Friday, June 29, 2007

Background to ‘The Journey’

Background to 'The Journey'
By: Nasir Al-Amin

I could have attributed numerous titles to this forthcoming trip to Ethiopia. I thought of ‘The Awakening’, ‘The Transformation,’ ‘The Inspiration’ and various others, but I decided on ‘The Journey’ for a couple of reasons. First, of which was a penetrating poem written by Mary Oliver entitled, “The Journey.” This poem inspired me to go beyond just writing about the stories of orphans and vulnerable children, but to also convey how hearing their voices and seeing their tears affected me inwardly. It was their struggle that sparked an inner transformation and/or inward journey.

In various writings I have referred to an inner agitation that occurred after hearing and witnessing their plight (Inner Agitation: An Alarm is a Precursor to Awakening; Awakening: Ambiguity Fosters Clarity). That inner agitation led to what arguably maybe the most important benefit I derived from Mary Oliver’s poem, which was the reassurance and serenity it gave me through its spiritual undertone and remarkable insight into inward transformations.

It has been said that, “nothing can be more life-changing than an escape from your own preconceptions,” and after various trips to Ethiopia I have found this adage to be true. As what I witnessed during that trip, severed the ropes that held me confined to my habitual ways of viewing the world, beliefs and preconceptions about what is and is not important in life, all of which kept me at a safe distance from reality—allowing me to ignore that inner voice. When I make reference to ‘reality’ I’m referring to a state of consciousness that allows for one’s inner voice to be heard. That inward and/or internal spiritual dialogue with oneself referred to as the inner voice was now acutely audible and no longer able to be ignored. Listening to my inner voice has proven to be a pivotal decision that has affected the entire course of my life, hence the establishment of ALIF and making the commitment to a life of charitable work.

The second reason for the title, “The Journey,” is best conveyed by its meaning. The word journey by definition is a process of passage, a distance or course traveled, progression from one stage to another, going from one place/position to another. That is what this experience has been, an inward journey from one stage of consciousness to another. This inward journey is a major piece in this process, as an invaluable motif unveiled through this experience is the following: When an individual commits to a life of service to others and/or a life of “giving,” he or she will become awakened to their inner voice, and in essence a new level of consciousness (both inwardly and outwardly).

This led me to become conscientious of how my resources (financial, education, time…etc) can be used for the serve others. I’m more cognizant of how I view the world and my position in it. Now I find myself questioning how my actions will not only affect myself, but how my actions will affect humanity.

Before I transition to the logistics of “The Journey” let me make one point clear: I by no means want to give an impression that I’m more spiritually conscious/awaken or righteous then the next person. This is not a matter of judgment, but rather a written expression on the process of self-assessment, reflection and reprioritization, which I simply refer to as a transformation. And it is that on-going inward transformation/journey that has breached the cultural, societal and self-imposed levees constructed to suppress my inner voice, now that voice is amplified and in tune with a life of service.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What life is left after slavery?

Via: BBC News/Sallie George
Photo: PA

Sandra, from Sierra Leone, came to the UK aged 11 after being befriended by a British man who told her he could help her find a school.

Once in the UK, she was taken to a flat in London and not allowed out. When she was 12 she was drugged and gang raped. From that day on, she was forced to serve up to 10 men every day. When she attempted suicide aged 15, Sandra was moved to a separate location and locked in solitary confinement. Ms Kralj said: "This isolation and terror endured for a further five years with increased levels of physical violence at the hands of her pimp."

One morning, her captor forgot to lock her bedroom door before leaving the house and Sandra grabbed her chance and ran. She was later picked up by the police, who asked her for identification. When she was unable to produce any, she was arrested and later jailed for immigration offences.

How to tackle human trafficking

Via: BBC News

"Trafficked women are ordinary people who left home thinking they would be waitresses." "We need to cut the demand in the host countries and cut corruption, increase life chances and boost the economy in the countries of origin, she said. "We need to address the root causes [of trafficking] in countries of origin - poverty, violence and demand,"

Click here to read full article!

