Category Archives: Individual research

Individual research: A Logical Way to Understand North Korea

People know about North Korea as much as they care about. A lot of people know North Korea mostly because of their nuclear weapons. Prejudices and stereotypes have turned North Korea into an evil nation. As there are not many sources and information to simply conclude analyzing North Korea, an objective point of view on North Korea is necessary.

Despite of international society’s effort to stop, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on February 12t, 2013. It was not just a threat but it symbolizes few things. Rather than using plutonium, it is believed that high enriched uranium (HEC) was used. It is significant as North Korea has developed their nuclear weapons by miniaturization and weight reduction. According to Der Spiegel, U.S. Geological Service, and Korean metrological administration, seismic wave of nuclear test was between 4.9 Mb and 5.2 Mb. These numbers can be converted into TNT equivalent and they are over 10 kt. The minimum level for a country to be ackowleged as a nuclear power is 10 kt and technically North Korea has met the standard as of their last nuclear test. Nevertheless, international society will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power in accordance with the Treaty on Nuclear Non-Proliferation (UN).

As a result of the nuclear test, North Korea has aggravated their relationships with South Korea and the United States. The tensions have arisen globally and people around the world were disappointing as North Korea’s new leadership of Kim Jung-un is not different from the old leadership of Kim Jong-il. It’s is important to understand North Korea’s nature and motivations to objectively comprehend eccentric behaviors of North Korea.

North Korea has few motivations behind their third nuclear test: 1) developing nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) so that international society would acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear power. 2) To overwhelm South Korea militarily. 3) The relationship between North Korea and South Korea should be a vertical relationship as South Korea supports North Korea unconditionally. 4) Getting more revenues from external but not internal. 5) Strengthening ‘internal framework’ as giving more rewards to more patriotic officers (KINU). Continuing in nuclear development is one of North Korea’s tools to satisfy their wants and needs.

Here’s an another perspective to understand North Korea unbiased way. Until 1980, North Korea’s ideology was based on Marx-Leninism. Kim il-sung adopted his new theory, based on idolization, called ‘Juche (self-reliance) ideology.’ This unique government system of North Korea has been a dilemma for new leader Kim Jong-un due to its hereditary dictatorship. Kim Jong-un must follow his father, Kim Jong-il’s will. It’s the only way to keep the legitimacy of hereditary dictatorship that has been ruling North Korea since the Korean War. In Kim Jong-il’s will, he emphasized keep developing nuclear weapons and missiles so that they can take advantages in international meetings. Also in his will, unification with South Korea is vital and the war against South Korea should be avoided. The most interesting part of his will is that he called South Korea as ‘potential partner’ and reminded that North Korea should be alert on China as well even China is the closest ally (Joongang).

Kim Jong-un has been doing what he has had to do for stabilization of public sentiment and successive regime to gain legitimacy through practicing the will of Kim Joing-il. He followed Kim Jong-il’s will to satisfy the elites and high officers of North Korea for its maintaining status purpose.

On July 1, 2013, North Korea criticized the 2005 agreement and the hostile policies of the United States toward North Korea in ASEAN regional forum. North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear tests on the 2005 agreement that had been broken. Although it’s hard to predict when will be the next North Korea-the United States meeting regarding nuclear, North Korea is believed to use several plans in a negotiation table with the United States. The offers may include, freezing its nuclear capability at the current level, proclaiming nonproliferation of nuclear technology and its material, suspending Yongbyon plutonium plants, and accepting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s inspections on nuclear facilities (Jeon).

Among the many reasons to answer where did North Korea go wrong, brainwashing and idolization can be influential factors. These characteristics have locked North Korea and the collapse of socialism and communism since late 1980s has put North Korea in a worse and more isolated position (Understanding North Korea 2013). At this time, North Korea decided to push through by brainwashing their citizens, to the point where ‘other ideas’ do not exist for the citizens. As a result North Korean citizens blindly believed their government and status quo when the status has long gone for North Korea.

References

Cho, Hyeonsook. “Kim Jong-il’s first 44 clauses.” . Joongang Ilbo(Joongang Broadcast), 29 Jan 2013. Web. <http://article.joins.com/news/article/article.asp?total_id=10539397&cloc=rss|news|politics>.

Jeon, Seongwhun. “North Korea’s Nuclear Policy after its Third Nuclear Test: Analysis and Forecast.” Center for North Korean Studies, KINU. (2013): n. page. Print.

Kim, Dongsung. “International Journals of Korean Unification Studies.” Korea Institute for National Unification. (2012): n. page. Print.

“The 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” The 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Department for Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, 27 May 2005. Web. http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2005/npttreaty.html.

“Understanding North Korea 2013.” Ministry of Unification. (2013): n. page. Web. 2 Jul. 2013. <http://www.unikorea.go.kr/CmsWeb/viewPage.req?idx=PG0000000353>.

 

 

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Escaping the Comfort Zone

Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins. — Old Indian Proverb  This quote, I believe, embodies the global citizen lifestyle.  At its core, the movement is about understanding and appreciating the differences and similarities between cultures.  People like Heidi, Ken and Andrew go out and get their hands dirty.  They coordinate joint operations between two massive aid machines, watch over human rights and heal neglected prisoners and through it learn themselves and others (Cain, Postlewait, Thompson).  They purposefully throw themselves out of their comfort zones, facing down bullets and bug bites to help others, all in the name of cultural connectedness.  While not all of us will battle warlords in Mogadishu, we can learn to appreciate and understand other cultures and through this make the world a better place.

A great way to understand and immerse yourself in a culture is through travel.  I was fortunate enough to be born into a family with both the means and the will to travel internationally, a lifestyle that not everyone has access to.  We spent weeks in places like Ecuador, Morocco and Belize.  The time I spent abroad has without a doubt enriched my life and given me new perspective.  Thomas Bernier writes that travel can be incredibly beneficial.  Aside from providing health benefits, travel “gives us a new perspective about life and especially our life, it can help us change some of our habits or even create new ones.” (Bernier)

 

Traveling exposes you to new cultures and customs that you may have never imagined.  The key is to immerse yourself in the area you are traveling.  Instead of going to the burger bar at the hotel, try to a local favorite.  My father spent 6 months in Damascus living and learning in a mosque.  He left the soft life of college behind to go out and experience something completely different than what he was raised on.  Just as Ken wanted to leave the fake and formulaic life of Harvard behind, my father put his education on hold to enrich himself culturally.  No university can offer that.

Yet universities often try to condense this cultural osmosis.  They set up month long service trips where students build schools and teach children.  And institutions of higher learning are not the only culprits.  Missionaries of all faiths descend on poor and rural communities, preaching salvation and God from their hotel rooms.  These groups are missing the point of travel, to lose yourself in a locale and culture.  If you are to take anything meaningful away from travel you must throw yourself out of your comfort zone.  Eat those fried crickets and visit the local place of worship.  Get out of your bubble. 

In my experience travel is not the only way to get out of your comfort zone.  Debate and discussion in their many forms are an incredible way to exchange ideas and vet said ideas against one another.  By arguing in a respectful way we can all bring our ideas to the table, often times surprising each other with perspectives that we may never have imagined.  A study by Joe Bellon found that debate can “arouse conceptual conflict, subjective feelings of uncertainty, and epistemic curiosity; increase accuracy of cognitive perspective-taking; promote transitions from one stage of cognitive and moral reasoning to another; increase the quality of problem solving; and increase creativity” (Bellon 6)  In short, debate helps us realize that not everything in life is black and white, the truth lies in the shades of grey.  Even if two parties can agree on the facts (a rare occurrence), their differing values can result in any number of interpretations.  What bothers me most is that as a society we in many ways shun productive debate.  We are far more scared of insulting one another than coming to meaningful understanding.  They say you should never talk about sex, God or politics with your friends lest you accidentally insult them.  I would contend that some of the best and most productive conversations hinge on these topics.  As a society we need to do a better job of getting out of our ideological comfort zones so that we can have these meaningful conversations.

