspaña has become go-to sarcastic commentary on social media for Spaniards unhappy with the current state of affairs.

Still, others recommend ignoring the coverage. For better or worse, foreign media will continue to report on Spain how they want.

The New York Times writes an article about Spain and we get upset. When we stop getting worked up about what others think we will be better off

L. Finch is a journalist, translator, lead Global Voices sub-editor and Spanish-language lover. Originally from the US Midwest, she now calls Madrid home.

February 11 2014

Remembering Dr Alison Jolly, Lemurs of Madagascar Expert

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist  1937-2014- Public Domain

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist 1937-2014- Public Domain

After leading a distinguished career as a primatologist at the Berenty Reserve of Madagascar, Dr. Alison Jolly has died at home in Lewes, East Sussex, aged 76. Dr. Jolly, a PhD researcher from Yale, made her name as the first scientist to do an in-depth account of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur, L. catta, beginning field work in 1962. David Attenborough recently wrote : ‘not only they but the people and land of Madagascar captured her heart’. 

February 05 2014

British Mother Yells at Syrian Officials: “Why Did You Kill My Son?”

“Why did you kill my son?” yells Fatima Khan, the grieving mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who was killed in Syria, at regime officials who were in Geneva for peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war. Dr Khan had traveled to Syria to provide humanitarian aid in Aleppo, and according to his mother, was killed because “he entered Syria illegally.”

The video, uploaded on YouTube by newutopiacity1 (subtitled in Arabic), shows Mrs Khan confronting Syrian regime officials about the death of her son in Syrian custody on December 16, 2013.

January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

December 21 2013

“Beyond Brazil”: European Journalists Wanted for Reporting Trips

Coolpolitics in Portugal announces [pt] an open call for European journalists who want to go on a reporting trip to Brazil in 2014. Twenty-one young reporters from Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom and Bulgaria will be selected to take part of three different groups that will cover events in Brazil, before and after the World Cup, while collaborating with Brazilian peers.

The Beyond Your World website explains the application process and the expected outcomes of this international reporting and training opportunity:

Ongoing demonstrations, the upcoming World Cup, preparations for the Olympic Games and approaching elections; 2014 is considered to be a very important year for Brazil. Consequently, many beautiful stories are out there and are waiting to be covered. Beyond Your World would likes to make a big contribution with this special project. We want to take this incredible opportunity to explore and tell stories in and from Brazil, not only by giving young journalists the chance to gain experience overseas, but also enabling them to work together with colleagues from different countries. 

Deadline for applications is on January 10, 2014. This project - a cooperation between Lokaalmondiaal and the Brazilian media organisation Canal Futura - is part of the training program Beyond Your World which “seeks to inspire and enable the next generation of journalists to cover international development issues”.

December 12 2013

Nelson Mandela's Death: ‘Left Us in Body, But His Spirit Is Eternal’

Since former South African President and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela's death on December 5, 2013, people throughout the world have reflected on the beloved leader's life and the legacy he leaves behind.

Here are 6 reactions from around the world :

United Kingdom

Musa Okwonga, a poet and author based in London, noted on his blog that Mandela was first and foremost a revolutionary who went to war against injustice in his country before he was a symbol of peace and reconciliation:

Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. [..] You will say that Mandela was about nothing but one love, you will try to reduce him to a lilting reggae tune. “Let’s get together, and feel alright.” [..] Well, try hard as you like, and you’ll fail. Because Mandela was about politics and he was about race and he was about freedom and he was even about force, and he did what he felt he had to do and given the current economic inequality in South Africa he might even have died thinking he didn’t do nearly enough of it.

