January 26, 2019 § Leave a comment
“More than 145,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Return to School in Bangladesh Refugee Camps as New School Year Starts”
More than 145,000 Rohingya refugee children living in camps in south-east Bangladesh are now attending UNICEF-supported learning centres, as a new school year begins.
Following a huge effort from the humanitarian community to construct a network of around 1,600 Learning Centres throughout the camps—providing vital access to education for children who fled violence in Myanmar—attention is now turning to providing education for thousands of other children who still lack access.
The aim is to eventually reach 260,000 children with education this year through an extended network of 2,500 Learning Centres run by 5,000 teachers and Rohingya volunteers.
. . . . .
“Many children have suffered traumatic injuries from gunshot wounds and extreme violence, restricting their mobility and access to services. We see many children with mixed learning abilities, physical disabilities, visual impairment and speech difficulties,” said Iffat Farhana, Education Officer, UNICEF Cox’s Bazar. “Each of these children has a right to education. With more Learning Centres and more teachers, UNICEF hopes to reach every child to help them learn, grow and realise their potential.”
. . . . .
It is estimated that there are about 500,000 children under the age of 18 living in the camps, with about 300,000 aged 3 to 14.
About 700,000 Rohingyas fled persecution in Myanmar at the end of 2017, bringing the total population of the refugee camps close to a million people.
(UNICEF, January 24, 2019)
(featuring scenes from Shaolin Tagou, the largest Kung Fu school in China, with over 35,000 students)
November 11, 2018 § Leave a comment
When it’s time to paint your front door, choosing a color can be a big decision. Do you go with traditional or bold or trendy? Do you stick with white or black or make a statement with bright blue or red or teal?
My wife and I were at the house of some friends not long ago, talking about remodeling, previous and planned. We brought up some projects that we’d completed at our house, including painting our front door. After a lot of Pinterest searches we’d settled on a deep, dark blue-green that the paint company called “obsidian.”
Our friends’ front door is yellow. But it isn’t just any old yellow. It’s yellow with a story. Our friend told us that the door was that color when they bought the house and they’d decided to leave it that way. “Do you know the poem ‘The New Colossus’?” she asked. While the title sounded vaguely familiar, I had to say “No.”
She went to the door and took a framed print off the wall, and there it was—the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus as a tribute to the Statue of Liberty. Oh, yeah, that “New Colossus.” Cast in bronze and hanging inside the statue’s pedestal, it ends with
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Our friends have worked overseas and now minister here to refugees, some from the part of the world where they used to serve. Gold is their statement color. They want visitors from all over to know that they are welcome in their home.
In February of last year I wrote about the global refugee crisis in “Why I Don’t Pray for the Syrian Refugees.” Since then, the number of people worldwide forced from their homes has grown even larger, in part due to the tragic civil war in Yemen. At the end of 2015, as reported by UNHCR, there were 65.3 million people displaced by war or persecution. At the close of 2017, that number had risen to a record high of 68.5. That includes
- 40 million displaced inside their home countries
- 25.4 million refugees, and
- 3.1 million seeking asylum
I guess here’s where I could ask a challenging question, such as “What color is your door?” But my asking might be a little hypocritical, what with my door being obsidian and all.
Instead, I’ll just let the question in this song be the challenge, for you . . . and for me.
“Figures at a Glance,” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), June 19, 2018)
May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
I can’t say that these are newly published stories. All of them have been out for a while. But I’ve come across them over time, and I’d like to highlight them here together. They all share the topic of crossing cultures at a young age (well, one is about a 22-year-old)—and they’re all skillfully told.
Thanhha Lai was born in Saigon, Vietnam, coming to Alabama with her family following the end of the Vietnam war. In Inside Out and Back Again, she writes about her experiences through the story of a fictional 10-year-old named Hà. After losing her father in the war, Hà, along with her mother and brothers, travels by boat to a tent city in Guam, then makes her way to the American mainland, where she encounters the difficulties of fitting in. Written in 2011, Inside Out was named a Newberry Honor Book and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
In 2012, she followed up with Listen, Slowly, about another girl facing cross-cultural issues. Mai is California born, the daughter of Vietnamese parents. When her grandmother travels to Vietnam to find out the fate of her husband (he disappeared during the war), Mai reluctantly follows and learns about her family’s, and ultimately her own, story. This book won its own accolades, honored as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. But Lai doesn’t count her writing accomplishments as her greatest achievement. On her author page, she says that “most importantly” she has started the not-for-profit Viet Kids, which purchases bicycles for poor students in her birth country.
Jung was born in Korea, and at the age of five was adopted by the Henin family in Belgium. Now a graphic artist, one of his creations is the graphic novel/memoir Couleur de Peau: Miel. The title is French for “Color of Skin: Honey,” which is written in his adoption papers. In 2012, he turned his story into an animated documentary, interspersed with real footage, including scenes from his trip as an adult back to Korea. Titled in English Approved for Adoption, it’s a raw (PG 13-ish) look at Jung’s life—that ultimately has a positive message.
Before his adoption, Jung stayed for several months at Holt International’s Ilsan Center, along with other children, orphaned and abandoned as a result of the Korean War. About the film, Jung tells Holt, “I’m adopted, so I tell that story, but the different thematics—identity, uprooting—it’s universal. It’s a story about relationships.”