Once again I find myself thankful for my upbringing.  I was raised without any kind of religion.  Instead I attended Jewish Bar Mitzvahs, Catholic mass and Buddhist ceremonies.  I went to a public school where a majority of students were Hispanic, African American, Albanian or Asian.  70% of the student body was on free or reduced lunches.  While my neighborhood friends attended private schools filled with people culturally similar to them, I was raised in a melting pot of 2,600 students.  I learned to appreciate differences in culture and I am better off for it.

Instilling a desire to explore and be comfortable outside of ones comfort zone is often difficult.  Adults are frequently set in their ways and can become angry and violent if pushed too far.  The best place to begin cultivating the precepts of global citizenry is at an early age.  “Education must be a priority. Global Citizenship is not an additional subject – it is an ethos. It can best be implemented through a whole-school approach, involving everyone with a stake in educating children, from the children themselves to those with teaching and non-teaching roles in the school, parents, governors/school board members, and the wider community.” (Teichert)  Furthermore,  “traveling abroad and having a wide range of experiences can open a young mind to all sorts of ideas and possibilities that will affect their thinking and understanding for the rest of their lives, even if they never again get the chance to travel.” (Banes)  This understanding is what we need to cultivate.  By breaking the negative cultural feedback loop so many people fall into we can create a new generation of global citizens.

Works Cited
Banes, Karen. “Educational Travel and the Benefits to Children.” Helium. Helium, 14 Apr. 2008. Web. 01 July 2013.
Bellon, Joe. “A RESEARCH-BASED JUSTIFICATION FOR DEBATE ACROSS THE CURRICULUM.” Argumentation & Advocacy, Winter 2000, Vol. 36 Issue 3, P161-175. 36.3 (n.d.): 161-75. Groups.wfu.edu/debate/MiscSites/…/dEBATEACROSSTHECIRC.doc‎. By: Joe Bellon, Georgia State University. Web. 1 July 2013.
Bernier, Thomas. “The Benefits of Traveling.” INeedMotivation.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013.
Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.
Teichert, C. “What Is Global Citizenship?” What Is Global Citizenship? N.p., 26 Nov. 2009. Web. 01 July 2013.
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Humanitarian Aid: Conflict Resolution

Humanitarian Aid functions as a way for governments and people all around the world to contribute to those in need.  “Humanitarian aid’ is aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity” and “is intended to be governed by the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence” (GHA).  Violent conflicts produce some of the most abhorrent conditions that such aid aims to alleviate.  Children can become soldiers and casualties, entire ethnic groups may be targeted, and these are just a few of the many horrors that occur.  Aid in such situations needs to be held to a higher standard.  These aren’t education mission; lives are at stake.  Wasted time and money could otherwise save those caught in conflict.  However, not only does aid in its current form function inefficiently, its short-term mindset can also produce long-term problems.

 

Administering aid in conflict zones is a precarious ordeal; organizations have to deal with foreign governments, local leaders and hostile conditions.  This is not an excuse for poor performance, though.  We are in an age of smaller margins and greater efficiency, so there has to be a viable solution for delivering greater help, but first humanitarian organizations need to ensure that they aren’t doing more harm than good.  For example, if an organization desires to deliver aid to people suffering under an abusive group, then it most likely will have to negotiate with this group to be able to do so.  But, as Professor Keen of the London School of Economics points out, “providing aid in this way without drawing attention to human rights abuses tends to legitimize this underlying abusive process” (Keen).  So now, instead of helping those in need the agency has already given power to the abusers.

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This added legitimacy, combined with the power of controlling when, where and how much aid can be delivered, can actually fuel conflict.  An armed group persecuting civilians is a huge problem, but give this armed group access to clean food, water and medical attention and that problem skyrockets.  Not only can this directly benefit the abusers, but it can also serve as a source of power.  If locals need clean water or food, then they may have to go through the same group that is persecuting them.   Linda Polman in War Games asks “Should international non-governmental organizations carry on providing relief if warring factions use aid for their own benefit, thus prolonging the war?” (Polman)  Global Aid in 2011 was 15.1 billion dollars (US), isn’t it time we spent some of that money finding a better solution?

 

Humanitarian Aid groups rely on one thing to operate: donations.  This is their most important resource and many times the main influence for their direction.  This is in direct conflict with the goals of humanitarian aid.  If the goals are to save lives and alleviate suffering, shouldn’t that dictate where aid is given? Instead, organizations flock to the latest crisis instead of focusing on their current task.  Linda Polman describes this as “contract fever” (Polman).  This behavior shifts the focus from providing help to generating donors.  Another problem with this behavior is that it relies on the ‘trendy’ crisis, yet public attention is usually short-term and fairly fickle.  Everyone may be talking about the earthquake in Haiti today, but if a Tsunami strikes in Indonesia tomorrow then Haiti will be on the backburner.  Tiger Woods’s affair alone took attention completely away from many world events.  Another example of the pitfalls of operating in such a way is education. A UNESCO report found that “education accounts for just 2% of humanitarian aid, and only a small fraction of requests for humanitarian aid for education are met” (UNESCO).  Education is one of the building blocks for long-term, peaceful solutions.  Education helps those in need be better able to provide for and protect themselves. Education isn’t sexy, though.  Children reading in a new school doesn’t catch attention like refugees missing limbs or aid workers handing out boxes of food.

 warzone

The last major problem with humanitarian aid in conflict areas in that of politicized influences.  Neutrality is crucial to successfully delivering aid in both the short-term and long-term.  That abusive group won’t be as willing to let you into their territory if they think you are wing of the US military. Political relationships, just like public attention, can wax and wane.  An aid group from a particular country may be loved one day and despised the next completely because of unrelated actions by their government.  Referencing US aid work in Mali, William Moseley writes, “recipients sense that their welfare is not the real priority and fear political interference. Development aid for its own sake is the best way to maintain strong allies in the region and foster healthy, pluralistic societies” (Moseley).  Locals won’t be as willing to cooperate if they know that aid is just a tool for some greater goal.  The welfare of the people must be the ultimate goal.  Without trust these aid programs have a much larger chance of being unsuccessful.  Why would you wholeheartedly change your lifestyle if you thought those helping you were only using you for their own means?

 

Aid in conflict zones by its very nature is difficult, but we have to do better.  Those trapped in war torn areas need help and may have no other way of escaping the atrocities.  Aid organizations need to be smarter about how they spend their money.  If they were more efficient with their money they wouldn’t need as many donations to perform the same job, and maybe then the new disaster wouldn’t take precedent over the current one.

 

 

 

Beaumont, Peter. War zone aid ‘fuels more conflicts.’ The Guardian. January 13, 2007. Web. June 30, 2013.

Data and Guides. Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA). Web. June 30, 2013.

Keen, David. Aid and Development in the Context of Conflict. Food Insecurity in Protracted Crises. September 14, 2012. Web. June 30, 2013.

Moseley, William. Stop the Blanket Militarization of Humanitarian Aid. Foreign Policy. July 31, 2009. Web. July 1, 2013.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. 2010. Print.

Spang, Lyra. The Humanitarian Faction: The Politicization and Targeting of Aid Organizations in War Zones. International Affairs Review. Web. July 1, 2013.

World Humanitarian Data and Trends. OCHA. 2012. Web. June 30, 2013.

 

 

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Quinoa and the Global Citizen

Quinoa harvest in Bolivia

A true global citizen strives to be mindful, at all times, of their actions and the impacts that these actions have on the other citizens of the world. This responsibility is greatly applicable to the consumption of food in the context of the increasingly globalized food markets in our modern world.

A food item that exemplifies the need of globally mindful consumers to take into consideration the impacts of production on local producers and consumers is quinoa.

