Friday 23 September 2011

The Path to Development

the path to development
Introduction: This activity helps players understand how international economic relations between North and South cause hunger and exploitation in impoverished countries, also forcing people to leave their country of origin and how wealthy European countries contribute to the displacement of people by perpetuating the imbalance of North-South relations. There are clear links between the dominant unfair model of economic development and immigration and refugee movement.

Issues addressed:
  • North-South relations and the imbalance governing them.
  • The interdependence between people and countries in the North and the South.
  • Development models and their consequences.
  • Economic relations as one contributory factor in the development of racism and xenophobia.
  • Solidarity, equality, world history.

Aims of the activity:
  • To develop an understanding that the imbalance in North-South relations is one of the factors which forces people to seek better living conditions in other countries.
  • To understand the interdependence between countries and people.

Number of participants:
Minimum 4 people, maximum 40.

Two hours in total. 75 minutes for the game and 45 minutes for the debriefing and evaluation.

Preparation and material needed:
1.   Equipment needed for each team:

2.   Game board (a photocopy enlargement will do very well).

3.   Four round counters (made of cardboard, about 2 cm in diameter), one yellow and the three others of different colours e.g. brown, green and blue.

4.   One dice.

5.   Photocopy and cut up the sheet of action cards. If possible place them in a little box.

6.   Seventy dried beans, pieces of macaroni or similar to serve as tokens (to represent resources).

Thursday 15 September 2011


They live crowded together in cement factory dormitories where water has to be carried upstairs in buckets. Their meals and rent are deducted from their wages, which amount to less than a dollar a day. Most of the jeans they make in the factory are purchased by retailers in the U.S. and other countries.

CHINA BLUE takes viewers inside a blue jeans factory in southern China, where teenage workers struggle to survive harsh working conditions. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, the film looks at complex issues of globalization from the human level.

Seventeen-year-old Jasmine left her home village for a factory job in the city. There, like an estimated 130 million migrant workers on the move in China, most of them young women, she finds factory employment assembling denim clothing for export to overseas companies. She shares a room with 12 other girls and labors every day from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m., seven days a week, removing lint and snipping the loose threads from the seams of denim jeans. Jasmine’s initial excitement to be able to help her family with her wages quickly dissipates as she is overwhelmed by the long work hours and the delays in pay. The strong friendships she forms with her co-workers and memories of home are her only solace. The "new era” of economic progress in China has also created a new generation of entrepreneurs like Mr. Lam, a former police chief who is now the owner of the factory where Jasmine works. To get a new order from a promising British buyer, Mr. Lam must agree to extremely low prices and a very tight delivery schedule. For the deal to work, he cuts his workers' pay and requires them to work around the clock.

While CHINA BLUE shows how the global economic system leaves the Chinese factory owner with few choices, it also explores in detail what that means for the workers. Anxious to avoid getting fined for falling asleep on the job, Jasmine and her friend Li Ping sneak out of the factory to buy energy tea, but they get caught and are fined. Other workers resort to clipping clothespins on their eyelids to keep their eyes open. When the workers’ endurance reaches a breaking point, their only recourse may be a strike, which is illegal in China.

CHINA BLUE, which was made without permission from the Chinese authorities, offers an alarming report on the economic pressures applied by Western companies and the resulting human consequences, as the real profits are made—and kept—in first-world countries. The unexpected ending makes the connection between the exploited workers and U.S. and European consumers even clearer.


Tuesday 13 September 2011

Women Make an Oasis in Violence-Wracked Neighbourhood

Sandra Sánchez, right, with a group of seniors
at lunch time in the Oasis.
By Helda Martínez
BOGOTA, Sept 8, 2011 (IPS)
In one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Colombian capital, 26-year-old Sandra Sánchez has created an oasis that offers meals, recreational opportunities, company and much more to hundreds of children and elderly people, in an example of solidarity and leadership that has transcended borders.

In 2004, Sánchez established the Oasis Social Foundation in El Paraíso, a neighbourhood in Ciudad Bolívar – a poor district strung along the hills on the southeast edge of the Colombian capital that has been settled by hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the country's nearly half-century civil war. 

Sánchez's family arrived 19 years ago in El Paraíso – which is located at the highest point of Ciudad Bolívar – when it was just barren hilltops, before it was gradually occupied by people who had fled the violence. "My dad built a small house out of guadua (a kind of bamboo that grows in Latin America)," the head of Oasis told IPS. 