What life is left after slavery?

Via: BBC News/Sallie George
Photo: BBC News

Clinician Lucy Kralj said that though each woman's experience was different, all - without exception - had been subjected to "horrific levels" of physical and sexual abuse. She said the experience of living in captivity - sometimes for years - had a profound effect on the women she had seen.

"She is violated repeatedly, daily, accompanied by physical violence and verbal insults", she said. "She loses her sense of self, her identity. Life becomes devoid of any meaning and she can never be free of the horror through which she has lived. "Her sense of femininity has been annihilated. She shuts her eyes and sees the horror. She looks at her body and the scars and physical pain serve as a constant reminder.

"All men are potential rapists and any hope for the future of which she once dreamed has been robbed from her. "She finds herself repulsive and she believes that her past is transparent to everyone."

'They raped me again and again'

I had to have sex with five to ten men every day, in the bed I slept in at night.
Via: BBC News

My name is Rosemary from Nigeria, and I am 19 years old.
I ran away from my stepmother on my 18th birthday after she tried to force me to be circumcised. I refused and so she beat me, and burnt me with a hot iron on the insides of my thighs as punishment. After I ran away I worked on a market in the city and helped out at a brothel, making beds and cleaning. I was sleeping rough as I had no home to go to.

The woman who ran the brothel introduced me to a man who said he would be able to help me. He said he could help me study in the UK as well as get part-time work. He did not say where I would be working, but I was desperate to get away; I was homeless and afraid of being circumcised.

When I called the phone number I was given an address and went there by taxi. Two men lived there, with another woman like me. They made me watch pornographic films, telling me that's why I was here. They raped me again and again and I was kept locked in a room 24 hours a day.

I was only allowed out to go to the toilet. They brought food to the room, but they didn't feed me if they were angry with me for something. I had to have sex with five to ten men every day, in the bed I slept in at night. If I disagreed or tried to refuse, they beat me up.

Sometimes I asked the customers for help but they just laughed at me.

Click here to read the full article!

Sex slave regrets 'ruined' life

The Home Office estimates 4,000 are trafficked into the UK every year
Via: BBC News/Anna Blackburn
Photo by: BBC

"Beaten, betrayed and forced to have sex with up to 20 men a day - it sounds like a horror story but this is the testimony of a sex slave in Leicester. "

"Edita, who was 19 when she was brought into the UK illegally from Lithuania, said her life had been ruined by the experience. Before I was trafficked, I was living at home with my mother. We were both unemployed and very poor," Edita said. "I had a boyfriend. He was violent and threatened me a lot but I was too afraid to break up with him and sometimes he gave me money which I needed."

"He suggested we went to the UK to look for work. I did not trust him but did not dare say no," she said. What followed for Edita, now 26, was a long journey from Albania in a lorry through Italy and France. When the lorry crossed from France into the UK, she had to lie on the floor of the cab as she had no papers. At the end of the journey, the "better life" that Edita had been promised was just a distant daydream."

"When I arrived in the UK, my boyfriend drove me to a flat in Leicester. When we arrived he took me inside and said I would be living there with him and some other men," she explained. "He told me what I would be doing - having sex with men to earn him money. I was so frightened and told him I did not want to do it.
"He hit me and then he and the other men in the flat - four of them - gang-raped me. It was horrific. I felt destroyed inside."

"Edita spent three years working in the flat, seven days a week, having sex with between 15 and 20 men a day. She was not allowed to leave and the men threatened to kill her mother if she tried to escape."

Britain's hidden children

Many victims of child trafficking are sexually exploited
Via: Mark McGreger/BBC News
Photo by: BBC

When Marie, a young girl from Cameroon, turned up in Manchester at the end of 2004 she was just one of hundreds of asylum seeking children alone in the city looking for help. Her story was harrowing. Having been trafficked to France and forced into prostitution by her aunt, she fled to Britain with the help of a man who said he would help her escape. Suffering from a range of physical and mental health problems, probably as a result of the abuse she endured, Marie was admitted to hospital.