Quinoa is a food product that has recently skyrocketed in popularity, as more Americans and Europeans have become introduced to the chenopod’s unparalleled quality of acting as a significant source of amino acids and protein. The food item is almost exclusively produced in the South American Andes region, in the countries of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Perú. In the past, it has acted as a staple food in the diets of the local peoples of these nations but as of yet, the item has been flying off the shelves in such American stores as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and “…quinoa prices have almost tripled over the past five years,” with organic quinoa retailing for about $3.99 from Trader Joe’s. This increase in global demand has led to an inevitable increase in price and has had both positive and negative consequences for the people of the Andes.

On one hand, the rise in popularity of quinoa and increased access to global markets has led to a rise in economic success for Andean farmers and has provided them with higher incomes and improved living standards. A Bolivian farmer, Ernesto Choquetopa, was able to put his daughter through medical school with his quinoa earnings and thankfully acknowledges the increases in educational and vocational opportunity for local producers that result from quinoa’s upsurge in popularity. “Before, people didn’t go to study… they were born, they grew up, and that was it. They went on to herd sheep and llamas. Nothing more. Now people here, we think about doing something with our lives,” (Murphy). The globalization of quinoa as an export has acted as a catalyst for the re-investment of interest in rural development and rural agricultural investment in the Andean region by citizens who would traditionally move to urbanized areas or more developed countries such as Argentina and Chile. The commercial director of the National Association of Quinoa Producers Miguel Choque Llanos, is quoted as saying, “…rising quinoa prices have also encouraged city dwellers to return to their plots in the countryside during planting and harvest seasons.” And yet, despite all of these benefits to the people of the Andean region that is serving as the sole producer of quinoa, there are also negative consequences.

The international demand for quinoa as an export and the rising costs to meet that demand has made the product, formerly a staple food for the people of the Andes, too expensive for them to afford anymore. “The shift offers a glimpse into the consequences of rising prices and changing eating habits in both prosperous and developing nations (Romero, Shahriari).” Due to the lack of economic access to quinoa, natives of the South American countries become consumers of less-expensive, highly processed imported foods. In Lima, Perú, “…quinoa now costs more than chicken,” and “…imported junk food is cheaper” (Blythman). A nutritionist at a public Bolivian hospital, Hospital de Clínicas, says that, “While malnutrition on a national level has fallen over the past few years thanks to aggressive social welfare programs…studies showed that chronic malnutrition in children had climbed in quinoa-growing areas… in recent years” (Romero, Shahriari).

chocolate_slavery_main

Quinoa is not the only food item that has come into popularity on a global stage that presents moral issues for consumers. There are many imported foods that call for attention and lobbying from concerned, responsible global citizens in terms of its production and consumption. Another import that has had startling consequences on its local producers is cacao, the bean fondly known to produce chocolate, that is primarily farmed in West Africa, namely the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The billion-dollar industry relies heavily upon slave labor to keep up with the needed level of production and in order to keep production costs low. Oftentimes, vulnerable children from the neighboring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso are trafficked into “…some of the 1.5 million small cocoa farms in West Africa. These farms produce more than half the world’s cacao that’s processed into candy, cookies or cocoa butter used for cosmetics” (Aaronson). There are an “estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to create chocolate enjoyed around the world. Many of the children don’t even know what chocolate is” (CNN Freedom Project).

So how do we, as global citizens, move forward after acquiring this knowledge?

A way for global citizens to be responsible purchasers of food is to consume locally produced food items. As Joanna Blythman, from the news organization, the Guardian, says, there is a “…need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.” The most effective way of making our voices heard is to voice our opinion through our purchases as consumers and by choosing to purchase locally and in cases where locally sourced food items are not an option, fair trade purchasing needs to be a priority.

Global citizens also need to be the ones to step up and demand positive change in the context of globalized food markets. As members of the developed, Western world, we act as a “…vector for Western ideas and mode of behavior,” and whether we are conscious of it or not, the choices we make as consumers have consequences. It is of the utmost importance that global citizens take on the role of being responsible consumers that connect with legislators. It is important to inform our lawmakers in order to ensure that they are mindful of negative consequences perpetrated unknowingly by Western consumers in the hopes that they can enact global legislative change that will put an end to such things as child slavery within the self-regulated cacao industry. This does lead to change, as Congressmen Elliott Engel and Senator Tom Harkins felt called to act and “…created a multi-sectoral partnership, the Cocoa Protocol, to address the conditions that perpetuate forced child labor on these cacao plantations” (Aaronson).

Global citizens need to take strides to offset any imbalances or negative consequences for local producers caused by the globalization of food. It is the role and responsibility of global citizens to pursue the truth surrounding the food they purchase and consume. There are consequences that result from globalized food markets for the people that produce the food items. An obvious way to combat this is to actively seek out information on food, where it is coming from, and determine whether or not it is ethically sourced. Allowing this information to dictate one’s choices as a consumer is crucial and dispersing the information to others is deeply valuable.

Aaronson, Susan Ariel. “Globalization and Child Labor: The Cause Can Also Be a Cure.” Globalization And Child Labor: The Cause Can Also Be A Cure. Yale University, 13 Mar. 2007. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/globalization-and-child-labor-cause-can-also-be-cure>.

Blythman, Joanna. “Can Vegans Stomach the Unpalatable Truth about Quinoa?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 June 2013.

Donini, Antonio. Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

“Ferrero Sets Date to End Cocoa Slavery.” The CNN Freedom Project Ending Modern Day Slavery. Cable News Network, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/20/ferrero-sets-date-to-end-cocoa-slavery/>.

McKenzie, David, and Brent Swalls. “Child Slavery and Chocolate: All Too Easy to Find.” The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern Day Slavery. Cable News Network, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 01 July 2013.

Murphy, Annie. “Demand For Quinoa A Boon For Bolivian Farmers.” NPR. NPR, 13 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 June 2013.

Romero, Simon, and Sara Shahriari. “Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 19 Mar. 2011. Web.

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Perceptions of Africa

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In Africa, they’re all starving babies, they’re all warlords, they’re all AIDS victims.  This simply isn’t true.  Spanning 11.7 million square miles and supporting over one billion people, Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent on the planet.  There are bustling cities, small villages, cars, tribes, mountains, deserts, Muslims, Christians, conservation areas, hospitals, and forests.  However, it seems all we ever hear about this continent is disease, dictators, and drug lords.  Nothing in the media ever portrays Africa in a positive light.  “The continent is reported either as overpopulated, so people can’t grow enough food and starve, or depopulated by AIDS and war.  The Africans in these stories rarely dress in suits and ties. Either they carry Kalashnikovs or they’re half-naked with prominent ribs and bare breasts.” (Polman 167).  American perceptions of Africa are an example of monolithic thinking, generalizing to the point where everything is the same.  Africa is an extremely diverse continent, but most people don’t realize that.

Although AIDS is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly, not everybody in Africa is dying from it.  As terrible as this epidemic is, it affects far from the entire continent.  23.8 million people in Africa are HIV-positive, and in 2010, 1.2 million died of AIDS.  These numbers translate to 2.4% and 0.12%, respectively, of the total population.  A higher percentage of people died from malignant cancers in the United States than died of AIDS on the entire continent of Africa in 2010. (National Vital Statistics Report, Table 10).  Rather than saying that all of Africa is infected with HIV/AIDS, we should say that sub-Saharan Africa has an AIDS epidemic.  This map provides an idea of what the estimated HIV prevalence is in different countries all around the world.

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Darker color = Higher prevalence of HIV

Another misconception that many people have is that people in Africa are uneducated.  Again, literacy rates change depending on the African country about which you are speaking.  Literacy rates in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Libya, Gabon, Botswana, Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Namibia, and Kenya are all higher than the world average.  In fact, in Tanzania, a fifteen-year-old boy made a groundbreaking scientific discovery about a property of water that scientists are still trying to explain today.  Saying the entire continent of Africa has problems with literacy would be like saying the entire United States has the same literacy rate of southern Mississippi or the same crime rate as the south side of Chicago.  Each region has its own problems, and you cannot generalize them to the entire continent.

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Ethnocentrism affects how we view Africa also.  Most African cultures are unlike Western cultures, so we tend to lump them into the category of “different”.  Different is not wrong, it is simply different.  When asked to choose a picture that best depicted Africa, “Over 73% of all pupils [in a Leeds University research study] selected a picture of hungry children holding out an empty plate.” (Media Influences 3).  This is a perfect example of what people think Africa consists of.

Wedding in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Wedding in Freetown, Sierra Leone

 

Kenyan Maasai Warrior

Kenyan Maasai Warrior

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On the beach in Angola

Zulu dancer in South Africa

Zulu dancers in South Africa

African Acacia Tree

African Acacia Tree

These pictures show that Africa is an extremely diverse place, full of different people and places.  To put the entire continent in the same category of “suffering” and “darkness” is not fair to anyone.  Henry Kissinger, a Nobel laureate, called Africa, “the festering disaster of our age.”  The video “Radi-Aid” is a satirical look at how some Africans are fed up with being seen as the charity case of the world.  The video caused people all over the world to take another look at how they view Africa.  News outlets across the globe reacted to the video- one reporter pointed out that if the images of Norway displayed in the video were all the exposure you had to the country, you would probably think it was a poor country dying from cold exposure.  This turns the tables on the charitable donation videos we see on the television all the time.  Are these videos an accurate representation of the continent as a whole, or just a portion of it?  These images most definitely skew our vision of the continent of Africa.  These disasters are absolutely happening in Africa, but it is unrealistic and unfair to say that the whole continent is suffering.

The perceptions we have of Africa not only shape what we think of the continent, but what its people think about themselves.  “It is important to realize, however, that most people from African countries receive information about Africa via Western media, thus the Western media is responsible for not only shaping the minds of the American public, but of many African audiences as well.” (Wallace, American Perceptions).  We owe it to Africans to accurately represent their lives to the rest of the world.  From Egypt to Botswana to Malawi to Ghana, to be African means something different all across the continent’s 11.7 million square miles of land.

As Linda Polman put it, “Clearly, Africa has an image problem.” (Polman 167).  Learning what Africa is made up of, who the African people are, and what their individual struggles are is a necessary burden.  Many people will never travel to Africa, so they rely on the media’s portrayal to shape their perceptions.  If the media continues on their bender of negative African news stories, Africa will continue to be seen as the “scar on the conscience of the world.” (Polman 167).  We must shift our perceptions of Africa.  Look up statistics.  Read about peoples’ lives.  If possible, go visit the continent itself and learn firsthand what it’s like.  We must be accountable for what we know, as this affects how we act.  The homogenous view many people have of Africa reduces the color painting of nearly a billion people to a single pixel.  Being African is as diverse as each of those billion people- show them the respect of individuality they deserve.

 

Works Cited

 

“11 Facts About HIV in Africa.” Do Something. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2013. <http://www.dosomething.org/actnow/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-hiv-africa>.

“AIDSinfo.” UNAIDS. United Nations, n.d. Web. 30 June 2013. <http://www.unaids.org/en/dataanalysis/datatools/aidsinfo/>.

“Africa in Pictures.” BBC News. BBC, 29 June 2007. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/6255422.stm>.

“Africa For Norway – New Charity Single out Now!” YouTube. SAIH Norway, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 29 June 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJLqyuxm96k>.

“Africa for Norway – News Collection.” YouTube. YouTube, 05 Dec. 2012. Web. 29 June 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l17zUTOtkY>.

“African Revolution.” My Continent- Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://mycontinent.co/African-Revolution.php>.

Heimbuch, Jaymi. “Acacia Trees Could Solve Africa’s Soil Problems, Be the Future for Farms.” TreeHugger. N.p., 25 Aug. 2009. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/acacia-trees-could-solve-africas-soil-problems-be-the-future-for-farms.html>.

“HIV and AIDS in Africa.” AVERT. AVERT, n.d. Web. 30 June 2013. <http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-africa.htm>.

“List of Countries by Literacy Rate.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Jan. 2013. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate>.

National Vital Statistics Report- Deaths: Final Data for 2010. Rep. CDC, n.d. Web. 30 June 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/deaths_2010_release.pdf>.

“Perceptions of Africa” Global Thinking: Learning to Change the World. Global Thinking Cooperative, Ltd., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.global-thinking.org.uk/resources/perceptions-of-africa>.

Polman, Linda, and Liz Waters. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.

“Redefining Western Perceptions of Africa.” Environmental Graffiti. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/cultures/news-redefining-african-image>.

“Sahara Desert: Hottest Desert in the World.” Famous Wonders of the World. Famous Wonders, n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://famouswonders.com/sahara-desert-hottest-desert-in-the-world/>.

Sharp, Gwen. “”Africa for Norway” Challenges Perceptions of Africa.” Sociological Images RSS. The Society Pages, 04 Dec. 2012. Web. 30 June 2013. <http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/12/04/africa-for-norway-challenges-perceptions-of-africa/>.

Wallace, Jamie B. “American Perceptions of Africa Based on Media Representations.” Holler Africa! Adonis and Abbey Publishers, Ltd., n.d. Web. 29 June 2013. <http://www.hollerafrica.com/showArticle.php?artId=101>.

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The Benefits of Ethnomedicine

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In many developing nations, traditional medical healers and herbal medicines are a prevalent part of the present culture. When humanitarian aid organizations send medical professionals and treatments to these developing nations, traditional medical methods become ignored. Many Westerners would agree that shying away from traditional medicine would mean progress for developing nations, and is therefore an essential past of development. This kind of ethnocentric attitude is leading to an unnecessary loss of culture. Recent studies show that traditional medicine is much more beneficial than once realized, and may be an important aspect in the future of medicine. This type of medicine is defined as ethnomedicine and “explores the medical institutions and the manner in which peoples cope with illness and disease as a result of their cultural perspective” (“Ethnomedicine”). Organizations such as The Institute for Ethnomedicine search “for new cures by studying plant medicine and patterns of wellness and disease among indigenous people” (“The Institute…). In order to preserve traditional cultures and learn more about these methods of medical care, humanitarian aid organizations must remain open-minded to these practices. By ignoring their benefits and only using Westernized methods of medicine, aid workers are bringing even more harm to the victims of crisis.

One of the major misconceptions western society has of ethnomedicine is that it is ineffective. Many associate the ideas of “magic” and “witch doctors” with traditional medicine, when in fact many researchers have found that these herbal medicines can be very effective.  A study conducted by Daniel Fabricant and Norman Farnsworth in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives found that we still have a lot to learn from traditional medical methods, and threats to traditional cultures may hinder these findings. The study stated, “the body of existing ethnomedical knowledge has led to great developments in health care. With the rapid industrialization of the planet and the loss of ethnic cultures and customs, some of this information will no doubt disappear.” (Fabricant and Farnsworth). Preserving traditional medical practices should therefore be of great importance to medical aid workers. Aid workers should be respectful of traditional ways. The study further “demonstrated that 80% of these have had an ethnomedical use identical or related to the current use of the active elements of the plant” (Fabricant and Fransworth). Many of these medical remedies are concurrent with the findings of modern science. By inaccurately dismissing traditional methods inferior or useless, aid workers are encouraging victims to reject their own culture. These kinds of ethnocentric behaviors from the humanitarian aid industry will be detrimental to the cultures of developing countries.