Reaching El Paraíso involves a 20-minute uphill bus ride through the sprawling working-class district of Ciudad Bolívar that is home to over one million of the 10 million people in the greater Bogotá area. 

In Ciudad Bolívar, high levels of poverty and violent crime coexist with a spirit of solidarity that draws new displaced families to the area.

In Oasis, breakfast is served daily to 260 children before they head off to school, and lunch to more than 150 children and seniors, who are also offered recreational and cultural activities. 

The "soup kitchens for life programme" includes education on nutrition, and regular weight monitoring," Sánchez explained the day this IPS reporter spent in Oasis. 

The "house of values", another Oasis programme, promotes collective knowledge, solidarity and non-violence, and offers adult literacy classes and workshops in art and other areas. "We encourage reflection on ethics, and we support dreams, like the one I had," she said. 

Another project that is just getting underway is the organic farm, which will supply the Oasis soup kitchens. The farm is located in a rural area in the municipality of Guayabal de Síquima, 68 km west of Bogotá, where the chill felt in hilly El Paraíso gives way to a warmer climate. 

"We are seeking self-sustainability and food security, but also rest and recreation for the seniors and children we serve, many of whom have not even been outside of Ciudad Bolívar," Sánchez said at the farm, surrounded by some of the people who are assisted by the programme. 

There is also a special programme for teenage mothers, in this area where teen pregnancy rates are high and girls face, often on their own, a situation in which they need advice, guidance and support. 

Solidarity from a young age

Sánchez's neighbours found out about her vocation to help others and her leadership and organising skills when she was just a child. In 1994, at the age of nine, she was the first girl to be elected "personera" or student representative of her school. 

As personera, she overcame any obstacle to obtain funds or repairs for her school. And two years later she was elected head of all of the "personeros" in Ciudad Bolívar, while she began to organise networks of student leaders and to represent her community in national and international meetings and events. 

In 2002, at the age of 17, she won the prize for humanitarian action awarded by Madame Figaro, the women's magazine produced by the French daily Le Figaro. 

The catalyst for the creation of Oasis was the death of an elderly neighbour, María Pacanchipe, who died of hunger at the age of 68. "Her ulcer started to bleed because she didn't have enough to eat," Sánchez said. "She was my friend, and her death pushed me to talk less and act more."

Sunday 11 September 2011

Why Is There Hunger in a World of Plenty?

Hunger is on the rise in the world, everywhere, in developing countries as well as in countries with an advanced economy like Spain or the USA. Every day in the world about 100,000 people, including almost 50,000 children, die of hunger or hunger-related causes. In fact, hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide - greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined! Yet, there is a general consensus by organizations working in the field (Oxfam, World Food Program, World Hunger, Food and Agriculture Organization, etc..) that there is enough food in the world for everyone. There is enough food to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day (FAO). Today food is produced for 12,000 million people (FAO) when the planet is inhabited by 7,000 people.

Today's food crisis can be attributed to two principal long-term factors, namely the green revolution agricultural model, and the policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO):

  • In recent decades, many countries have had to abandon their autonomous national agricultural research and food policies. Since the 1970s, the IMF and World Bank have imposed radical liberalisation and structural adjustment reforms on them, and these have been further buttressed by the WTO as well as through bilateral free trade and investment agreements.
  • The resulting agricultural and economic policy has neglected farmers in many developing countries. Most countries were forced to open up their markets, give foreign investors access to land, and to dispose of strategic food reserves. This opened the floodgates to global agricultural industry and speculation. Local markets are now being flooded with subsidised agricultural products from industrialised countries. Instead of producing food for local markets, farm products and commodities are being produced for industrialised countries. The result is that some 70 per cent of all developing countries are now net food importers and find themselves entirely at the mercy of world market prices.
  • Private firms have taken over what used to be government functions. They are forging ahead with transforming peasant farming into an industrial, energy-intensive agricultural model. In the hands of large corporations, seeds are being engineered to be chemical-dependent and to require regular watering, and are being protected by patents. The new seeds are not suited either to poor soils or to smallholdings.
  • Cereal has now become an object of speculation by large firms and investment funds on deregulated markets. The share of speculative investments in commodity futures trading – in other words in markets were investors do not physically buy or sell products but make bids only on future price movements (as is precisely the case for wheat or rice) This means that today as much as one-half of the wheat being traded on the Chicago grain exchange is already controlled by hedge and other speculative funds.
  • Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. The combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.
  • Much Third World grain and other food are fed to animals to produce cheaper meat to be eaten in developed countries. Rising demand for corn from China and other emerging nations with growing meat consumption has boosted prices as well
was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence. The deeper roots of the food crisis lie in the lethal cocktail consisting of years of pressure to liberalise and growing control by corporations, to which must be added the expectation of quick profits, and worsening climatic conditions. That explosive mix has led to soaring prices and hence astronomical profits. At the same time, it spells hunger and destitution for millions of human beings.