Within two months she was dead. A post-mortem examination revealed natural causes. She was 16.

Sex slavery widespread in England

There is evidence of thousands of children working in the sex trade
Photo by: PA

"Young women tricked into coming to England, often by boyfriends, are being sold off in auctions at airport coffee shops as soon as they arrive.They are among the thousands of women brought into the UK to be sex slaves, usually with no idea of their fate."

"Jiera, a 19-year-old from Lithuania who was helped by the Poppy Project, thought she was coming to London on holiday with friends, only to find they were people traffickers who sold her into prostitution. She said: "When I was with clients I tried to pretend I was doing something else, but I couldn't. It made me so angry that I was often violent towards the clients. "The man who owned me beat me and then sold me on. I was too much trouble."

"Even if my friends don't judge me for what happened, they will always know what I did. They will never forget, and neither can I."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In an Atmosphere of Despair and Scarcity: "Let there be Light"

In an Atmosphere of Despair and Scarcity: “Let there be Light”
Inspired by: The world’s “Forgotten Souls”
By: Nasir Al-Amin

“She needs…. light. I just remember seeing her and she had this look like there was this black cloud over her. She needs light, she needs light in her life.” I replied, 'the world needs light.'

My friend’s comment stuck in my mind, but more importantly the words really resonated in my soul, as I’ve seen that look on a child’s face that she was referring to. Additionally, it also made me reflect on the titles of articles I posted on the blog recently:

“Poverty drives children to work for armed groups”
“Concern over school drop-out rates”
“I have to scrounge around rubbish bins to feed my children”
“Our mother sold us for $60”
“Iraqi Refugees turn to the Sex Trade”

These articles provide insight on the plight of the world’s most marginalized populations. Regardless if we are referring to the city slums of Iraq, Tanzania or Ethiopia, these struggles and daily conditions transcend geographical boundaries and ethnicities, as poverty and its subsequent symptoms (child labor, commercial sex work/prostitution, high rates of school drop-out and infant mortality, hunger and homelessness) fail to discriminate. Both poverty and its symptoms, diminish light indiscriminately. The statistical references for this are enumerable, yet for me what is so profound is the following words of one woman engaged in the daily struggle to provide light to Zimbabwe’s vulnerable and underserved:

“The warmth of the people’s heart is slipping away.”

So that’s what my friend’s comment meant to me: it was a glance beyond the mere quantifiable reality, towards a deeper look at the qualitative effect of deprivation on one’s inward state. Some would dismiss this concept or focus on the inner state, but anyone who has worked with poverty-stricken children will attest to the aura of optimism and hope that radiates from the smile of a child that recognizes that all she has in life is her breath/life and with that she is content. That child’s smile is contagious, so much so that it can left the spirits of the next child who has a grim look of despair and/or in the words of my friend: as if a “black cloud” is hovering over her.

Faced with such suffocating realities as poverty, child labor, and commercial sex work it is obvious how a destitute girl in the slums of Addis could fall into hopelessness and view herself as just one girl amongst millions of “forgotten souls.” However, the purpose of ALIF and humanity in general is to provide that light for those who have been swept away by the current of despair.

Light fosters perspective and perseverance to the individual while on the path to fulfilling their life’s journey, their path to true happiness, which is in essence, is the process of actualizing their vision for their life. Light renews that intrinsic sense of purpose, faith and optimism—and shockingly enough, light engenders a sense of gratitude in an atmosphere of despair and scarcity. Light is the “poetry of the soul” that fuels the human spirit; a spirit that when awakened is unyielding!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Material Possession & Inner Peace

"The possession of material riches, without inner peace, is like dying of thirst while bathing in a lake."