In addition to its scientific credibility, ethnomedicine is what many residents of developing countries are accustomed to. When aid organizations give out modern medicines and encourage westernized medical practices, victims can become confused and uncomfortable with these unfamiliar practices. They often prefer their own traditional medicines and will seek out these methods instead of the medical aid being offered. In a study by Edward Green, he examined how STDs often go unreported in African medical clinics, as natives believe traditional medicine is more efficient than westernized medicine. He reported that “most STD cases are never even presented at biomedical health facilities; they are presented to traditional healers and their patients seem to believe that traditional STD cures are more effective than ‘modern’ cures. Traditional healers therefore need to be a central part of any scheme to lower the incidence of STDs” (Green). As Green suggests, there should be more of an effort to infuse modern medical practices with traditional methods when providing aid. This would make native residents more comfortable, encourage the preservation of traditional culture, and allow westernized doctors to use modern medicine when they see fit. In respect for the wants of the native residents, medical aid organizations should be more conscious of ethnomedical practices.

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An African herbal medicine being created.

Critics of humanitarian aid also believe that aid workers are ignoring the needs of the victims. Ethnocentric biases keep western aid industries from identifying the true needs of the victims. In is article Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power, Donini explains that all aid workers carry “cultural baggage” that impacts the native population. In the case of medical aid, ignoring ethnomedical practices and traditional cultures can lead to ineffective aid. Donini explains that victims often believe “they [aid workers] want to help, but they tell us what to do without asking” (Donini). In this way, medical aid organizations do not notice native preference for traditional medicine because they do not even ask about the victims’ preferences. Teju Cole argues, “there is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them” (Cole). This kind of consultation will encourage the preservation of traditional medicine and truly benefit the recipients of aid.

For those who would argue that traditional medicine would be ineffective in the case of humanitarian aid, a study by Gerard Bodeke and Cora Neumann found that refugee camps in Thailand are utilizing local ethnomedical practitioners to provide aid. The study stated the following:

The Burmese regime’s protracted violent conflict with its ethnic minorities has resulted in 2 million migrants and refugees settling across the border in Thailand. In addition there are an estimated 600,000 internally displaced people in border regions within Burma. For many, conventional health services are limited or unavailable. Traditional health practitioners are adapting their practices to meet refugee and migrants’ changing needs, creating options for sustainable community-based health services. (Bodeker and Neumann)

This instance not only shows that traditional medicine can be effectively used in humanitarian aid, but creates the idea of instilling self-sustainable medical communities when aid workers leave. With western medical practices, once the aid workers are gone, there is no one left to continue providing modern medical care. However, by infusing modern medical practices with ethnomedicine, native healers can continue these medical practices long after aid workers have gone. This can help expand the effectiveness of aid and exponentially increase the benefits for aid recipients.

To move past the ethnocentric bias prevalent in the medical aid industry, aid organizations must reflect on their own shortcomings. In the book In the Eyes of Others, Caroline Abu-Sada examines the work of Doctors Without Boarders to reveal how the organization can more effectively provide aid. She concluded that “the MSF should definitely get back into the habit of negotiating with the parties involved: politicians, ministries of health, and local people” (Abu-Sada). Abu-Sada agrees that by consulting local officials, medical aid can be vastly improved. Like Abu-Sada and Doctors Without Boarders, other medical aid organizations must reflect on their history and realize the relationship with natives must be restored to effectively provide aid. This will ensure that traditional medical practices are kept relevant and that victims receive optimal care.

The benefits of ethnomedicine cannot be ignored. For residents of developing countries, traditional medicine is preferred and can ultimately be more effective when providing aid. Aid organizations must revisit their practices and work to include these traditional medical methods. This way, medical aid can be more effective and last even after aid workers have left the crisis. Western aid workers must work to lose their ethnocentric tendencies and embrace the profits of incorporating traditional medicine into their practices.

The following is a video explaining the benefits of integrative medicine and the importance of using more traditional medical practices: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0whDr7XT0U

 

 

Sources:

Abu-Sada, Caroline. “In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid.” Doctors Without Borders. 2012. Print.

Bodeker, Gerard, and Cora Neumann. “Revitalization and Development of Karen Traditional Medicine for Sustainable Refugee Health Services at the Thai–Burma Border.” Journal Of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 10.1 (2012).

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254

Donini, Antonio. “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power.” In the Eyes of Others. Ed. Caroline Abu-Sada. Doctors Without Borders, 2012. Print.

“Ethnomedicine.” Medanth. 01 July 2013. <http://medanth.wikispaces.com/Ethnomedicine>.

Fabricant, Daniel, and Norman Farnsworth. “The Value of Plants Used in Traditional Medicine for Drug Discovery.” Environmental Health Perspectives 109.1 (2001).

Green, Edward C. “Sexually Transmitted Disease, Ethnomedicine and Health Policy in Africa.” Social Science & Medicine 35.2 (1992): 121-30. Print.

“The Institute for EthnoMedicine.” The Institute for EthnoMedicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.ethnomedicine.org/>.

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Accounting – What’s the problem?

In War Games, Polman outlined many problems that humanitarian aid organizations face when providing aid. One problem that was interesting was the fact that many organizations have funds going to unintended sources. This occurs when militias or governments limit access to the intended recipients of aid. They will only allow passage if they are bribed by receiving a percentage of the aid being given or getting a cash equivalent. It occurs not only when militias or governments limit access, but can occur when aid work is subcontracted, as was the case in Afghanistan. The fact that money or goods were going to unintended sources was surprising and even more surprising was the fact that they weren’t being held accountable for these “missing” funds. From an accounting standpoint, this seems almost impossible. How is it possible that these funds are not being used for their intended purposes and why isn’t management being held accountable for what does happen to these funds? To try to understand this, we will look at the differences that exist between corporations and humanitarian aid organizations.

In researching, it’s not surprising that most corporations are classified as for-profit corporations, while humanitarian aid organizations are classified as not-for-profit organizations (NPOs), or non-profit organizations. For-profit corporations, their primary mission is to earn profits for stakeholders. With NPOs, their mission is to provide services that are needed by society. On the surface, this is a simple concept and probably stands out as pretty obvious to anyone, even if you don’t have an accounting background. But this difference could be the key to why there is little accountability when it comes to humanitarian aid organizations.

In corporations, management’s decisions are judged by their stockholders, or principal investors. It is commonly referred to as the principal-agent relationship. This relationship can be judged by some sort of numerical, statistical, financial, or comparable data, which can be found in the financial statements. For example, how much did the corporation’s net sales increase? A look at the corporation’s financial statements can easily determine this increase or decrease. Progress, or digression, is easily quantifiable. In essence, the principal investors (principal) are able to judge the corporations management (agent) and evaluate their performance based on the data. The principal expects and relies on the agent do what is in the best interest for the principal. They are able to offer incentives that can help deter the agent from seeking their own personal agenda.

However, when we look at the principal-agent relationship for humanitarian aid organizations, we find that it is much harder to distinguish who belongs where in this relationship. It is clear in for-profit corporations that the primary goal is to earn profits for the stockholders. So that principal-agent relationship is spelled out clearly in the mission. The mission of the NPO is to provide services to society. Should the people receiving aid be the principal? Should it be the people donating money? Is it society? Is it the NPO itself or its workers? There is no clear answer to this question and even if there was, we would be faced with another problem, the financial statements.

The financial statements for NPOs and corporations differ significantly as well. For corporations, there are four major financial statements.

They are: (1) balance sheets; (2) income statements; (3) cash flow statements; and (4) statements of shareholders’ equity. Balance sheets show what a company owns and what it owes at a fixed point in time. Income statements show how much money a company made and spent over a period of time. Cash flow statements show the exchange of money between a company and the outside world also over a period of time. The fourth financial statement, called a “statement of shareholders’ equity,” shows changes in the interests of the company’s shareholders over time. (“Beginners’ Guide to Financial Statements”)

All publicly traded corporations on the US stock market are required to file these financial statements annually with the SEC. For NPOs, these reports are not required annually, or at all. However, in order to qualify for tax exempt status, NPOs must file a set of completely different financial statements.