Where Good Ideas Come From

In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson has written a brilliant analysis of creativity and innovation . It is no coincidence that this natural history opens with a story about Darwin, the most famous studier of origins. He is less interested in presenting a method on how to jumpstart our own ideas than in following the evolution and progress of ideas over time. How do ideas start? How do they grow? How do they become part of the fabric of our existence so that new ideas can be cut from that cloth? He begins to answer these questions almost as soon as the book begins.

If there is a single maxim that runs through this book's arguments, it is that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the "natural" order of things. But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than the open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.
But this book isn't just observational. Johnson lists seven patterns that help innovative thinking and structures his chapters accordingly. Through sometimes-unusual research and always interesting, intricate storytelling to back it up, Johnson reveals how innovation comes into being in many different shapes and sizes—and many times in counterintuitive ways.

Steven Johnson's Conference about the origins of good ideas:

Saturday 10 September 2011

Chinese Workers Lose Their Lives Producing Goods

Zhu Qiang, 24, lost his right arm while making plastic bags for American supermarkets and clothing stores in a factory in Dongguan. Zhu's job was to place small plastic pieces into a machine that made bags. The machine's suction force grabbed Zhu's arm, tearing it off. The same accident happened to another worker with the same machine 15 days later, Zhu said.

By Loretta Tofani

GUANGZHOU, China -- The patients arrive every day in Chinese hospitals with disabling and fatal diseases, acquired while making products for Europe and America.

On the sixth floor of the Guangzhou Occupational Disease and Prevention Hospital, Wei Chaihua, 44, sits on his iron-rail bed, tethered to an oxygen tank. He is dying of the lung disease silicosis, a result of making Char-Broil gas stoves.

Down the hall, He Yuyun, 36, who for years brushed furniture with paint containing benzene and other solvents, receives treatment for myelodysplastic anemia, a precursor to leukemia.

In another room rests Xiang Zhiqing, 39, her hair falling out and her kidneys beginning to fail from prolonged exposure to cadmium that she placed in batteries. "Do people in your country handle cadmium while they make batteries?" Xiang asks. "Do they also die from this?"

With each new report of lead detected on a made-in-China toy, we express outrage: These toys could poison children. But Chinese workers making the toys touch and inhale carcinogenic materials every day, all day long: Benzene. Lead. Cadmium. Toluene. Nickel. Mercury.

Many are dying. They have fatal occupational diseases.

Mostly they are young, in their 20s and 30s and 40s. But they are dying, slow difficult deaths, caused by the hazardous substances they use to make products for the world. Some say these workers are paying the real price for Europe and America's cheap goods from China.

The toxins and hazards exist in virtually every industry, including furniture, shoes, car parts, electronic items, jewelry, clothes, toys and batteries interviews with workers confirm. The interviews were corroborated by legal documents, medical journal articles, medical records, import documents and official Chinese reports.

And although these products are being made for Europe and America, most Chinese workers lack the health protections that for nearly half a century have protected workers in the Western world, such as correct protective masks, booths that limit the spread of sprayed chemicals, proper ventilation systems and enforcement to ensure that their exposure to toxins will be limited to permissible doses measured in micrograms or milligrams.

Chinese workers also routinely lose fingers or arms while making furniture, appliances and other metal goods. Their machines are too old to function properly or they lack safety guards.

In most cases, multinational companies do not own these factories. These companies pay the factories to make products. From tiny A to Z Mining Tools in St. George to multinational corporations such as Reebok and IKEA, companies compete in the global marketplace by reducing costs -- and that usually means outsourcing manufacturing to China.

Friday 2 September 2011

That's Not My Job (or Who's To Blame?, Whose Responsibility?, or The Everybody Somebody Anybody Nobody Story

This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.
Somebody got angry because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody knew that Anybody could do it,
but Nobody realised that Somebody wouldn't do it.
And it ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody
because Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

or the alternative last line:

And it ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody
because Nobody actually asked Anybody.

The alternative last line is more appropriate for illustrating principles of responsibility and delegation, whereas the one above it is more appropriate for principles of individuals taking personal responsibility, irrespective of delegation.

Read the long version of the poem: