Sunday, May 31, 2009
Photo: Seb Oran standing in front of some of the bicycles that are being donated to the people of Namibia.
The Ottawa chapter of Bicycles for Humanity (B4H) was out in full force yesterday collecting bikes to help people in the southern African country of Namibia.
Seb Oran, co-founder of the Ottawa chapter, along with volunteers Martin Sullivan and Meaghan Curran were at the Jack May Pontiac Buick dealership, where they were surrounded by used bikes donated by people from the west end of Ottawa. There were four other drop-off points throughout the city as well.
For Ms. Oran, B4H is a labour of love and one that matches her commitment to international development. She and her friend Sandra Gattola founded the Ottawa chapter in 2007, after hearing about B4H through the media.
Ms. Oran backpacked throughout Africa several years ago and is well aware of the many challenges developing countries face. One of those challenges is transportation.
“The demand for transportation is huge,” said Ms. Oran. “In the rural areas more than 60 per cent only have their feet to transport them.”
In Namibia, B4H partners with local organizations who give a percentage of the donated bicycles to local health care workers so they can travel to their patients. Another percentage of the bikes are given away to schoolchildren.
Ms. Oran said school attendance is higher because children can get there faster by bike than by foot. Prior to owning a bike, many children did not have time to go to school after finishing all their family chores.
While the bikes are donated to B4H, the cost of shipping them to Africa must be covered by the organization.
It costs up to C$12,000 to send a 40 foot shipping container from Canada to Africa. All that money is raised by B4H without government help.
Ms. Oran and Ms. Gattola went to Namibia in 2008 to witness the effect of bicycles on one community.
B4H likes to partner with community-based organizations that deal with HIV/AIDS, orphan care or women's empowerment.
One of the groups B4H works with is the King’s Daughters Project. This group helps former sex workers get their lives back on track. B4H provided the project with bicycles to sell and the shipping container, which then was converted into a bicycle workshop and point-of-sale site. The income that is generated from the sale of bikes goes back to the group to further their community work. In addition, six former sex workers have been trained as bicycle mechanics.
While progress is being made, it cannot come fast enough for Ms. Oran.
“It (progress) is slower than I had hoped,” said Ms. Oran. “You have this romantic, nostalgic image that these bikes arrive and instantly 400 families are prospering. In reality we are talking about a developing country and things are slow. To them, they might sell two bikes in a good week. It is a whole different timeline over there,” said Ms. Oran.
In the last three years, more than 1,000 donated bicycles have been shipped from the Ottawa chapter to Namibia.
Where does B4H go from here? According to Ms. Oran, they are looking to expand its programs into Uganda and Malawi.
To learn more about B4H please click here.
Photo: Bicycles for Humanity volunteers Meaghan Curran and Martin Sullivan in Ottawa.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Photo: Conrad Sauvé, secretary general of the Canadian Red Cross, standing in front of the new photo exhibit Our World at War.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) unveiled a new photo exhibit today at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
The exhibit – Our World at War – features photographs from five of the world’s foremost photojournalists: James Nachtwey, Ron Haviv, Christopher Morris, Franco Pagetti and Antonin Kratochvil.
Over a five-month period, these photojournalists travelled to Afghanistan, Columbia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Lebanon, Liberia, Haiti and the Philippines to document the brutality of armed conflict and its aftermath – particularly on the civilian population.
“The story of battle is important,” said Dr. Dean Oliver, director, research and exhibitions, Canadian War Museum. “So is how it affects civilians.”
Conrad Sauvé, secretary general of the Canadian Red Cross said the photographs are very strong and should give the viewer an idea of what the Red Cross does.
“There is a sense of hope, pride and humanity (in the photographs),” said Mr. Sauvé.
James Nachtwey’s photographs of landmine survivors in Afghanistan are a good example of this.
Because Afghanistan has such a large landmine problem, the ICRC has an orthopedic centre in Kabul which produces 1,800 prosthetics per year.
A total of 40 photographs were selected for the Our World at War exhibit, which opened in New York City earlier this month. Twenty-two photographs are in the Ottawa show, which continues until June 30. The show will then travel across the country.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Book jacket courtesy University of California Press.
Aaron Glantz’s new book, The War Comes Home, will shock many people who think American war veterans are highly valued members of society and are well looked after.
In fact, life is a struggle for many veterans, according to Mr. Glantz, a freelance American journalist who spent three years reporting from Iraq.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) have left an indelible mark on many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Glantz quotes a 2008 RAND Corporation study that found 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffered from PTSD or major depression and another 320,000 suffered from TBI.
In other words, there are many walking wounded veterans on the streets of America.
The genesis for this book came from his experience talking with veterans while promoting his previous book – How America Lost Iraq.
Mr. Glantz heard from many Iraq veterans about their experiences – not only in combat – but also the problems they faced when they returned to the U.S. and tried to collect benefits from the government.
Mr. Glantz’s interviews detail the frustrations many veterans experience when trying to adjust back to a civilian life. Many have trouble finding suitable employment. Others say they cannot afford to get more a advanced education.
Many have trouble maintaining their relationships. Indeed, the divorce rate amongst military personnel has spiked substantially since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started.
In 2004, 7,152 U.S. enlisted soldiers got divorced – a 53 per cent increase over the number who got divorced pre-9/11.
Sadly, many veterans fall through the cracks and are unable to find their way in modern day America.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 200,000 veterans sleep on the streets of America on any given night and 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year.
It is not all grim, though. There are many heroes in this book who will inspire the reader. One veteran – Will Beiersdorf, a U.S. Navy reservist, and his wife Mary Beth, started their own NGO – Salute Inc., which provides financial support and direct assistance to service members and veterans.
They started the NGO after having to endure the financial hardships caused by Mr. Beiersdorf’s 13-month deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Prior to being called up, he worked in the private sector in Chicago earning about $100,000 annually. As a reservist, he only received $25,000 per year. Fortunately, family, friends and neighbours turned out in droves and provided additional support for the Beiersdorf’s and their three children.
Salute Inc. now raises funds to support other veterans in need.
The War Comes Home clearly illustrates why it is not enough to put a We Support Our Troops bumper sticker on your car. Talk is cheap – getting a soldier back on his feet is not.
To read an article about one Canadian soldier’s battle with PTSD, please click here.