They are: (1) Statement of Financial Position; (2) Statement of Activities; (3) Statement of Cash Flows; and (4) Statement of Functional Expenses (for some NPOs). The statement of financial position is similar to the above balance sheet. The statement of activities shows revenue and expense amounts. The statement of cash flows is also similar to the above statement of cash flow. The statement of functional expenses reports expenses by their function and by the nature or type of expense. (“Differences between Nonprofits and For-Profits”)

While some of these reports appear to be the same, it would be impractical to compare NPOs to corporations because they do not share a similar business structure or objective. It would also be impractical to compare NPOs because these numbers will depend solely on the size of the organization, number of donors, and amount received by donors. Unlike corporations, whose financial statements can evaluate the running of the business, NPOs financial statements are not able to quantify the success of aid missions or show the exact amount that actually reached its intended user.  It appears the only purpose the financial reports provided by NPOs is to qualify them for tax exemption.  It does not really show or grade the performance of the organization or the aid they are providing.

These two seemingly small problems lead to the the problems we see presently in humanitarian aid organizations.  The inability for accurate financial statements allows for funds to go missing and not reach their intended target users.  The fact that there is no clear principal-agent relationship continues to allow this to go on without anyone to answer for it.  Do some people just donate to humanitarian aid organizations in order to receive a tax break and not care where the money actually goes?  Sure, but there must be something done to increase accountability and awareness for when, how, and who receives their funds.

 

Bennett editorial cartoon

 

Works Cited:

“Beginners’ Guide to Financial Statements.” U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. SEC, 05 Feb 2007. Web. 1 Jul 2013. <http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/begfinstmtguide.htm>.

“Differences between Nonprofits and For-Profits.” Accounting Coach. N.p.. Web. 1 Jul 2013. <http://www.accountingcoach.com/nonprofit-accounting/>.

N.d. Photograph. n.p. Web. 1 Jul 2013. <http://media.timesfreepress.com/img/photos/2009/02/20/090221_crunching_numbers.jpg>.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Financial statement.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_statement>.

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The Importance of Understanding Our Contributions

We live in a world that is full of organizations proclaiming that they serve those in need, and provide help to the most impoverished of the world. But how pure are these organizations’ intentions, and how effective are their methods? These are questions that every informed citizen must consider before they volunteer their time and their talents, or donate their money to an organization.

Take for instance TOM’s shoes, whose “One for One Movement” promises to give a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased.

These shoe donations fail to address more pertinent issues, and actually in some ways even exacerbate the problems facing the areas where TOM’s operates. There are three main fundamental issues with the TOM’s “One for One Movement.”

The first issue comes with the inefficient appropriation of funds from the shoe sales.

TOM’s main goal is to prevent the spread of diseases like hookworm, which can cause brain damage, and are transmitted by fecal matter touching bare feet.

Although the donated TOM’s shoes provide a temporary solution, a cost-benefit analysis shows that the TOM’s project is a poor investment.

Zac Mason, a former Peace Corps member, puts it eloquently in a hypothetical situation he draws up, saying, “If there are 1,000 children at a school in an Ethiopian village, for you to provide TOM’s alpargatas (shoe style) for the entire student body it would cost about $27,000. By handing out 1,000 pairs of free shoes for a total of $27,000, you could theoretically protect 1,000 children from hookworm, ascariasis, podoconiosis and stubbed toes for about 2 years (the estimated time that the cloth shoes would wear out, especially with these children living in rough terrain and doing daily hard labor). Alternatively, if this money was instead donated to a local public health organization, cement latrine facilities could be built nearby for an estimated cost of $2,000. In essence with the same funds ($27,000) one could temporarily postpone hookworm incidents for two years in one community, or eradicate them for decades in 13.” (Mason)

These latrines could help solve the issue of hookworm on a much larger scale, for much longer, and for much less money. But why do we instead choose to buy TOM's shoes instead, when they only provide a temporary solution?

These latrines could help solve the issue of hookworm on a much larger scale, for much longer, and for far less money. So then why do we choose to buy TOM’s shoes instead, when they only provide a temporary solution?

The second and perhaps even more unfortunate effect of TOM’s shoes is the devastation it wreaks on local economies. TOM’s distributes their shoes to over 50 countries, but produces them in just three, (Argentina, China, and Ethiopia) meaning that the so called shoe-drops, completely ruin the market for local shoe-makers, and prevent the opportunity for empowering the local community to take care of themselves.  (Mycoskie) The best aid campaigns work with the local population, not for them.

The last grievance comes with TOM’s religious ties to the Evangelical church, something that in and of itself is not a problem all, but it becomes a serious issue when other religious groups are discriminated against as a result. For example as Mason states, “the missionaries working for one Evangelical giving partner, Bridge 2 Rwanda, distributed some 6,000 shoes to a number of students at schools in that nation. They gave to 50 schools within one Anglican diocese, only delivering TOM’s shoes to one school outside that Christian network.” (Costello)

One of the Bridge 2 Rwanda volunteers outfitting children with TOM’s shoes wearing a “Make Jesus Famous” shirt. Some of the strongly Evangelical TOM’s giving donors have been known to only distribute shoes following Christian church services to encourage attendance

Although one might argue that donating directly to countries in need of aid through established NGOs would be a much more effective means of helping others, even they are not without their fair share of issues. Massive and supposedly credible organizations like the U.N. and Red Cross have been found guilty of atrocious negligence, and even abuse.

Dozens of NGO’s have been identified in the “sex-for-food” scandals documented in the “No One to Turn to” report by Save the Children UK, which revealed that aid workers had been withholding food and medical supplies in exchange for sexual acts. (Save the Children) Reports like these, when coupled with the fact that a great amount of the donations collected for these aid campaigns wind up in the hands of combatants in conflicts, make it difficult to support an argument for these NGO’s being worthy of our volunteer efforts and donations.

Polman describes this issue in her book “The Crisis Caravan” where she says, “No matter how often the Red Cross rules may be trampled underfoot by warlords, generals, rebel leaders, agitators, local chiefs, insurgents, heads of splinter groups, militia commanders, trans-national terrorist leaders, regime bosses, mercenaries, freedom fighters, and national and international governments, the humanitarians persist in brandishing their Red Cross principles and accept no responsibility for the abuse of their aid.” (Polman)

Polman recalls countless cases of heavy taxes being levied on the incoming supplies, the creation of tollbooth style roadblocks that extort money and aid from the workers entering the area, and goods being stolen directly from the supply planes and warehouses. She writes that some INGOs estimated that, “on average militias stole 60 percent of all aid supplies being distributed, partly for their own use, partly to sell back to civilians in camps.” (Polman) With security forces protecting these supplies and convoys proving inadequate, (twenty-five armed private security guards were murdered at a CARE Canada warehouse by a group of Hutu extremists who, “then demanded – and apparently got- regular salaries from CARE.”) much of these donations inadvertently find their way into the hands of genocidaires and common thieves.  (Polman)

How then are we able to identify aid organizations and companies that will ensure that our volunteer efforts and donations are part of the solution and not part of the problem?

The first step must be to avoid “feel good” gimmicks and passing trends. Organizations like TOM’S or the KONY campaign appeal to us by increasing our sense of “achieved status” a sociological idea that essentially means our perceived “social prestige or ranking.” (Brown) The KONY campaign for example, led by Jason Russell, falls victim to all of the trappings of what Teju Cole described as, “The White Savior Industrial Complex” something that Cole believes, “is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” (Cole) That is precisely what makes KONY such a dangerous campaign – it oversimplifies a very complex, volatile political and cultural landscape, and condenses a conflict (with horrifying war crimes on both sides) into a neat, tidy, feel-good video on YouTube, and a merchandise shop where you can purchase posters and wristbands to show others just how compassionate and worldly you are.

