Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Photo: Close portrait of Lizzi. For the past three months girls who suffered during the civil war have been receiving psychosocial counselling treatment from Plan. By confronting difficult memories and using different meditation techniques, the girls are slowly coming to terms with their traumatic experience. Photo courtesy Alf Berg/Plan.
Plan Canada has just released a startling new report on how young people in West and Central Africa are coping with the aftermath of war and other high-risk situations.
The 64-page report – called Silent Suffering – was compiled by researchers with Plan and Family Health International. The report paints a disturbing picture of the lives of young people in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo. All five countries are rated near the bottom of the Human Development Index.
Plan has integrated community development programs in all five countries – none of which are on CIDA’s current list of countries of focus.
Interviews with more than 1,000 young people (up to the age of 24) were conducted over a 12-month period in order to gain a clearer understanding of the level of suffering.
“It became very apparent that we needed more information, but it did not exist,” said Sangita Patel, senior program manager, Plan Canada, in a telephone interview from Toronto.
The report focuses on the impact of HIV/AIDS, ethnic cleansing, growing up without parental support, trafficking and other forms of sexual abuse on young people.
“These are very important voices that we have not heard about because they tend to go to the margins,” said Ms. Patel.
Ms. Patel feels the most immediate need is for communities or those individuals close to the affected youth to be able to detect depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other forms of abuse and get them into immediate counselling.
The availability of qualified support is one of the biggest problems. In Sierra Leone, for example, there are approximately 100 psychologists, according to Ms. Patel.
“The resources just are not there,” she said.
In response to research revealing an urgent need for crisis counselling, mobile units were established.
The voices of young people in need echo throughout the report and are haunting. Some even criticize donor countries for focusing on the wrong things.
“You are rebuilding the schools and the roads and the bridges,” said a young woman in Liberia, who witnessed the murder of her father and brother. “But you are not rebuilding us.”
In an effort to reach out to traumatized youth, the counsellors used a variety of techniques.
“One of the things they did was spread a rope on the floor and use stones and flowers to create a timeline of happy or sad moments (in their lives),” said Ms. Patel. “Most were very happy to spend time with a trained person who wanted to hear about their experiences.”
The report finds there are many internal and external factors that contribute to the resilience of these young people, including: self-esteem, a feeling of being in control, a sense of belonging, a connection with community values, a positive relationship with a caregiver, peer relationships, access to food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare.
“I am hopeful (for the youth in the study),” said Ms. Patel. “They are looking forward to a future to some degree. I think that is a testament to their resiliency.”
The report calls for increased child protection, increased psychosocial support and greater overall social protection – which includes better access to health care, education and job opportunities.
“This report should be a call to action,” said Ms. Patel.
Ruth (not her real name) attending counselling session with Joseph from Plan Liberia. Joseph uses a 'Lifeline' technique to counsel Ruth, the flowers represent happy events and rocks represent sad events on the Lifeline. Photo courtesy Alf Berg/Plan.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Photo: Some of the volunteers who helped clean up Westboro Beach in Ottawa.
A four-kilometre stretch of the Ottawa River shoreline is cleaner today thanks to the hard work of a group of approximately 60 volunteers who came out to Westboro Beach and Bates Island on Sunday.
Delphine Hasle, director of outreach for the NGO Ottawa Riverkeeper, welcomed people with muffins and a brief explanation of the morning’s procedures.
“If you see a syringe or a condom, don’t touch it,” said Ms. Hasle. "Someone from the City of Ottawa will come by later and pick them up," she said.
Other than that, everything else was fair game.
Ms. Hasle passed out latex gloves and bags to the volunteers, who then split up and began the arduous task of picking up both garbage and recyclable material from the beach and the adjacent shoreline.
“I am moving into the neighbourhood and I want to do my bit,” said Gary Underwood, as he picked up several plastic wrappers from Westboro beach. “We come down here to watch the sunset.”
Not far away, Kennedy Blackbird, 11, picked up an old ball cap and put it in her garbage bag.
“It’s fun to clean up,” she said.
According to Ms. Hasle, the volunteers picked up 45 bags of garbage and 25 bags of recyclable materials.
They found an assortment of car parts and old tires, cigarette butts, wrappers, beer bottles (intact and smashed), rusted paint cans, scrap metals, discarded clothing and backpacks, fluorescent light bulbs – and incredibly – a wallet complete with health card and birth certificate.
As a reward for their hard work, the National Capital Commission and the Newport Restaurant put on a barbeque lunch for the volunteers.
The Ottawa River supplies drinking water, power and recreational activities to more than 1.6 million people.
Photo: Gary Underwood cleaning up garbage on Westboro Beach in Ottawa.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Photo: Cover of Norman Hallendy's new book - Tukiliit.