Madagascar

Mialisoa, a blogger in Antananarivo, Madagascar, expressed her deep respect and gratitude for the life lessons she's taken from Mandela in a post titled Bonne Route, Monsieur [fr] (Safe Travels, Sir):  

Un jour, Monsieur, je m’assoirais près de mes enfants et je leur lirais votre histoire. Un jour, mes enfants s’assoiront près de leurs enfants et ils leur liront votre histoire. Grâce à vous, je sais et grâce à vous, je continuerais à apprendre:
Je sais de qui parler, lorsque viendra le temps d’expliquer à mes enfants ce qu’est un homme de courage et de conviction.
Je sais de quels principes s’inspirer lorsque viendra le temps d’élever les miens.
Je sais l’importance de la réconciliation. Avec soi-même et avec son prochain.
Je sais la valeur du pardon.
Je sais le précieux de l’égalité.
Je sais qu’il est possible de rendre les hommes et soi-même, meilleurs.
Je sais le bien que créent l’humilité, l’humour et l’audace. [..] 
Je sais, Monsieur, que je n’en sais pas assez. Je sais bien que je suis loin de savoir. Aussi, la meilleure manière de vous rendre hommage, Monsieur, est de continuer à apprendre et apprendre à agir. Et que Dieu nous vienne en aide, car le temps d’agir est maintenant venu.
Monsieur, merci. Je vous souhaite une bonne route.

One day, sir, I will sit with my children and read them your story. One day, my children will sit with their children and read them your story. Thanks to you, I know and thanks to you, I will keep learning:
I know of whom to speak, when the time comes to explain to my children what makes a man of courage and conviction.
I know what principles to draw on when the time comes to raise mine.
I know the importance of reconciliation. With ourselves and with our fellow people.
I know the value of forgiveness.
I know the value of equality.
I know it is possible to make humankind and ourselves better.
I know the good that humility, humor, and boldness can do. [...] 
I know, sir, that I do not know enough. I know very well that I am far from knowing. So the best way to pay tribute to you, sir, is to continue to learn and learn to act. God help us, for the time to act has now come.
Thank you, sir. I wish you a safe journey. 

Toavina, a political analyst from Antananarivo,  recalled on his Facebook page Madagascar's role [fr] in supporting Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), the  resistance movement against apartheid and now South Africa's governing political party: 

N'oubliez pas chers Malgaches, que MADAGASCAR a aidé le peuple Noir Sud-Africain ! Nous avons hébergé sous la Deuxième Rep la Radio de l'ANC. Piet Botha, Ministre des affaires étrangères de l'Afrique du Sud est venu à Madagascar pour discuter du cas de l'afrique du Sud avec l'ancien président Ratsiraka. De Klerk est aussi venu à Mada dans les années 90.

Do not forget, dear Madagascans, that MADAGASCAR helped the back people of South Africa! We broadcasted ANC's radio station during our Second Republic. Pik Botha, South Africa's Minister of Foreign Affairs, came to Madagascar to discuss the South African situation with former President Ratsiraka. De Klerk also came to Madagascar in the '90s. 

Mali

While it was hard for him to find the words, Boukary Konaté, a Global Voices contributor in Bamako wanted to commemorate the man [fr]:

« repose en paix », car je n’ai pas de mots. Je n’ai pas de mots car tous les mots sont insignifiants pour exprimer ce que je veux dire. Alors, je me tais, je me tais dans mes murmures internes

“Rest in peace,” for I have no words. I have no words because no words are sufficient to express what I want to say. So, I'll stay silent, I'll keep quiet with my inner thoughts.

He added [fr]: 

Je suis fier qu'il y ait une Rue Mandela et une Ecole Mandela à Bamako au Mali. Je vais toute de suite pour une interview avec le Directeur de l'Ecole Mandela.

I am proud that there is a Mandela Street and a Mandela School in Bamako, Mali. I'm going to have an interview right away with the Mandela School's principal.

Here is the school in question:

This teacher at the #Mandela school began the morning by talking about the man with his first-grade students #Mali pic.twitter.com/0gwSg5lrPg
— Boukary Konaté (@Fasokan) December 6, 2013

Niger

Aminatou, a women's right activist in Niamey, Niger shared this thoughts [fr] about Mandela and education:

Mandela est une source inépuisable d’inspiration. Sa phrase sur l’éducation résonne fortement aux oreilles de tous :
« L’Éducation : l’arme la plus puissante que l’on puisse utiliser pour changer le monde. »

Mandela is an endless source of inspiration. What he said about education resonates strongly with everyone:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

France

Archippe, a French-based Cameroonian blogger and president of Internet sans frontières, pointed out a lesson for African countries to take away on his Facebook page [fr]:

Nelson Mandela nous aura enseigné une chose essentielle à nous africains, à nous humains: on peut vraincre par les armes, le nombre, la rhétorique, mais la vraie victoire, celle qui marque les siècles, est celle de l'esprit enchanté. Le corps de mandela n'est plus, son esprit est éternel.

Nelson Mandela will have taught us, us Africans, us humans, one essential thing: We can conquer with weapons, with numbers, and with rhetoric, but the real victory, what leaves its mark for centuries, is that of the soul. Mandela has left us in body, but his spirit is eternal.

An Algerian leader, through Alexandre Adler, a well-known french political blogger, commented on the impact the “Mandela approach” [fr] of inter-ethnic reconciliation could have had in Algeria:

Il y a quelques années, un dirigeant algérien nous confia que la «ligne Mandela» de réconciliation inter-ethnique aurait évidemment mieux convenu à l’Algérie de 1962 que le départ précipité des Européens et des juifs qui fut consommé en moins d’un an. Mais, ajoutait-il, «à cette époque, nous n’avions pas les idées de Mandela, et celles-ci nous serviraient bien aujourd’hui».

A few years ago, an Algerian leader confided that the “Mandela approach” of interethnic reconciliation would have evidently been better for Algeria in 1962 than the sudden departure of Europeans and Jews that came to pass in less than a year. “But,” he added, “At the time, we didn't have Mandela's ideas, and today they would serve us well.”

December 08 2013

Syria's Desolate Winter Just Got $100,347 Times Warmer

With the help of netizens, the Illinois-based Karam Foundation raised a total of $100,347 from an original goal of $10,000 in its “Shave a Mustache, Keep a Syrian Child Warm” virtual campaign that lasted from November 30 to December 4.

The campaign originally yielded a stunning $56,287 by December 3 and in effect won the Razoo Foundation’s #GivingTuesday competition, hence winning an additional $15,000. The donations amount continues to increase to date.

It involved 27 participants and organizers from 12 teams based in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, who competed to raise money by not shaving their movember mustaches.

Photo source: Karam Foundation's fundraiser page

Photo source: Karam Foundation's fundraiser page

Proceeds of the campaign will go to creating $20 winter packages for children inside Syria that include a winter coat, a blanket, and a hat, mitten or scarf in each set.

Kareem Omara, one of the organizers, said he was ecstatic to be part of the campaign, adding that having hope can go a long way:

Every single one of you is a beautiful person that has made a difference whether you donated, advertised, or whatever. I mean I'm just some broke college student that can't donate that much, but I found my way to contribute. Don't lose hope and think you can't make a difference. We can all contribute in our own way, no matter how big or how small.

Another organizer, Kenan Rahmani stressed on the need for united efforts to yield the best results:

We are BETTER when we're TOGETHER. Seriously people. The activist community always likes to go in ten directions at once and we hardly ever come together like we did for this campaign. Maybe I am guilty of this too. I completely understand that everyone has their own ideas and they want others to support them.

Mohannad, too, was quite pleased with what they achieved:

Syrian columnist Robin Yassin-Kassab, who also participated in the campaign, vouched for the integrity of the organizers, adding that:

I know the organizers of this charity and can vouch that they are absolutely honest, that every single penny will go to keeping a Syrian child warm this winter. Please do donate, and please share this page. We just have a few days to raise as much as we possibly can.

Winter Has Come

Three years into unrest, Syria’s winter is far from dead, and spring is nowhere near. If not the shelling – then the rattling cold will keep Syria’s little angels from sleep at night. In December of 2012, Save the Children organization complied testimonies and photos to document the stark reality Syrian families endure during winter. Quoted in the report, 11-year-old Ali said that while help is provided, it is not enough:

“We have one blanket. We don’t have anything else – even clothes. We received one blanket and there are three of us. How is it going to fit us? How is it going to warm us? It is not enough. We are getting sick – i’m getting sick.”

Earlier last month, Istanbul-based photographer John Wreford said that displaced Syrian families not only endure exile but also have winter to fear:

Help is also needed inside Syria, says Homs-based activist Luisa Zangh, who pleaded for humanitarian help:

Every penny counts. You can still donate here.

November 24 2013

100 Digital Projects That Truly Inspire

The Nominet Trust in the United Kingdom announce their 100 favorite projects using digital technology for social good (#NT100).