The best way to contribute and aid those around us is to first ask, “What is it that you need?” rather than saying, “I want to give you shoes.” We cannot assume that we know how best to solve the complicated issue of child soldiers being used in Africa just because we’ve seen a video telling us how we should feel about it. We also cannot blindly trust large organizations like the U.N. or the Red Cross to always be able to distribute aid effectively, ethically and responsibly. We must always be wary of these organizations who claim to place others before themselves, and understand the full scope of their effects before we contribute, because we might end up doing more harm than good.

Works Cited:

Cole, Teju. March 21, 2012. July 1, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/

Polman, Linda. “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?” New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print.

Costello, Amy. July 1, 2013. http://www.tinyspark.org/podcasts/toms-shoes/

Mason, Zac. “Do You Cause More Harm Than Good By Giving TOMs Shoes to the Poor?” October 4, 2010 July 1, 2013.

Mycoskie, Blake. July 1, 2013. http://www.toms.com/companyinfo

Save the Children. “No One to Turn To” July 1, 2013. http://www.un.org/en/pseataskforce/docs/no_one_to_turn_under_reporting_of_child_sea_by_aid_workers.pdf

Brown, David. July 1, 2013. http://www.ngfl-cymru.org.uk/vtc/ngfl/sociology/detailed_glossary.htm

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Why Some Countries are “Trapped” in Poverty

On earth, billions of humans are stricken by poverty. They don’t have access to a steady, if any, income, no access to running water, plumbing, proper living arrangements, etc. Of this group there are a little over one billion individuals that are literally stuck in poverty, meaning no matter how much aid organizations can try and help them, they will most likely stay insurmountably poor until the day they die. In his book entitled “The Bottom Billion”, Paul Collier talks about four different poverty traps, four different reasons why societies in this bottom billion are stuck in poverty. Two of them that go hand-in-hand are being in an area engaged in war, as well as having bad governance. There is a large amount of overlap between these two traps, and together account for a heavy majority of people in the bottom billion. If aid organizations worked to improve these two circumstances when providing support, it might just be possible to significantly improve the lives of citizens that are part of the bottom billion.

A poorly governed nation will never be able to reach its full economic potential. Even in areas where there is a large portion of wealthy people, poverty will always stay constant throughout a society without effective local government(s). One of the major problems in providing aid to countries is that a large central government won’t know how to properly distribute everything given to them, “local governments, often neglected or nonexistent in the developing world, must play a crucial role in poverty reduction” (Crossette).

In areas with a nonexistent local government large portions of the population lack any sort of political voice, especially those who are chronically poor. Governments that are supposed to oversee all parts of the region they’re in charge of end up ineffectively recognizing the most basic needs and rights of the citizens they govern (Chronic Poverty Report). As a result, many citizens stuck in poverty are discriminated against. They will be denied access to many goods and services because of where they are located on the social ladder.

Circumstances only become worse when the population of a third-world country realizes how weak an ineffective their government, and wants to take matters into their own hands. This was precisely the case with the start of the Second Sudanese Civil War. South Sudanese rebel leader, John Garang de Mabior, led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army from 1983 to 2005. His main goal was to fight for “New Sudan”; he advocated that minorities should come together and rule Sudan, having not been properly represented in the past under Islamic Law (Wikipedia contributors). The Second Sudanese Civil War resulted in the deaths of over two million people, leaving the country ravaged by famine and disease. It effectively created a lost generation of Sudanese citizens because of a lack of investment in the South during and after the war.

The events that took place in Sudan represent another one of Collier’s poverty traps “conflict.” An area engaged in civil conflict will suffer in a variety of different ways. War causes poverty and ruins the economy of surrounding area. This is a huge problem for organizations trying to provide support to citizens. Another example of this is present throughout Liberia, “Warlords try to siphon off as large a proportion of the value of aid supplies as they can […] The Liberian war victims weren’t the only ones who had to eat, after all” (Polman 89). Around 75% of people part of the bottom billion are parts of nations stricken by civil war. In the end, more of the aid support ends up helping the soldiers fighting than the civilians who actually need it. One of the first steps to fighting poverty is the spread of peace.

Conflict and bad governance is a vicious cycle; both feed each other and ruin the economy of a region. A poorly governed country will habitually result in uprisings and possibly civil war. A civil war, after devastating the surrounding region and dragging in a handful of the surrounding countries, usually ends in the establishment of a government that only half the population is content with. Many policymakers believe conflict to be a result of poverty, but need to realize that very often, it’s the other way around. War is expensive; “Why would those living under precarious economic conditions participate in and support civil wars? Traditional political science literature attributes participation in violence to the presence of material incentives” (Justino). A country with some wealth will much more likely be able to fuel a civil war for some time than a country whose economy is almost nonexistent.

Collier points out that there are two things key to providing aid to the bottom billion: “compassion and enlightened self-interest.” Once these are seriously implemented, then we can begin to change the world. Aid isn’t the only part of the solution. Providing money to a country trapped in civil war will often help those fighting more so than the citizens it should be going to, as presented in chapter five of “War Games”, entitled “Aid as a weapon of war”. This is also evident when considering the natural resources the trade. The amount of revenue that, say Uganda receives from drilling for oil dwarfs the amount of money received through aid programs, yet they are still stuck in poverty (Collier). Large amounts of money are virtually useless if a country doesn’t understand how to properly spend it effectively.

The key to helping countries in the bottom billion is providing aid that will help develop a country in the long term, and in a variety of different ways. Many times an organization will throw money at a central government and expect it to trickle down to those who need it the most. Unfortunately this is not the case. If an organization wants to get serious about bringing a country out of poverty, the first step is to attempt to end any existing conflict in the region(s). The next step is to establish a lasting government that doesn’t ignore the needs of huge portions of society. These two steps are crucial in providing a proper effort in development assistance. Only after this, developing a country’s economy proves much more beneficial in the long term and will have more lasting positive effects on the population as a whole.

 

Chronic Poverty Research Centre. The Chronic Poverty Report 2008-09: Escaping Poverty Traps. Rep. Chronic Poverty Research Centre, 2009. Web.

Collier, Paul. 4 Ways to Improve the Lives of the Bottom Billion. TEDTalks, 2008. Video.

Crossette, Barbara. “U.N. Says Bad Government Is Often the Cause of Poverty.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 Apr. 2000. Web.

Justino, Patricia. “Conflict Traps: How Does Poverty Cause War, and How Does War Cause poverty?” MICROCON. WordPress, 27 Apr. 2011. Web.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Second Sudanese Civil War.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 June 2013. Web.

Williams, Jeremy. “Why Some Countries Remain Poor: Paul Collier’s Four Poverty traps.” Make Wealth History. Creative Commons, 8 Dec. 2008. Web.

 

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Individual Research- Blood Diamonds

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Have you ever walked into a jewelry store and admired all the shining, beautiful diamonds? Have you ever wondered where exactly these gorgeous stones comes from? Without being certified by gemological laboratories, there is no way to know where diamonds actually come from. I have a lot of personal experience working with diamonds because I am currently employed with a jewelry store. Each day at work I am exposed to massive amounts of diamonds, whether I am showing a customer a diamond necklace, diamond earrings or diamond ring. Some of our diamonds are certified but that greatly increases the price of these already expensive stones. However, uncertified diamonds could be from anywhere in the world. In the store I work at, we are unsure what continent our uncertified diamonds even come from. With uncertified diamonds, it raises the question of whether or not they are conflict diamonds.

Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, are defined by the United Nations as “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council (Diamondfacts.org).” In other words, they are diamonds that are illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, particularly in central and western Africa (Diamondfacts.org). Conflict  diamonds came about in Sierra Leone in the 1990s (The Digital Universe). After watching the movie Blood Diamond, it really opened my eyes and put into perspective what actually happens to get these diamonds. Something that really jumped out to me was that “thousands of people have died but none have ever seen a diamond (Blood Diamond).” The fact that people are losing their lives over these precious and high sought after stones is astonishing. The movie also brought to light that rebel groups in Africa will go to villages and kill everyone except young boys and men. They capture these boys and men and force them to work in the diamond mines. They work long hours and are often beaten and sometimes even killed. All for a diamond that has a high chance of being bought and sold in America. According to Blood Diamond, the U.S. is responsible for 2/3 of diamond purchases and conflict stones account for fifteen percent of diamonds (Blood Diamond). Something I also found interesting was that an American reporter in the movie, who was in Sierra Leone documenting the violence taking place, said that “people back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone their hand (Blood Diamond). I think this is a very powerful and accurate statement. A lot of people in our country just simply aren’t informed about conflict diamonds or if they know what they are, they are unaware of the brutality that takes place to get them. I found the following video on CNN’s website which shows the violence in Sierra Leone. http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-881410

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As an employee at a jewelry store, conflict diamonds is something that a few customers have asked us about. A couple weeks ago I was showing a woman engagement rings and she asked if any of the diamonds were conflict diamonds. So how does one respond to this you may ask? Through the company I am employed with, they took the time to make pamphlets that explain everything our customers need to know to ensure in their minds that we do not carry conflict diamonds. In short the warranty for the company I work for states “the diamonds herein invoiced have been purchased from legitimate sources not involved in funding conflict and in compliance with United Nations Resolutions. The seller hereby guarantees that these diamonds are conflict-free, based on personal knowledge and/or written guarantees provided by the supplier of these diamonds (“Our Diamond Sourcing Policy”).” As instructed by my manager, if any customer ever questions or asks about conflict diamonds I am to show them the pamphlet our company provides to each of its stores. The entire pamphlet is shown in the picture below.

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Another jewelry store, that is well-known worldwide, is Tiffany & Co. Tiffany also takes a stand against conflict diamonds and has even protested against them. Something that I found interesting was during my reading of War Games by Linda Polman. In this book it talks about children being sent to America from Africa in hopes of a better life. In regards to these children being sent to America, War Games mentions that “soon after their arrival in New York they appeared as special guests at demonstrations on the steps of Tiffany’s against giving ‘blood diamonds’ as Christmas presents (Polman, 71).” I don’t necessarily think this was the best way for Tiffany to get their message across about their company’s policy and its disassociation with conflict diamonds. They were essentially just using these children, who were from Sierra Leone, to act as a reason why Tiffany does not support conflict diamonds. They may have not had personal experience with conflict diamonds or even had a member of their family taken to go work in the mines. But since they are from the country where conflict diamonds are mined, Tiffany & Co. decided to use them in their demonstration. However, I do applaud the fact that Tiffany took the initiative to speak out against conflict diamonds and encourage consumers not to buy them.

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Despite the promise of certain jewelry companies that they do not sell conflict diamonds, it is hard to know for sure if the stone is not certified. If someone is still concerned about the diamond they are buying, I definitely recommend purchasing a certified stone, though they cost a little bit more. Certified diamonds come with certificates that give a diamond’s exact measurements, weight, cut and overall quality (kay.com). With certified diamonds, you know everything that you can about the stone you are buying. They also go through gemological laboratories, where qualified professionals state the characteristics of each diamond that comes into their company. With non certified diamonds, you have no idea where your stone is from or any of the qualities that comprise it. Since diamonds are such a special thing to buy or receive as a gift, I highly recommend purchasing certified diamonds. You want to make sure that what you are buying is worth it.

Another way that jewelry companies are helping to stop the process and sale of conflict diamonds is by signing the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process started when Southern African diamond-producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, in May 2000, to discuss ways to stop the trade in ‘conflict diamonds’ and ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violence by rebel movements (kimberleyprocess.com). The company that I work for is a part of this process and mentions it on the pamphlet I talked about earlier. I think the Kimberley Process was a good response to the violence in Sierra Leone in regards to conflict diamonds. The Kimberley Process imposes extensive requirements on its members to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as ‘conflict-free’ and prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate trade (kimberleyprocess.com). The following link shows all of these requirements.http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/documents/10191/14969/0004_KPCS_Document_en.pdf Obviously the Kimberley Process can not entirely stop the violence, sale, and purchasing associated with conflict diamonds. Thirteen years later it is still happening and jewelry stores are still coming in contact with customers who are concerned that their diamond is part of this. But I do think the Kimberley Process is greatly decreasing the sale of these diamonds.

So how does a good global citizen respond to all of this? I think it starts with being informed. A good global citizen should be aware of these issues and violence, much like any other situation in the world. Conflict diamonds should not take the back seat to other issues because I think it is just as important. People are losing their lives so we can have a pretty ring on our finger or pendant around our neck. Being informed is key when it comes to global issues such as conflict diamonds. As a good global citizen, I believe they also have the responsibility to raise awareness about this issue and share their knowledge with others. With more and more people becoming aware of the process of conflict diamonds, it could have a great impact on the future of this industry. Consumers wishing to purchase diamonds should demand to know everything about their diamond or buy certified stones. If you ask and are informed your diamond is not part of the conflict diamond industry, that is one less sale of these diamonds. If more people simply ask about the facts of their stone, it could decrease the demand for stones mined in Sierra Leone.

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I do not think this process can be stopped entirely because 100% of the world’s population is not going to take these easy steps, and the buying of diamonds cannot be stopped either. Unless the world runs out of mines containing diamonds, people are still going to buy them, some of which will not care where they are from. But as someone who is aware of this issue and works for a company that does not tolerate nor sell conflict diamonds, I want people to know was actually goes on in places like Sierra Leone. For the people that don’t care, it almost comes down to greed. They aren’t concerned how the diamond they purchased ended up on their finger or around their neck, they are just concerned about boasting to others the new, shiny stone on their body, as diamonds are considered a symbol of wealth. Another quote from the movie Blood Diamond that I found particularly interesting was again from the American reporter. She said that if she reported the violence that was happening in Sierra Leone, that “people might cry or send a check but it won’t make it stop (Blood Diamond).” I completely agree because many times people see the terror in other countries and want to help but they may just send a monetary donation and call it a day. This may help a little bit but I don’t think it really helps the overall problem. I wouldn’t consider donating money an action by a good global citizen, at least not in the case of conflict diamonds. As I mentioned before, I think a good global citizen’s first responsibility it to be informed and to inform others. Then, take small steps in their daily lives that will contribute to the overall problem. Eventually, this may greatly impact the violence in Sierra Leone and bring the mining of conflict diamonds to a minimum.

References:

“Engagement Rings, Wedding Rings, Diamonds, Charms. Jewelry from Kay Jewelers, Your Trusted Jewelry Store.” Engagement Rings, Wedding Rings, Diamonds, Charms. Jewelry from Kay Jewelers, Your Trusted Jewelry Store. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.kay.com/ContentView?catalogId=10001>.
“Diamondfacts.org.” Diamondfacts.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://www.diamondfacts.org/index.php?option=com_content>.
Budd, Lauralee. “New Movie Puts Blood Diamonds in Public Eye.” U N I V E R S E. N.p., 14 Dec. 2006. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://universe.byu.edu/2006/12/14/new-movie-puts-blood-diamonds-in-public-eye/>.
“Conflict Diamonds: The Uncut Truth – CNN IReport.” CNN IReport. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-881410>.
“Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.” Kimberleyprocess.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2013. <http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/documents/10191/14969/0004_KPCS_Document_en.pdf>.
Polman, Linda, Liz Waters, and Linda Polman. The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print.
Edward, Zwick, dir. Blood Diamond. 20th Century Fox, 2006. DVD. 1 Jul 2013.
Jewelers, Kay. Our Diamond Sourcing Policy. N.p.: Kay Jewelers, n.d. Print.
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