Senior Citizens Teach English, Food Photogs Feed the Hungry, and Coca-Cola Makes a Rainbow

When teenagers teach senior citizens about the internet, cultures are crossed.

When the two groups use the internet to communicate between countries, the culture crossing is even greater . . . and the results are very cool.

The global advertising agency FCB and the Brazilian English school CNA have teamed up for the Speaking Exchange, a campaign that matches English learners in Brazil to retirement-home residents in the US, using video chat.

The idea is based on the premise “Students want to practice English, and elderly people someone to talk to.” CNA calls it “an exchange in which everyone wins.” Using the Speaking Exchange program, students find seniors looking to talk and begin their interaction with guided topics. They progress to free chatting and their conversation is uploaded to a private YouTube channel where it is evaluated by a teacher.

Currently, the Speaking Exchange is in a trial period, but retirement communities can sign up at the program site to be notified when “official activities” begin.

Brazil’s Speaking Exchange is just one example of the creative campaigns produced by FCB, which operates in 90 counties. Here’s another.

Food Photos: Share and Share Alike

Next time you snap a pic of your Caesar salad, you photo may just get “liked” by Chamissidini from Niger. This Chamissidini isn’t a real girl, instead her profile is one of many, created by UNICEF New Zealand and FCB, to represent needy children in the developing world. When food photos are uploaded to Instagram, they’re liked by the UNICEF profiles. And when the photographers look to see who their new fans are, they’re invited to visit There they can purchase meals for the hungry and download Instagram-style images of emergency aid items to share . . . and continue the conversation.

And here’s one more.

The Colors of a Country

To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa last month, FCB Johannesburg helped Coca-Cola create an actual rainbow in the capital’s downtown—a skyline-sized symbol of what Desmond Tutu dubbed “the Rainbow Nation.” “In South Africa I’m a person because of other people.” says one resident. “We call it ubundu.”


Contacting the “Uncontacted”: The Isolated Tribes of the Amazon

Members of an isolated tribe in the Brazilian state of Acre react to a plane flying over them.

After I wrote about Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui‘s trip to New York, a friend asked why Tuwe would want to bring attention to his tribe if they wanted to remain isolated. At first, I had the same question, but then I read that his tribe is not one of those seeking seclusion. Instead, Tuwe’s village is being threatened by isolated groups who are pushed from their territories by illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, and oil prospectors.

Encroachment on their land also seems to be the reason why, in June, more than 100 members of the  Mashco-Piro tribe came out of isolation in Peru’s Amazon. The group asked people in the village of Monte Salvado for bananas, rope, and machetes, but rangers with the Native Federation of the Rio Madre de Dios (FENAMAD) kept them from crossing to the village’s side of the river.

There are an estimated 15 tribes in Peru, made up of about 12,000 to 15,000 individuals,  that are considered “uncontacted.” Peruvian law prohibits physical contact with these groups, largely to protect them from germs and viruses that their immune systems are not equipped to fight off.

Contact with the tribes can be dangerous for outsiders as well.

Searching for the Tribes

In 2002, Scott Wallace, a writer for National Geographic, accompanied a team of 34—including Sydney Possuelo, explorer and founder of Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI)—looking for the “Arrow People” of Brazil. Also known as the flecheiros, the tribe is known for its aggressive use of poison-tipped arrows to defend its territory.

Wallace chronicled the risky expedition in his book, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon‘s Last Uncontacted Tribes (2011). The group was walking a figurative tightrope: trying to get close enough to make visual contact with the tribe while not getting too close and becoming the victims of an attack. But they braved the risks in order to prove that the tribes exist and to show their location. Isolated tribes need to be identified if they are to be protected.

Wallace writes that after some in their party caught sight of a few Arrow People, the group left some metal pots tied to low branches as a peace offering. Then, knowing that they were close to the tribe’s villages, they decided to ensure their safety before making camp for the night. (The following excerpt of Unconquered was reprinted in MIZZOU, the Alumni Association magazine of the University of Missouri, where Wallace earned a master’s degree from the School of Journalism.)

“Spread out down the beach,” commanded Possuelo. “Let them see that we are many.” We staggered along the shoreline, feet slipping in the loose sand. We turned to face the towering wall of trees on the opposite bank, no more than a hundred feet away. “Stand up straight, look strong! Hold your guns up high!” Possuelo ordered. “Let them see how well armed we are.” Rifles came up off hips and shoulders, tilting toward the manila tufts of evening clouds that drifted overhead. Of course, Possuelo had no intention to turn our rifles on them. He’d sooner have died than fire upon the Arrow People. But he needed them to think that we might. It was an odd combination: gifts on the one hand, guns on the other.