One UK Suburb's Un-Neighborly Reaction to Slovakian Roma Immigrants

After a wave of discriminatory statements against Roma communities in France made by French Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, Slovakian and Romanian Roma in England are now getting the same message from authorities and neighbors.

According to an article in the Guardian, Sheffield locals in an area with a high level of Roma settlements created patrols in an attempt to calm the tensions between the Roma community and other local citizens, an effort that seems to be making things worse. As the article explains:

“In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield the former home secretary [now Sheffield MP David Blunkett] also accused the government of “burying their head in the sand” over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK and said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture: “We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that.”[...]

Nobody knows for sure how many Roma people have come to Sheffield since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004. The council's best guess is that 1,500 eastern European Roma children now live in the city as a whole, with around 500 in the small Page Hall area. Miroslav Sandor, a Roma community worker in Page Hall, gives a much higher estimate. He thinks there may be 600-900 large families in the city, mostly concentrated in Page Hall.

November 12 2013

14 Inspiring 1-Minute Films About the Environment

TVE (Television for the Environment) presents the videos of 14 finalists in its global environmental film competition.

Participants from around the world have produced 1-minute long movies on topics related to climate change, sustainable development and biodiversity.

Everyone can vote their favorite film until December 19, 2013.

November 11 2013

War Through the Lense of an Army Photographer

Soldiers hone their skills on the range.

Soldiers hone their skills on the range. By Simon Longworth/MoD on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What does a soldier see and experience in war and in routine military operations?

British Army Corporal Simon Longworth responds to that question every day in his job as an official army photographer.

In an interview with Muftah's Francesca Recchia, he talks about his career and explains what makes his point of view and style different from a photojournalist's.

Here's the link to his Flickr page.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 10 2013

South Korean Media Whitewashes President's European Trip

South Korean President Park Geun-hye recently completed a week-long official visit to Western Europe on a political mission to forge economic and financial partnerships with Belgium, France and the UK.

But some facts, you wouldn't know from Korean media coverage.  

Korean net users have bashed pro-government major newspapers for inundating their pages with lavish praise for the president's fashion sense and language skills while distorting the truth and filtering out some major talking points.

“When Park stepped into Buckingham palace, the rain stopped and the sun shone [ko]“. “The world was mesmerized by the president's traditional Korean fashion [ko]“. “Park delivered an opening speech in French, received a standing ovation for her fluent French‘ [ko]…

These are just few examples of actual headlines Korean media printed while covering Park's visit. Media critics even published a lengthy compilation of Korean media's praises [ko]. And it was nearly impossible to find any negative commentary, especially from the three biggest conservative newspapers in the country, which are notorious for being in agreement with almost every major issue backed by right-wing governments.

To South Koreans, this kind of coverage shares hallmarks of the country's dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, considered the darkest era of journalism when the current president’s father ruled the country with iron fist and infamous military dictator Chun Doo-hwan brutally clamped down on democratic movements. Back in Chun’s era, primetime TV news always began the broadcast with a heaping of praise for Chun [ko] as the first news item.

Park's trip-up, embargoed

On November 6 during Park's visit, as she was exiting a car, she fell because she stepped on the tail of her long, traditional Korean dress. But only on the night of November 7 were Koreans able to read about this on Korean news as the presidential house had placed an embargo on local press and asked that they not write about the fall [ko] until foreign media covered it.

Many net users seems perplexed, even shocked at the incident:

Fell with a splash! This is a scene of Your Highness Park Geun-hye falling down during her visit to UK. The presidential house asked to hold off writing about it till the foreign press reported on this. Come on, we are not living in an absolute monarchy. The media who voluntarily caved to this are quite problematic.

What is funnier than Park’s fall? It is hilarious that the presidential house blocked press from reporting on this and that the press accepted such request.

The real reason for a standing ovation

Numerous media outlets reported that Park spoke in French during her visit to France and received a standing ovation. But they didn't explain what was her speech about: 

Local media have showered the president with positive coverage that she got a standing ovation by speaking in French. But this fact they missed out: the part where she got the most applause is when she said she will open up the Korean public sector market to foreign companies.