Photo courtesy Douglas & McIntyre.
With his new book, Tukiliit, Norman Hallendy gives the world both a beautiful love letter about Canada’s north and a better understanding of the stone figures the Inuit have been building there for centuries.
Mr. Hallendy has been travelling to the north since 1958. He first went there, as it happens, not out of a desire to understand the Inuit culture, but to raise enough money to go to art school in central Canada.
“What drew me to the north was necessity,” said Mr. Hallendy, in a telephone interview from his home just outside of Ottawa, Ont. “My father asked me if I wanted to take law, engineering or medicine at university. I told him I wanted to study art. He told me to pay my own way.”
He started working with mine exploration companies in the north, mostly during the summer months. That allowed him to study at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Later, after completing post-graduate work in Europe, he returned to Canada but was unable to find suitable employment.
Again, he turned to the mining companies for work. And thus, an unending love affair with the north was started.
Mr. Hallendy became fascinated with Inuit culture and began to bond with the people.
Eventually, they named him Apirsuqti, which means “the inquisitive one” in Inuktitut.
Mr. Hallendy spent many hours with elders, learning their stories and their history. He also learned how to speak Inuktitut, although he jokingly says he speaks it badly.
So you think you know Canada? If you think every inuksuk is the same, then you will want to read Tukiliit.
In the book, Mr. Hallendy goes into detail about the differences between the various types of stone figures and his beautiful photographs provide illustration.
“Think of an inuksuk as a message,” said Mr. Hallendy. “That message should remind you of something, for example, a good place to hunt.”
An inuksuk acts in the capacity of a human. They act as helpers. They can indicate the depth of the snow in a given location, a safe or dangerous crossing place, the depth of a river, a spot where ice is dangerous in the spring, or a good place to fish or hunt.
They are also used as navigational aids by showing the best route between two given points, or the direction to the mainland from an island, to list just two examples.
Mr. Hallendy also describes other types of stone figures and their importance.
An innunguaq, for example, refers to an object in the likeness of a person. It may be a doll, a stone shaped like a human or large figure constructed of stones and placed in the landscape. Sometimes they are erected as a memorial.
One example can be found at the Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan. It was built by members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a memorial to four Canadian soldiers who were killed in 2002 when an American fighter pilot dropped a bomb on them.
From a political point of view, the north is currently very attractive. With the potential of having vast amounts of oil, gas and minerals, everyone wants to lay claim to it.
Culturally and environmentally, Canada’s north is not as revered as Mr. Hallendy thinks it should be.
“We have been inundated for the last 50 years with (outside culture and media),” said Mr. Hallendy. “The north for us is a forbidden place, generally speaking. But it is not a forbidden place. It is a very beautiful place. Canadians have a way of not praising or looking into our own history.”
Mr. Hallendy has also seen significant changes in the climate since he first went north in 1958.
Small rain ponds that once held a reliable water supply have gone. They have not just temporarily dried up, but have completely disappeared along with the life the ponds once supported.
What does he want Canadians to take from the book?
“A sense of wonder,” he said. “It is a place where one can find a great deal to enjoy and admire. We do have a great country,” he said.
Mr. Hallendy is currently looking into donating his large collection of photographs to a Canadian cultural institution.
He plans to return to the north this summer, where he will be lecturing in Spitsbergen, north of the Arctic Circle.
Tukiliit may not have the size and weight of a typical coffee table book, but it certainly has the quality of one.
For more information please go to the Tukilik Foundation.
Photo: Author & photographer Norman Hallendy. Photo courtesy Douglas & McIntyre.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Photo: A landmine survivor getting a new prosthetic at the Otto Bock Prosthetic Centre in Sarajevo.
Today, the world marks International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, and while there is much to be positive about, the statistics show that substantial work remains.
First the good news. Clearly, the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) is working. To date,156 states have signed the MBT. Stockpiles are being destroyed, minefields are being cleared, and victims are being assisted.
Before the MBT became international law in 1999, it was estimated that more than 25,000 people became landmine victims each year. That figure has dropped dramatically. In 2007, Landmine Monitor identified 5,426 casualties caused by mines, explosive remnants of war (ERW), and victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Days like today remind the world to keep focused on the task at hand. Civil society groups need to keep pressuring the other 39 non-state parties to sign and ratify the MBT. Long-term mine action funds must be committed. Many demining NGOs are not operating at full capacity. Programs to re-integrate survivors must be expanded. Countries need to meet their MBT obligations in the alloted time – which unfortunately has proven impossible for some.
For MBT campaigners, complacency may be the greatest threat to achieving the goal of a mine-free world.
The vast majority of landmine victims are civilians. If politicians and corporate executives are entitled to their entitlements, surely landmine survivors are as well.