Inner Agitation: An Alarm is the Precursor to Awakening

Inner Agitation: An Alarm is the Precursor to Awakening
By: Nasir Al-Amin

Internally there is something unnerving about the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Their reality is one of exploitation, abuse and violence. “I refuse to call it a life,” 17 year old Fronyi of Ethiopia asserts, after recounting how she turned to prostitution in order to survive. However, Fronyi’s account is a composite of the 1.2 million children who are victims of sexual exploitation annually.

Often people ask me “how did you get involved in this” or “Why Ethiopia.” Although I never completely answer the question, due to time and complexity, one of the many reasons and/or answers to “How” and Why Ethiopia” is this inner agitation that accompanies my thoughts and reflections about the condition of women and children I have met during my travels to Ethiopia. It appears/feels like this inner agitation has enhanced over the years—the more I travel to Ethiopia, learn about orphans and vulnerable children, and actually develop relationships with them the more unnerving this agitation becomes.

I’m convinced that this inner agitation is what gives sound to the inner voice in all of us who have witnesses something in our lives that is unsettling. Through a defeatist mentality (“Oh this is just how things are”, “I’m only one person, what can I do,” “The government…”) and conspicuous consumption (efforts to amass material items for vain reasons only to distract the mind and spirit from an uncomforting reality) we try to silence that voice, yet it is this voice that is the precursor to an inner awakening.

For me that inner agitation and voice awakened this sense that what I’m witnessing in Ethiopia is unacceptable. And that realization is at the heart of why I established ALIF (Alliance Investment Fund) and is the impetus to continue this work. As the awakening was not through engaging concepts, theories, or reading annual reports rather it came via interactions with orphans and vulnerable children, through taking the time to not only give them a birr (Ethiopian currency) but also taking the time to ask them about their life: What stops you from attending school? What lead you to prostitution as a teenager? Are your parents alive? Who cares for you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Engaging people, developing relationships is not just giving someone money because he or she is begging. I know an Ethiopian guy that when he went back to Ethiopia, he would look for this shoeshine boy that he developed a rapport with, so daily he would go to the street where he works and sit and talk to him. That shows concern, and gives the voiceless a voice.

So it is the inner voice that serves as an alarm, letting one know that the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia is unacceptable and that one should make a concerted effort to affect change. If its just one child that you send to school, then that’s commendable as we never know where the path of education would lead that child or the number of lives that child will affect in the future, or if you organize a group of family members, colleagues, and friends to contribute to the construction of a school in Ethiopia or securing the school uniforms and supplies for 10 or 20 children.

The crux of this piece is to advance the clarion call to listen to that inner voice, refrain from silencing that alarm, as the wretched plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia need you to listen.

Click here to change the life of a child by joining the Hiwot (Life) Campaign!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

What type of Legacy will you leave?

A Lasting Legacy
by: Nasir Al-Amin

"The truest mark of a successful life lies in leaving a lasting legacy."
(Craig & Mark Kielburger)

Growth in some sense is being able to take an honest account of one’s actions and desires. As I reflect on my life, I cannot help but to laugh at myself, but also give thanks for the maturation and clarity that various experiences have afforded me—some by force. At one point in my life I was overly consumed with what our culture promotes as symbols of success—the senseless pursuit and accumulation of material goods/toys.

At one point, my focus was solely on fleeing my neighborhood for some gated community in the suburbs, having the latest clothes, jewelry, patronizing and/or “being seen” at the “In” places…etc. However, this piece is not about or not an attempt in anyway to slight those that enjoy the “finer things in life” as these things in and of themselves are not the issue. Rather the point of contention is the attachment I and we as a society place on these success/status symbols—the even deeper issues to ponder is the attachment one’s heart has to these toys and symbols of success, but I am in no way knowledgeable enough to address matters of the heart; its just a question I try to ask myself.

However the aim of this diatribe, at 3:45 AM is really a personal quest to take a sincere look at what defines a successful life. We all know when we approach our last breaths we won’t reminisce on the various toys we’ve accumulated over our life time. Those things will not be what we use to determine if we lived a successful life, if we are leaving a lasting legacy.