Similar comments lamented:

@ksi0601 올랑드가 원하는 건 ‘시장’뿐이다[...] 박근혜의 연설에 기립박수를 친건 당연한 것이었다. 하지만, 이런 사실을 알리는 언론이 대한민국에는 없었다.

@ksi0601 What [French President Francois] Hollande wanted was the market [...] It is so obvious why they gave a standing ovation to Park Geun-hye’s speech. But there was no Korean media who reported this fact.

Korean media unanimously praised Park’s visit to France and UK, however Koreans living in those countries said their media don't even report much, except the fact that she is a dictator’s daughter and the Korean spy agency’s interference in the presidential election. Shame on you — you [Korean] journalists and tabloids who don't even feel shame.

Threatening Korean protesters in Paris

During Park's visits to France and the UK, Koreans living in those countries held candlelight vigils denouncing the state spy agency's meddling in the latest presidential election – an election that made Park the president today:

 Right now, Koreans living in the UK, holding signs, are holding a candlelight vigil. We are now in London. 

 Today in London, a candlelight event was held to welcome President Park. 

However, ruling party lawmaker Kim Jin-Tae, who accompanied Park on her European tour, posted a threatening message on his Facebook page [ko], saying “You Paris protesters– you will pay for this”, suggesting that the protesters are from the leftist party, and adding that “anyone whose blood didn't boil upon seeing those protesters must not be a Korean”.

Enraged by this insult, the protesters demanded that Kim apologize [ko]. Net users chimed in: 

That thug Kim Jin-Tae made quite a scene by saying “those people who protested in Paris against the election fraud, I will made them pay”. By saying so, he has instantly made Park — who publicly said that “democracy runs smoothly in South Korea” — a liar.

Thanks to [ruling party] Saenuri’s politician Kim Jin-Tae, more people are learning about the Paris protests, which were held during Park’s visit to Paris. These protests have been rarely reported by Korean media.

November 05 2013

‘Women Should Be Submissive', and Other Google Autocomplete Suggestions

A series of ads by UN Women, revealed in late October, used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover widespread negative attitudes toward women. Global Voices followed reactions to the UN Women campaign and conducted its own experiment in different languages. The results of searches conducted both within the UN Women campaign and Global Voices revealed popular attitudes not only about women’s social and professional roles, but also about their sexuality, appearance and relationships with men.

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase “women shouldn't”

The creators of the UN Women ads used search phrases like “women cannot”, “women shouldn’t”, “women should” and “women need to” completed by genuine Google search terms to highlight overwhelmingly negative stereotypes, sexist and highly discriminatory views held about women by society globally. The ads quickly went viral and sparked a heated discussion online. Last week, creators have announced that they are planning to expand the campaign in response to the mass online reaction.

The auto-complete function for searches, according to Google, predicts users’ queries based on the search activity of all users of the web as well as the content of indexed pages. The predictions may also be influenced by past searches of the particular user if they are signed into their Google account.

Global Voices asked its contributors from around the world to carry out Google searches using the same or similar phrases as those used in the UN Women campaign, in their own languages. The searches done between October 19 and October 25, 2013, revealed attitudes about the roles women are expected to take in society, often demonstrating the same global prejudices, but sometimes showing contradictions in different countries. Below are searches in 12 languages from different countries and continents:

Spanish

Chile

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Silvia Viñas. October 21, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not preach
Women should not work
Women should not talk in the congregation
Women should not drive

Peru

“Women cannot…” A screenshot by Juan Arellano. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot preach
Women cannot be pastors
Women cannot donate blood
Women cannot live without man

Puerto Rico

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be submissive
Women should use the veil
Women should preach
Women should work

French

France

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Suzanne Lehn. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
women should stay at home
women should work
should women preach
women should wear skirts
women should be submissive
women should know
women should vote
women should stay at home
should women work
women should do the cooking

“Women don't know…”. A screen shot by Rayna St. October 21, 2013.

Women don’t know…
women don't know how to drive
women don't know what they want
women don't know how to be in love
women don't know how to read cards

Arabic

Egypt (similar results in Jordan)

“Woman cannot…”. A screenshot by Tarek Amr. October 21, 2013.

