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Keep New Zealand Green

April 20, 2012

Snow covered mountains, glaciers that end near rainforests, rivers that carve through steep gorges, and endless pastures full of sheep, that’s what most people think about when someone mentions New Zealand’s South Island. But all that beautiful nature that brings people to the South Island is about to change. That same beauty for which thousands of tourists come to see each year, is now threatened to be destroyed by those same tourists. One of the largest tour operators on the South Island has proposed to build a tunnel in order to reduce the amount of travel time that tours take to reach Milford Sound. What does this mean? Well, it means that thousands more tourists will infiltrate the Sound, which will likely drive up the amount of ecological and environmental damage already done by the many boats that operate on the sounds. The roads in the region will be widened to accommodate the tourists, which means many ancient trees will be cut down indiscriminately.  The loss of these trees will also lead to the loss of habitat for the many native bird species that are already struggling due to modern environmental damage and an encroaching human population. There is also the considerable amount of environmental damage that will be done by the construction of the tunnel itself. Essentially, this tunnel, done for the benefit of tourists who wish to visit a country that promotes itself as clean and green, will be exactly the opposite. The World Heritage site that the tunnel would connect to could no longer possible be considered as such since to be World Heritage is to promote preservation and protection of natural wonders for the benefit of all, including future generations. 

If you have visited New Zealand or have longed to go, please sign the petition, save Milford Sound and the surrounding environment for the trees, the native wildlife, the locals, and the tourists.


Volunteering on a Kibbutz

April 18, 2012

Sadly I have already begun to neglect my blog as I spend my days volunteering on a kibbutz in the middle of the desert. I am happy to be here though, waking up in the morning and watching the sun rise over the red Jordan mountains and walking back to my room at night under the stars. The only negative is the constant army practice with machine guns, tanks, and small artillery. It is a little ironic that this peaceful little kibbutz is nearly entirely surrounded by the army’s firing zone. It is also sad that those who are doing most of the firing are only just out of high school and would probably benefit themselves and their country a lot more if they were to come to the kibbutz and learn organic farming rather than spend three years learning to fight.

Arna’s Children documentary

March 29, 2012

I had heard about this film, it was recommended to me when people found out I was moving to the Middle East. I thought it was about a woman who helped Palestinian children by giving them a creative output for their anger and discouraging violence, after all her theatre was funded in part by an alternative to the Swiss Nobel Prize. Sadly, within the first fifteen minutes I saw that not only did it not discourage violence as means to release anger, it actually encouraged it. While I understand and completely sympathise with the children, I do not agree with the encouragement of the use of violence. In their acting and in their words, the children are taught to hate and to act on their anger with physical assaults. Instead of teaching them to learn to communicate their feelings with nonviolent communication, they are taught that it is ok to attack, that two wrongs to make a right. It is no wonder that with this sort of education, this generation of children has grown up to continue the attacks on Israel. If this violence is ever going to end, then children and adults need to be taught how to communicate effectively with words and not with violence. They need to stop being taught how to hate and to stop being told how the other side is wrong and is the aggressor. Both sides are wrong and both sides need to work to end the violence.

Peace without Politics

March 27, 2012

I recently attended a women’s non violent communication workshop and was left amazed at the insights the women had to offer. The two and a half day workshop was held at the crossroads of two worlds, a safe, environmentally friendly meeting place where Palestinians and Israelis could come together in peace and learn from each other and work together on environmentally sustainable projects. Last weekend the workshop was held for women and next weekend there will be a men’s workshop. During the first day and a half I wondered if the discussions would reach the point where the women could communicate their feelings regarding the situation in Israel/Palestine. By the middle of the last day, they did. As a volunteer I felt privileged to witness the passionate conversation that commenced under the guidance of one of the nonviolent communication trainers. Palestinian and Israeli women both revealed the need for safety and their feelings of fear in regards to each other. Women on both sides had lost loved ones to the endless fighting. Women on both sides recognized the need for change and acknowledged each other’s pain. I only wish politicians could listen more to the people they serve and think less about how to get reelected. I truly believe that if there were more opportunities for the people of Israel and Palestine to communicate freely with each other and to recognize each other not as enemies, but as neighbours living in a state of media fuelled fear and uncertainty then there would be less tit for tat fighting between the two and more open discussions about peace.  If a true peace is to exist in this part of the world, it needs to come from the people. It needs to come from their hearts. Signing a peace treaty is only the start, but a piece of paper will do nothing to quell a person’s fear of the unknown, especially when they have been brought up their whole lives to fear the other. Israelis and Palestinians need to meet each other as friends and not only see each other on TV as enemies.

The Hysteria of Kony 2012

March 18, 2012

I watched the incredibly popular Kony 2012 and was impressed with the videography and editing. The video does a good job at convincing the viewer that Kony is a horrible man and has committed many terrible crimes. And who can argue with a cute little boy when he says he knows what is right and he knows who the bad man is. In a way it is reminiscent of the stories we read in school about the Salem witch trials. After watching the video I read other information regarding the conflict and reviews of the film from people who were more knowledgeable about the war than myself and I discovered that the video not popular in regions where the war took place. Why? Because it does not accurately portray the conflict and because all of the attention brought to Kony and catching Kony will in reality do very little to help those very people whom the video proclaims it will be helping. The refugees displaced by the war will not suddenly find homes or be given much-needed medical care if Kony is caught. The children who suffered as a result of Kony’s forced recruitment of child soldiers will not now receive an education and be given a second chance. All this video has done is to bring awareness to the crimes of one man without providing realistic or adequate solutions to those affected by his crimes. I think that people should watch the video if only to make them more aware of the crimes that occur in the world beyond their front door. And after watching the video, I think that people should make an effort to volunteer or donate money to an organization that will help make a difference in the lives of people who are left homeless or without access to basic health care or education. Simply watching a video and sharing it by social media networking does nothing but make the filmmaker very popular and possibly also wealthy.