On the contrary, I believe that a successful life is one in which another person’s life is enhanced by your presence. A life in which one’s personal goals reflects their personal values; when people feel secure from your speech and actions, yet know that the marginalized and underserved will have voice through your speech and actions. But I think Ralph Emerson uttered it best when he said: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”

What defines a successful life to you? What type of legacy will you leave?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Children gang-raped, beaten and burned with cigarettes"

Children smuggled into UK for sex abuse and slavery
Via: The Guardian (Paul Lewis)

"Most of the victims are girls and most likely to enter the country through airports to supply the underground sex trade or to work as domestic servants"

"Physical and sexual violence is often used to control and "break-in" victims, with children gang-raped, beaten and burned with cigarettes"

"While most of the cases identified concern children aged between 14 and 17, there are fears that the illicit import of much younger children is going undetected."

As well as a nine-month old baby, the report documents the cases of a three-year-old, two four-year-olds and eight children aged between five and 12, some of whom could have been brought in by adults masquerading as their parents.

The report finds that victims have often lived destitute lives in their countries of origin, particularly those from Africa smuggled into Britain to work as domestic slaves or in the underground sex trade.

"These children describe their previous life in terms of wars, abject and relative poverty, years of physical and sexual abuse, miscarried abortions, prison, witnessing murders, neglect and a desire to escape," the report says. "Some of the girls believed they were being rescued from their destitution and still refer to these persons who brought them to the UK as their rescuers."

Click here to read the full article!

In pictures: Photos by the abandoned of Nepal

Via: BBCNews
Photo by:

'No opinions'

"Girls in Nepal are not encouraged to have opinions or develop their individuality, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are at the bottom of the heap," says Sue Carpenter, organiser of a photography exhibition in the country to help such girls find their voice."

"The exhibition features the work of 22 participants, aged six to 17-years-old, who live in the care of Save our Sisters Bahini, an organisation in the town of Pokhara that accommodates girls who have been abused or neglected."

Enslaved, burned and beaten: police free 450 from Chinese brick factories

Via: The Guardian
Photo by: NYTimes

"More than 450 slave workers - many of them maimed, burned and mentally scarred - have been rescued from Chinese brick factories in an investigation into illegal labour camps, it emerged yesterday.

The victims, including children as young as 14, were reportedly abducted or tricked into labouring at the kilns, where they toiled for 16 to 20 hours a day for no pay and barely enough food to live.

According to the state media, they were beaten by guards and kept from escaping by dogs. At least 13 died from overwork and abuse, including a labourer who was allegedly battered to death with a shovel."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Uncertainty & Opportunity

"The world is filled with uncertainty, but it's also filled with opportunity."
(Russell Simmons)

SWEPT UNDER THE RUG: Abuses Against Domestic Workers Around the World

Via: Human Rights Watch
Photo by: Human Rights Watch

"Millions of women and girls around the world turn to domestic work as one of the few options available to them in order to provide for themselves and their families. Instead of guaranteeing their ability to work with dignity and freedom from violence, governments have systematically denied them key labor protections extended to other workers. Domestic workers, often making extraordinary sacrifices to support their families, are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world."

"Abuses against domestic workers, typically taking place in private homes and hidden from the public eye, have garnered increased attention in recent years. The long list of abuses committed by employers and labor agents includes:

*physical, psychological, and sexual abuse;
*forced confinement in the workplace;
*food deprivation;
*non-payment of wages; and
*excessively long working hours with no rest days.

"Poorly regulated recruitment practices shift most costs to migrant domestic workers, leaving them heavily indebted. In the worst situations, women and girls are trapped in situations of forced labor or have been trafficked into forced domestic work in conditions akin to slavery."

Ethiopian capital's home wreckers

Via: BBCnews
Photo by: BBCnews

Twenty-four-year-old Osman Redwan woke up one morning to find his shack in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, sliced in two.

City planners had drawn a line through his neighbourhood to make way for a huge road expansion programme. And stunned onlookers watched as diggers came in to demolish everything along that line - one person's front porch, another's back garden, the front third of a traditional wooden house, half a shop.

The work was quick and clinical. Demolition teams stripped away plaster and partitions, leaving a series of bizarre cross sections behind them. Walls were torn down, exposing bedrooms and pink-tiled bathrooms to the outside world, while families retreated into what was left of their houses.

"No-one is against development," Redwan told the Addis Ababa business newspaper Fortune."But you get horrified when you realise that you end up losing your business and ruining your life. This is not war. Development should not be at the sacrifice of individuals."

AFGHANISTAN: War, poverty and ignorance fuel sexual abuse of children

Photo by: Akaml Dawi/IRIN

"Abdul Kabir, not his real name, left his home in Afghanistan’s southern Urozgan province to work for a relative and attend school in neighbouring Kandahar province. Six months later, the 12-year-old found himself in a juvenile prison after being sexually abused."

“After my relative declined to give me a job at his shop, I went to a labour market where two men hired me for construction work for 50 Afghani (US $1) a day. They took me into an empty house where they both forcefully had sex with me,” Abdul said, recalling in vivid detail his confinement for three months before managing to get away."

"But Abdul’s nightmare didn’t end there. A driver who promised to take him back to Urozgan for free also abused him, he said. Eventually, Abdul Kabir was able to find his way back to the poppy field he once worked in as a day labourer. There, Abdul Kabir said another young man, also working in the poppy field, tried to rape him. “But I stabbed him in the stomach,” Abdul Kabir said - a move that prompted locals to turn him over to the police."

"A health worker in Kandahar’s main hospital told IRIN that three to five sexually abused children receive medical treatment every month. “Although victims can receive treatment for their physical injuries, the psychological scars will be with them for a long period of time,” Dr Ghulam Mohammad Sahar said. "

Click here to read the full article!

Vision & Commitment: Textsbooks for Black Lion Hospital

In February, ALIF engaged in a joint initiative to purchase pertinent textbooks for medical students and residents of Black Lion Hospital’s Department of Pediatrics located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Through fundraising and awareness raising events the team of Dr. Eiman Abdulrahman, Eyoel Getachew and others were able to secure the funds to purchase the following textbooks at their respective cost:

Avery's Diseases of The Newborn
2 copies (59 British pounds)

Nelson's textbook of Pediatrics, International Edition
9 copies (28 British pounds)

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, Steven Gabbe
1 copy (59 British pounds)

Total cost in US Dollars $890.

This initiative was the vision of Dr. Eiman Abdulrahman, and thus it would be fitting to end with her thoughts about this project.

The following is a letter written by Dr. Abdulrahman:

Books for Black Lion Hospital Department of PediatricsThis initiative is the result of seeing the need for textbooks after doing a rotation as a graduated medical student at Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Black Lion Hospital is the only government owned tertiary care center serving not only the heavy populated capital city Addis Ababa, but also persons who walk miles from the rural areas to seek health care. While the hospital is a teaching center, the library holds very few up-to-date textbooks that medical students and residents need to read about their patient’s diseases.

Click here to read the full article!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Persist

"We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are."
(Tobias Wolff)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Nothing wrong with it, says mayor, of kids scoring dough for grades

Picture: F. Roberts for News

Mayor Bloomberg defended a controversial proposal to pay kids for high test scores yesterday, but said there are no specific plans to make it happen.

"As one of the new approaches to try to tackle the intractable problem of poverty, we have said that we would raise ... $50 million privately to encourage people, using economic incentives," Bloomberg said. Money for test scores is "one of the possibilities."

The Daily News reported exclusively yesterday on a plan to pay fourth-graders as much as $25 and seventh-graders as much as $50 for high scores on so-called interim assessments, which, beginning in September, will be administered in all city schools. The tests will help teachers determine what kids know and what they still need to learn.