Woman cannot…
Woman cannot live without marriage
Woman cannot live without a man
Woman cannot keep a secret
Woman cannot interpret man's silence

Chinese

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Gloria Wang. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot be too smart
Women can't drive
Women cannot give birth
10 topics women cannot discuss with their husbands

Romanian

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Diana Lungu. October 21, 2013.

women should not…
women should be loved not understood
women should not be understood
women should not wear pants
what women should not do in bed

 Italian

Italy

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should…
Women should stay at home
should play hard to get
should stay in the kitchen
should be subdued

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be understood
should not work
should not be understood but loved
should not read

 German

Germany

“Woman should not…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman should not…
Woman should not teach
My wife should not work

“Woman can…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman can….
Woman cannot come
Woman cannot get pregnant
Woman cannot cook
Woman cannot get a baby

 Hebrew

“Women don't…”. A screenshot by
Gilad Lotan. October 21, 2013.

Women don't…
Women don't work
Women are not modest
Women don't know how to drive
Women don't want to have kids

 Hungarian

“A woman should be…”. A screenshot by Marietta Le.
October 21, 2013.

A woman should be…
a woman should be a chef in the kitchen
a woman should be pretty and ruthless

 Danish

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Solana Larsen. October 20, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot drive
Women cannot control vagina
Women cannot be color blind
Women cannot barbecue

In Danish, the searches for “women cannot” and “women can” yielded the same results.

Russian
Russia

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Veronica Khokhlova. October 19, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be believed
Women should not lift heavy things
Women should not drink
Women should not be trusted

 English

The UK

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Annie Zaman. October 25, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be seen and not heard
Women should stay at home
Women should know their place

 Not all searches carried out by members of Global Voices community turned up negative terms. Nevertheless, the results of the experiment largely confirm UN Women’s worrying conclusion that a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to advance women’s rights and empowerment around the world.

November 02 2013

South Koreans in Europe Protest Against the Spy Agency Scandal

Protests have continued against South Korea's spy agency who allegedly interfered with the latest presidential election and manipulated public opinion to tip the scales in favor of current president Park Geun-hye. Ahead of Park's official visit to Western Europe, Koreans living in France held candlelight vigils denoucing the allegations and more are planned next week in the United Kingdom and France. @wjsfree posted a nice roundup of protest photos and links.

October 04 2013

The Gambia Quits British Commonwealth, Calling It ‘Extension of Colonialism’

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. During his speech, he condemned homosexuality, calling it one of the “biggest threats to human existence”. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The tiny West African State of The Gambia has announced via state television that it will withdraw from the Commonwealth of Nations, a fellowship of 54 countries that are mainly former colonies of the British Empire.

A statement released on Wednesday, 2 October 2013 stated that “the government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism.”

No further reasons have been advanced by the government, but relations between the Gambia and the UK in 2013 have been rocky. In April, the UK Foreign Office's annual Human Rights and Democracy Report was critical of the country's human rights record under President Yahya Jammeh, highlighting violations such as unlawful detentions, illegal closures of newspapers and discrimination against minority groups. The country's response to the report was sharp: “Britain has no moral authority to dictate moral standards of rectitude and democracy to any former colony in Africa”.

After the Gambia announced the decision to dump its membership of the international body headed by Queen Elizabeth II, netizens around the globe have reacted with mix feelings.

Mathew Jallow, an exiled Gambian journalist, saw the move as good for publicising President Jammeh's “stupidity“. Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, for years has earned the world's ire for his repressive rule, one that has been defined by executions, restricted freedom of the press and expression, persecution of homosexuals, and heavy-handed supression of political dissent:

Behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. Yahya Jammeh's Gambia withdrawal from the Commonwealth is more negative publicity worth one year's newspaper reporting. Today, ever country in the world will carry this withdrawal news and every Commonwealth member state, including the US, will have every lingering doubt about our claims, confirmed. This is what dictators do all the time. They create their own downfalls as they attempt to solidify their rules and barricade themselves within their crumbling worlds. Thank you Yahya Jammeh. All our efforts could not have publicized your stupidity better.

Commenting on his Facebook wall, Gambian journalist Sainey MK Marena analyzed the situation (post used with permission):

Gambia withdrawal from the Commonwealths attracts international headlines. The multi -million dollar question is why are we withdrawing our membership at a time when countries like Mozambique and others are seriously yearning to join the global body. Gambia has and continued to benefit from commonwealth in diverse areas including education/scholarship, sports and most recently the commonwealth proposed National Human Rights Commission. MY point is Gambia like any nation has right to withdraw from any association or organization but is should be based on credible and genuine reason (s). In 2003, Zimbabwe Under Mugabe withdraw from the Commonwealth for reasons best known to them but smallest country in the mainland African should take a different take and approached.

However, Sefa-Nyarko Clement seemed to disagree, writing on Facebook:

Great move, Gambia. Although I don't subscribe to the summary executions and despotic policies of Baba Jammeh, I support his withdrawal from the Commonwealth. Indeed, the Commonwealth of Nations has outlived its usefulness.

On Twitter, user Abdou ‏(@abs2ray) criticised the president's behaviour:

While the discussion on the Jammeh’s latest diplomatic rumbling continues, it remains unclear what the poorly impoverished nation will gain by quitting the Commonwealth.

September 24 2013

Chile's Student Uprising: ‘There’s a Story to Be Told’

Chilean student protesting, August 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chilean students protesting, 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

British-Chilean documentary filmmaker Pablo Navarrete is working alongside his father, Roberto Navarrete, on an independent documentary about the Chilean student movement.

They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, where they share the following summary about their upcoming film:

Chile’s Student Uprising’ tells the story of the student protests taking place in Chile today demanding a free and state-funded education system and radical change in society. The film puts the protests in their historical context of widespread dissatisfaction with the economic model put in place under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), but that still remains largely in place.

The film’s director Roberto Navarrete travelled to Chile in 2011 and 2012 to speak to student leaders such as Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson, but also to ordinary students, and to understand why their protests are causing such effect in Chile and inspiring others in Chile and beyond.

Roberto Navarrete is no stranger to student activism; he was a politically active university student in Chile in 1973, when Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup which marked the beginning of Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship.

A recent article by Christine Seifert and Amaranta Wright in Latino Life recounts Roberto's story:

“In response to the coup my medical faculty student union began organising groups of volunteers to go to poor shantytowns that were likely to suffer most in the event of a civil war. I volunteered and it was there that I was arrested. They entered the house where we were in the middle of the night and ordered all the students to lie on the floor. They started shooting even though we were completely unarmed. They could have just detained us. But they shot me because they could.

“They took me to the national football stadium, which had been transformed into a mass detention centre immediately after the coup. About 20,000 people went through the stadium, mostly people who sympathised with Allende, but also others with no political connections. We were thrown into the players’ locker rooms. It was very crammed and then in turn we would be taken off for interrogation. I think I got off relatively lightly. I was badly beaten up, but they didn’t use electricity on me as they did on others.

A month later Roberto was taken to a prison. He was released in 1974 and his parents pleaded with him to leave the country, but Roberto wanted to stay and fight. In December 1974, Roberto's wife disappeared and he was forced to go into hiding in the Venezuelan embassy. He was later granted asylum in the UK, but his wife was still detained. Roberto campaigned for her release in the UK, and six months later they were reunited.

“After dedicating most of my life in England to an academic career as a neuroscientist, I have returned to activism together with my children. With my son Pablo we founded Alborada Films, an independent production company focusing on documentaries on Latin America and we are about to release a film about the student movement in Chile today.”

Roberto's son Pablo, born and raised in the UK, has worked on several documentaries on Latin America. He produced the documentary ‘Inside the Revolution: A Journey Into the Heart of Venezuela', released in August 2009 by Alborada Films, and ‘The Colombia Connection', released in November 2012. He has covered Latin America for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the Guardian and the BBC.

I spoke to Pablo about their forthcoming documentary on Chile's student movement and their crowdfunding campaign.

Chilean students protesting, 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chilean students protesting, 2011. Photo by Francisco Osorio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices (GV): How did you become interested in the student movement in Chile?

Pablo Navarrete (PN): My father accompanied me on the Venezuela trip and the Colombia trip and he had an idea. He used to be a scientist, a neuroscientist, but he retired and he wanted to do something about the transition in Chile. He had been there filming various years and done a lot of interviews, but it was just a very big project and I could see that the student movement was a very interesting topic and it was making the news in Britain and elsewhere, and I felt there was a significant questioning of the neoliberal model in Chile that was permeating significant levels of society.

So I suggested that instead of making this big, dense documentary he just try to make something smaller, and just concentrate on this story and perhaps put it into historical context and try to offer information about what exactly the models are and how there are more than strictly demands around education, but much more profound critiques of Chilean society and the vestiges of the dictatorship.

I’m a firm believer that the content is key, although style is very important; ultimately if you have to choose, it’s content, and there’s content in this film –there’s a story to be told.

GV: A lot of documentaries on the Chilean student movement have been released. What makes yours different?

PN: I think there are a lot of good ones, actually. Hopefully what will make this different is that it emphasizes more the history, the roots, the context of the uprising, the protests and the critique. People talk about the movement but there are lots of different tendencies and debates, even now with regards to supporting [presidential candidate and former president Michelle] Bachelet. So in a way we are trying to show that it’s a movement that is vibrant, but in debate with themselves over different approaches to politics, so it’s not just one movement.

That and also the fact that we emphasize the history and the backdrop and where it comes from.

GV: Tell us more about the crowdfunding campaign.

PN: It has been filmed, it will come out, so we are not saying “donate, and if we can’t get enough we won’t make it”. We are determined to make this film, and the decision was made to make this film. In documentaries sometimes you don’t make it to make money. But the crowdfunding serves two purposes: obviously it allows you to recoup some of the costs of filming and the editing; and two, this conversation arguably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t launched the campaign, so you find that part of building a network that allows you to do things independently is finding out who is interested in a topic. Obviously it’s great to do stuff that’s commissioned for TV, but ultimately I’m not prepared to compromise certain things that I want to make. So I think it’s important to have a plan B, and the crowdfunding helps to bring out an audience, or to build an audience.

Pablo, Roberto and their small team plan to have the film ready for November 2013, just in time for Chile's presidential elections, which, as Pablo points out, could create a new dynamic in the movement as students continue pushing for an overhaul in the country's education system under a new government.

September 23 2013

Social Media Week Discusses Principles for a Collaborative World

#smw13

Follow @socialmediaweek on Twitter or the hashtags for the event: #SMW13 (general), #SMWBerlin#SMWBog (Bogota), #SMWChicago#SMWLDN (London), #SMWLA (Los Angeles), #SMWMumbai#SMWSP (São Paulo), #SMWTo (Toronto).

Social Media Week, a worldwide event which ”brings people, brands and organizations together to explore how we connect and communicate as a society”, starts today, September 23, 2013.

In the second edition of this year's global conference, with the cities of Berlin, Bogotá, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, São Paulo and Toronto as hosts, more than 1,000 events are expected to take place ”exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media”.

The global theme that marks the fifth year of Social Media Week is “Open & Connected: Principles for a collaborative world”.

Related post on Global Voices - Italy: Social Media Week in Milan and Worldwide (2010)

July 03 2013

Eastern Europeans to Boost UK IT Industry

As of January 1, 2014, the UK labour movement restrictions placed several years ago to prevent migrants from Romania and Bulgaria from moving permanently and seeking employment in the UK will be lifted. Some predict large migrations of workers from these two countries, among the poorest in the European Union, while others say that migrations will be so small they will barely be felt and many emphasize the fact that Romania has a growing, innovative IT industry that will also benefit the British IT industry. Other Eastern European countries have also helped boost the UK's thriving IT industry in the recent past, such as Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and more. The Independent covers several sides of the developing story, with quotes from Eastern European immigrant IT entrepreneurs in the UK:

(more…)

June 12 2013

René Pérez of Calle 13 Writes Song with Julian Assange

Puerto Rican hip hop star René Pérez (@Calle13Oficial) of the band Calle 13 announced today [es] through Twitter that he is with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange was given refuge after being accused of a sexual crime in Sweden. Pérez will be live on TwitCam tomorrow at 10 pm (London time) from the Embassy composing a song with Assange and his Twitter followers. His tweet says:

Hello FBI! Here I am with Julian #Assange founder of @wikileaks. Tomorrow we will be writing together. With you. 10 pm London time.

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