Non-Violent Resistance Workshop

March 18, 2012

This week I am going to volunteer at an eco community where Palestinians and Israelis can meet freely and peacefully and discuss methods of non-violent resistance. I am really looking forward to the workshop and hope that I can gain a better understanding of the conflict from both sides since currently I have only heard the opinions of Israelis, which mostly have been positive and open-minded with respect to Palestine as a separate state. I am very pro-Palestine, but am also supportive of Israel as a state and acknowledge that it has the right to exist, I just wish it would be less racist.

Human Rights for Oil

March 14, 2012

Saudi Arabia. The name alone conjures an image of men dressed in thobes, their heads covered by red and white checked ghutra’s and women covered head to toe in black abayas. The mention of Saudi Arabia also immediately brings to mind a popular three-letter word. OIL. Since the discover of oil in the 1930s the US has been the top consumer of Saudi oil and this relationship has benefited the US population who enjoy far cheaper fuel prices than the rest of the world. But I wonder, why are US citizens willing to ignore the major violations of human rights that occur on a daily basis in Saudi Arabia just to save money when fueling up their car? Is it because these violations do not affect them or because those who are mistreated are easily ignored, lower class members of society who have no voice? Or are the people of the US even aware of the horrific violations of human rights that are indirectly the result of the oil wealth of Saudi Arabians?

Until the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia was a bedouin kingdom ruled by the powerful Saudi tribe. The country had no resources and no wealth. And then came Mr. Crane and his sidekick Twitchell. With the discovery of oil, money began to flow into the kingdom. This sudden enormous wealth brought even more power to the ruling Saudi family, who are now among the richest people in the world. With their new-found wealth came an increase in self-assurance and an ignorant feeling of superiority that because they had money, they could do and buy whatever they wanted. Including other people. Slavery may have been abolished in the rest of the world, but it is still prevalent in countries like Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Members of the Saudi royal family are known to have sex slaves. This practice is forbidden by the Quran, but in Saudi Arabia, money can pay for anything.  The men often travel to Asia to buy women and bring them back as sex slaves. Or they simply order them from a recruiting company such as Manpower, who provides workers at a low-cost to the employers. Many people, especially women, from countries in Asia and Africa pay a hefty fee to recruiting companies like Manpower to help them obtain visas and employment in wealthy countries such as UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Often, these domestic workers are employed as childcare and elder care providers or as housekeepers. Sadly though, there are occasions when they are also forced into sex slavery by their employers, who view foreign women as promiscuous and therefore deserving of the sexual abuse.

In Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries that recruit workers from poorer countries, there are many cases of the workers who are underpaid, or not at all, who are denied food, who are forced to work long hours without adequate rest, who are beaten and abused, and who are powerless. These workers are powerless for many reasons, they may be locked in their employer’s home, unable to seek help, they may be afraid of the consequences,  or there may be no means of seeking legal justice. Sadly, even when the home countries of the workers seek to protect their countrymen, there are consequences. This was seen when the Philippines attempted to stop sending women to Saudi Arabia after a large number of Filipino women were held as slaves and severely mistreated. In response, the Saudi government forbid Filipino men to work in Saudi Arabia as well.  Considering that in 2008 overseas Filipino workers sent home an estimated US$19billion, which was at that time 11.4% of the country’s GDP, the country was forced to allow women to once again travel to Saudi Arabia, knowing these women would likely be mistreated.

So what does all of this have to do with oil? It’s simple. Saudi Arabia is a wealthy country ONLY because it has oil. People around the world should boycott Saudi oil until the government agrees to put into place a system of labor reforms to protect migrant workers. These reforms need to include: A system for overseeing where migrant workers are placed and for checking that workers are given suitable living conditions and appropriate safety gear if it is needed for the work. A labor contract to ensure employers pay fair wages and provide an adequate rest period and additional pay for overtime. Governments also need to provide place for workers to safely voice complaints and seek legal assistance without fear of losing their job, having wages withheld or being thrown into jail.

So let us take action and protect those who cannot afford to protect themselves. Start a boycott against companies that use oil from the Middle East: Shell, Amoco, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, Marathon/Speedway. Stop counting your pennies when you fill up your tank.  If you are so concerned about the cost of fuel, start a carpool, start taking public transportation, buy a hybrid car, learn more about biofuel…

  • As a side note, I do believe that recruiting companies such as Manpower, should also be held responsible especially since they extort ridiculous amounts of money from people who can barely afford to pay, thus placing them into a position of indentured servitude before they even leave their home country.

All around the world there are countless acts of human rights abuses, we cannot always turn a blind eye. These are someone’s children, someone’s parents, someone’s brother or sister. Imagine they were your own family, would you still ignore their plight?