The mayor's Opportunity NYC plan also would give poor families cash rewards for actions like taking their kids to doctors' appointments and attending job training.

The test-score proposal, which education officials say is preliminary and has not yet been approved by the mayor or Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, would be structured differently, with the money going to schools that would then pay it out to kids.

Reflection of the Day: What you must do!


"You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
(Eleanor Roosevelt)

If poor do the right thing, they will prosper, sez Mike

By: Lisa L. Colangelo

The city is going to hand out cash to thousands of poor families if they send their children to school, get them to perform well on standardized exams and bring them to doctors' appointments.

Mayor Bloomberg joined with philanthropists yesterday to announce details of the nation's first ever cash-incentive welfare program. Funded by private donations, the $50 million pilot program will target 2,500 families in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods - including Harlem, Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, and Morris Heights, Mount Hope, East Tremont and Belmont in the Bronx.

"The stress of poverty often causes people to make decisions that are detrimental to their future," Bloomberg said yesterday at the Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center in Brooklyn.

"Struggling families are so focused on surviving today, often they can't afford to plan for tomorrow," said Bloomberg, who donated money from his private fortune to fund the program.
Families in the program will be offered cash payouts, totaling up to $5,000 a year, if they meet specific goals.

For example, parents will be given $25 if their children have good school attendance and hundreds of dollars more if their kids meet academic standards. Adults in the program would also get cash rewards for working full time or participating in job-training programs.

Click here to read the full article!

It's a cash course


"Mayor Bloomberg is about to start paying public school students for better test scores.

Hundreds of principals have been informed during the past few weeks that City Hall is getting ready to unveil a cash "incentive" plan for thousands of low-income students who will take new assessment tests the city plans to roll out in September.

Under the unusual program, pupils in as many as 400 autonomous public schools that are part of Chancellor Joel Klein's Empowerment Schools program will be rewarded with money for results. Fourthgraders would get $25 and seventh-graders would get $50 for nailing a perfect score on a new battery of assessment tests from CTB/McGraw-Hill. "

Click here to read the full article!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Reflection of the Day: How to Lead Our Lives

“When we come into the world, we are crying and those around us are smiling. Our goal should be to lead our lives in such a way that when we leave, we are smiling and those around us are crying.”
(Jewish Proverb)

IRAQ: Poverty drives children to work for armed groups

Photo: Afif Sarhan/IRIN
"Eleven-year-old Seif Abdul-Rafiz and his two brothers were left with no choice but to leave school and work so as to help their unemployed parents make ends meet.

Unable to find a job, Seif resorted to making bombs for Sunni insurgents who are fighting US troops in Iraq. “We work about eight hours a day and are supervised by two men. They give us food and at the end of the day we get paid for our work. Sometimes we get US $7 and sometimes we get $10, depending on how many bombs we make,” Abdul-Rafiz said."

TANZANIA: Concern over school drop-out rate

Photo: Gregory Di Cresce/ IRIN

"Authorities in Tanzania have expressed concern over the large numbers of pupils, mostly girls, who drop out of school because of pregnancy, teenage marriage, child labour or truancy.

President Jakaya Kikwete said the number of primary school drop-outs rose to 44,742 in 2006 from 32,469 the previous year. A total of 7,734 students abandoned secondary school in 2006, up from 6,912 in 2005, the president said in his monthly address to the nation."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Success

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Young girl rummaging through piles of rubbish

Photo: Victoria Hazou/IRIN

“A young girl carries a bag of recyclable items she has found while rummaging through piles of rubbish in the neighborhood of Manchiat Nasser, Cairo, Egypt, March 2007. Manchiat Nasser has long been a low income area inhabited by families who make their livelihoods collecting the city’s garbage."

Click here to read full article!