We stared across the river into the trees beyond the far bank. We saw nothing but the high wall of jungle, but we could feel their eyes upon us. All we could hear was the incessant flow of the water and the rush of blood pounding in our ears.

(Frank Bajak, “Isolated Mashco-Piro Indians Appear in Peru,” The Associated Press, August 19, 2013; Scott Wallace, “Lost and Found,” MIZZOU, August 9, 2012)

[photo: “Índios isolados do Acre,” by Agência de Notícias do Acre, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Changing Face of the World, with or without Plastic Surgery

1341534683_634ca4e8e2_mIn 2011, when National Geographic reported on the global population reaching 7 billion, it determined that the “most typical” person in the world is a 28-year-old Han Chinese male.

But that doesn’t mean that the East Asian look is the most popular. Many Asians, such as those in South Korea, are using cosmetic surgery to gain a more Westernized appearance. While Americans have the most plastic-surgery procedures each year, on a per-capita basis, South Korea comes out on top, with 16 procedures per 1,000 people in 2010. Here is the complete list of the top-10 countries:

  1. South Korea
  2. Greece
  3. Italy
  4. Brazil
  5. Colombia
  6. US
  7. Taiwan
  8. Japan
  9. France

In South Korea, as in many East Asian countries, popular procedures—aimed toward an idealized Western appearance—include narrowing and sharpening the nose, adding double creases to eyelids, lightening skin, slimming round faces, and reducing calf size.

But using surgery to chase the features of another culture carries “complex psycho-social implications,” says Mario Dini, director of the University of Florence’s School of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery. “A foreign patient who wants to westernize their face, which is universally considered ‘successful,’” he tells La Stampa, “hopes that the scalpel will change their culture too—but this isn’t possible.”

Anthropologist and journalist, Geneviève Makaping, from Cameroon, agrees:

The risk of unconditionally accepting to operate on patients and respond “yes” to all of their requests is to leave them in a cultural limbo. The people who want to erase, or minimize, their physical origins usually aren’t completely assimilated with Westerners, and are turned away from their own social groups who criticize and stigmatize this choice because they feel their faces are being discriminated against.

Of course, global norms and ideals continue to change. Watch this National Geographic video  and you’ll see that by 2030, the most typical person will be from India.

Given time, though, due to  intermarrying across cultures, we all my end up looking like Brazilians. Stephen Stearns, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at Yale, tells LiveScience that since the invention of the bicycle the distance between potential spouses has continually increased. Bring in paved roads, automobiles, and airplanes, and our wold has become even smaller when it comes to finding a mate. This means that recessive traits will become fewer and fewer, and other traits that separate us now will blend together. What will this look like? In a few hundred years, according to Stearns, it will look Brazilian.

But why stop at a few hundred years? What about in 100,000 years? Artist Nickolay Lamm teamed up with Alan Kwan, a computational genomicist, to illustrate what they think future humans might look like. Published two weeks ago at, Lamm’s renderings show features brought on by increased brain size and life in space colonies. Maybe those old movie images of aliens with large foreheads and oversized eyes were on to something.


(“A Cut Above,” The Economist, April 23, 2012, using information from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; Rosalba Miceli, “Plastic Surgery as a Way to Look Less ‘Ethnic’—and Get Ahead?” Worldcrunch, April 15, 2013, translated from “La chirurgia plastica ‘etnica’ può cancellare i pregiudizi razziali?” La Stampa, April 2, 2013; Natalie Wolchover, “Will Humans Eventually All Look like Brazilians?” LiveScience, September 18, 2012; Nickolay Lamm, “What Will Humans Look Like in 100,000 Years?What’s Hot, MyVoucherCodes, June 7, 2013)

[photo: “Eyes,” by XracZ, used under a Creative Commons license; illustration by Nickolay Lamm, used with permission]

An Ambassador from the Brazilian Rain Forest to New York’s Concrete Jungle

516818391_0849517be5_mIn September of last year, Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui traveled from a village of 600 in the Amazon rain forest to New York City. The 29-year-old Tuwe has a unique way of describing jet lag: “First you arrive physically and you are very tired,” he told BBC. “But only after a while, your soul gets here, too. Because the plane is very fast, but the soul takes longer to arrive.”

Tuwe is set to finish up his nine months in the US at the end of May, having come to New York to study English as a Second Language and to take filmmaking and film-editing classes. His trip is sponsored by Tribal Link’s Indigenous Fellowship Program and the Nataasha van Kampen Foundation. Tuwe is working on a documentary called Us and Them, showing the challenges faced by peoples living in voluntary isolation near the border of Peru and Brazil as they are confronted by illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, and oil prospectors. His goal is to learn English and sharpen his technical skills so that he can become a professional filmmaker, to get the message out to a wider audience.

This is not Tuwe’s first trip as an ambassador to the outside world. Tribal Link originally met him five years ago at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity‘s 9th Conference of the Parties in Bonn, German, and then, last summer, talked with him again in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20.

Following are a BBC video highlighting Tuwe’s introduction to New York and an interview from Tribal Link in which Tuwe further explains his role as “a spokesperson and a messenger of [his] people.”

I can only wonder about the effects of reverse culture shock on Tuwe as he returns to his tribe. It may take even longer for his soul to catch up on the return trip.

(“Culture Shock for Amazon Chief’s Son Who Left Rainforest for New York,” BBC News, March 17, 2013; “Tribal Link Welcomes to New York Nilson Tuwe Huni Kuin, 2012 Indigenous Fellow,” Tribal Link, December 15, 2012)

[photo: “New York City,” by Kaysha, used under a Creative Commons license]

200 Years of American Missions: Names and Numbers

On February 6, 1812, Gordon Hall, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Newell, Samuel Nott, and Luther Rice became the first North Americans commissioned as missionaries, set apart by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions at the Tabernacle Church in Salem, Massachusetts. A few days later,  Judson—along with his wife, Nancy—and Newell—with his wife, Harriett—set sail for India, arriving there in June. Samuel and Roxanna Nott, Hall, and Rice joined them there two months later.

On the occasion of this 200-year anniversary Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, announced that since that time, by 2010, the number of Christian missionaries sent from the US had grown to 127,000, or 32% of the 400,000 missionaries worldwide. The US is top on the list, while in 2010 Brazil sent the second-most number of missionaries at 34,000.

So if the US sends the most missionaries, who receives the most? Well, that would the US as well, with 32,400 missionaries arriving from other countries (again, using 2010 numbers). Turns out that many of the Brazilian missionaries are sent to work among Brazilian communities in states in the Northeast.

There’s also another person who is sometimes mentioned along with Adoniram Judson and his group when the first missionaries are listed, not because he went out with them, but because he went out before them. He was George Liele, an African-American former slave in Savannah, Georgia. He gained his freedom before the Civil War, and then he and his family escaped re-enslavement by sailing to Jamaica with a British colonel (sometime around 1782 to 1784). In Jamaica, Liele planted a Baptist church, reporting in 1791, “I have baptized 400 in Jamaica. . . . We have nigh three hundred and fifty members; a few white people among them.”

So who was the first American missionary? That depends on our definitions. The first American “citizens” “commissioned” and “sent,” those would be the ones from Salem. The first ones born in America to travel to another country and make disciples, that would be Liele and his family. My guess is that there would not have been a lot of jealous arguing about “firsts” coming from either group. And who knows? Maybe someone had already gone out earlier, someone now unnamed, someone unremembered, someone who simply went, without fanfare, spreading the hope of the gospel.

(Daniel Lovering, “In 200-Year Tradition, Most Christian Missionaries Are American,” Reuters, February 20, 2012; “People and Events: George Liele,” PBS; Billy Hall, “George Liele: Should Be a National Hero,” Jamaica Gleaner, April 8, 2003)

[photo: “Vintage Globes,” by The Shopping Sherpa, used under a Creative Commons license]

No McAloo Tiki for You!

Back in October, MainStreet came out with a list of 10 glocalized items—from American-based fast-food chains—that aren’t available in the US. Among the food that the author writes “we wish we could have” are McDonald’s McVeggie (India), Burger King’s Meat Monster (Japan), Pizza Hut’s Chunky Loaded Pizza (Malaysia), Wendy’s Rugby Combo (New Zealand), and McDonald’s Bubur Ayam McD (Malaysia)—”juicy chicken strips in mouth-watering porridge, garnished with spring onions, sliced ginger, fried shallots and diced chilies . . . just like mum’s cooking!”

(Matt Brownell, “10 Fast Food Items You Can’t Have,” MainStreet, October 11, 2011)

By the way, did you know that since late 2010 Burger King has been owned by a Brazilian investment firm? At the time of the purchase, for $3.26 billion, 3G Capital planned to increase BK’s international presence, including opening 500 new restaurants in Latin America by 2015.

(“Brazilian-Owned 3G Capital Buys Burger King,” Business Pundit, October 11, 2011)

[the photo is of a lady enjoying McDonald’s fried chicken in Thailand: “IMG_7529 by weenie dog, used under a Creative Commons license]