“I have to scrounge around rubbish bins to feed my children”

Photo: IRIN

“I have to scrounge around rubbish bins to feed my children. They no longer attend school. The oldest two are street beggars and the youngest, Youssef, is with me looking for food in rubbish bins.

“Some people told me that the best way to survive was to find a temporary husband or maybe work as a sex worker to feed my children but I prefer to eat garbage than to lose my dignity."

Click here to read full article!

Shame of War: a new book on sexual violence against women and girls in conflict
Photo: IRIN

"While I was still standing up he was taking off my shirt, and then he pushed me to the ground. I felt so much pain when he raped me. He just left me there."
(11-year-old girl in Democratic Republic of Congo)

*‘The Shame of War: sexual violence against women and girls in conflict’ - a reference book and photo essay of portraits and testimonies of the sexual violence women suffer when men go to war. It examines the scope and nature of this violence and looks at the different ways the international community is addressing sexual violence against women and girls during and after conflict. Above all, the aim of this book is to inform, to shock and to join the voices saying ‘Enough!’ Sexual violence against women and girls does not have to be an inevitable consequence of war."

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"Our mother sold us for $60"

Photo: IRIN

Adjoa Nyenyanu was seven when her mother sold her and her three younger siblings for about US$60 to work for strangers in fishing villages along Ghana's Lake Volta. "My mother called me one night and told me she wanted me to go to school but she had no money," Adjoa said. "She said a rich friend of hers will be coming over the next morning for us. She promised the woman will put us in school if I agree to go with her." For the next five years, Adjoa spent her days diving into Lake Volta to collect fishing nets.

Their bosses fed her and her siblings just once a day. Adjoa's mother, Abena Nyenyanu, said she was given 600,000 cedis ($64) for her four children, but told she would receive about double that amount in later payments. At the time Abena was selling porridge to support her family, making at best about 30,000 cedis ($4) a day. "I was in great need. We agreed [the buyers] could have them for five years with regular visits from me but I never saw them till today. I regret what I did and remember crying without control when they left. I am very sorry. I just ask for their forgiveness."

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Broken bodies — broken dreams: violence against women exposed

Photo: IRIN
Publication: OCHA/IRIN

"Violence against women is a pandemic, one that transcends the bounds of geography, race, culture, class and religion. It touches virtually every community, in virtually every corner of the globe. Too often sanctified by custom and reinforced by institutions, it thrives on widespread impunity for perpetrators in what remains a patriarchal world that is reluctant to grant women equal rights and protection from gender-based violence."

*"Broken bodies — broken dreams: violence against women exposed offers a powerful testimony of the different types of gender-based violence experienced by women and girls worldwide throughout their lives, through the use of photographs, individual case studies and illustrative text. The publication is part of OCHA/IRIN’s ongoing campaign to highlight the issues of violence against women through film, text and photography."

**"For more information on broken bodies — broken dreams, please contact:

***"Broken Bodies Broken Dreams comes with a training CD included which includes a summary presentation of each of the 15 chapters of the book. It is available on Amazon books and can also be directly purchased through Earthprint at"

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TANZANIA: Gem Slaves: Tanzanite's child labour

Photo: IRIN

"The mother sells food at the mines, but her income from this business alone is not enough to support them. She cannot afford to send her daughter to school and they repeatedly face the threat of eviction from their home.

This dire situation forces many women to subsidize their income through prostitution. Children are also compelled into sex work in order to survive.

This is a common story for many mothers and daughters in this area. Mothers of Mererani shoulder a special burden as they bear witness to their children’s suffering. School and a normal childhood are beyond their means."

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"We are using sewage water"

Photo: Jane Some/IRIN

"They raid our houses to loot and to rape. They killed my husband; that is when I decided I had to leave to save my life and that of my children.

"Now I have to take care of these children yet I have nothing. Look at us, look at where we live; we sleep right here in the open, with nothing to sleep on or cover ourselves, the mosquitoes bite us all night, it is no use trying to fight them.

"We have no food, we are using sewage water for all our needs, we survive by begging."

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