Linda Sue Park and Salva Dut
Linda Sue Park was born in Illinois, the daughter of Korean immigrant parents. As an adult she moved to London, where she taught ESL and married an Irish man she’d previously met in Dublin. She currently lives in New york and is now a successful author of children’s and teen’s books, including A Single Shard, for which she was awarded the Newberry Medal in 2002.
In 2010 she wrote A Long Walk to Water, telling the true story of Salva Dut, along with the fictional story of Nya, a girl living in South Sudan. Salva is from Sudan, one of the “Lost Boys” of the country’s civil war. At the age of 11, he joined thousands of others who escaped to refugee camps in neighboring countries. Eleven years later, he was selected to come to the US as a political refugee, and was taken in by a family in Rochester, NY. When he later heard that his father was alive in Sudan, he traveled there to see him, finding him sick from drinking contaminated water. After returning to the US, Salva founded Water for Sudan—which became Water for South Sudan following the vote for independence. As of this month, the organization has drilled 300 wells in the world’s newest country, where “millions of women and children trek for up to eight hours a day to collect water from marshes, ditches, or hand-dug wells where water is often contaminated with parasites and bacteria.”
(Billie Louwen, “Approved for Adoption,” Holt International Blog, April 29, 2014; Thanhha Lai, “Author,” Thanhha Lai; “Water for South Sudan Transforms Lives,” Water for South Sudan)
[photo: “Child’s Globe,” by John Cooper, used under a Creative Commons license]
February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
I want my daughters to tell people how we ended up here, whether it’s in a book, in a film, or just an answer to “What’s wrong?” That’s all I want.
—a Syrian refugee in Greece, in Refuge
As I’ve read, and watched, more about the Syrian refugee crises, I came across two powerful videos. I decided not to include them in my post last week, because they’re on the longer side (around 20 minutes each), and I wanted to bring more attention to them in a post of their own.
The first one, Refuge: Human Stories from the Refugee Crisis, lets a number of Syrian refugees speak to the camera. In Making Refuge: Behind the Scenes of the Refuge Project, the film’s director, Matthew K. Firpo, tells why he and his crew made the trip to meet the Syrians in Greece:
We wanted to focus on the simple, important fact that every refugee is a human being, with hopes and losses and families just like each of us. And in sharing their stories, we wanted audiences to understand what it means to leave behind everything you know, to finally have faces to put to headlines.
In the next video, The Island of All Together, Syrians who have arrived on Lesvos (Lesbos) as refugees sit down to talk with Europeans who have come to the Greek island as vacationers. What a wonderful idea.
They pairs converse on a range of topics, some profound, some mundane, all poignant in their simplicity and touching openness. In one conversation, Otis asks the Syrian Rashad what he would do with a million Euros.
Rashad: A million Euros? I would help all of the people who have not been able to flee Syria.
Otis: That’s beautiful.
Rashad: And what would you do with a million?
Otis: I would buy a nice car, pay for my education, and give the rest to charities.
Rashad: I hope that God gives you a beautiful car. . . . I had to sell my car in Syria to get the money to come here.
Otis: What kind of car did you have?
Rashad: I had a Kia Morning.
Otis: I now have a Citroen Saxo.
February 11, 2017 § 2 Comments
Since the start of Syria’s civil war, 12.5 million Syrians have been displaced, including 4.8 million living as refugees in other countries, with the rest forced out of their homes but still living in Syria. According to the Pew Research Center, this total number represents 60% of the country’s population of 2011, before the conflict began. The center calls the situation of Syrian displacement “unprecedented in recent history for a single country,” part of a global crisis that has nearly 1 out of 100 people worldwide forcibly displaced—the highest percentage since UNHCR began collecting those numbers in 1951.
In the face of this, a survey from World Vision and Ipsos Public Affairs shows that currently only 14% of Americans “pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” This is down from 22% in 2015. Of those surveyed who self-identify as “committed Christians,” 41% say that they are willing to pray, but only 19% actually do so. These numbers, too, are lower than a year ago, when 51% said they were willing to pray, with 30% praying.
If I had been contacted for the survey when it was held in September of last year, I would have described myself as a committed Christian. I also would have told them that I don’t pray for the Syrians. Here’s why:
- I’m pretty busy, and it’s hard to find time to pray at all, even for my family and for personal issues.
- I don’t understand what’s going on in Syria well enough to know how to pray intelligently. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? The situation seems so complex—politically, culturally, and religiously—and it seems to change constantly.
- Whatever outcome that we can hope for will be a very long time coming. It’s taken so many years to get to this place, and there are no quick solutions. I can’t commit to praying indefinitely.
- It seems as if one tragedy after another is happening in our world today, and I’ve stopped trying to keep up. Which one should I pray for? Which one is the most tragic? It’s all so numbing. And the news outlets jump around so much in their coverage. They’re easily distracted and so am I.
- I don’t personally know any Syrians, so theirs is not a problem that I can relate to.
- Since I’m not giving money or taking any other action, it would be hypocritical for me only to pray.
To me it’s about knowing, understanding, caring, and acting—and back in September, concerning the Syrian crisis, I was lacking in all these areas. But since I started writing this post, things have been changing. I now know more, I understand more, I care more . . . and I’ve started praying.
If the surveyors called me today, I’m still not sure I could say, “I pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” I have prayed. And I plan to pray. But I’ve got a ways to go before I can say with confidence I do pray.
How about you?
To better understand the situation, you can read “Syria: The Story of the Conflict,” from BBC News, or watch this video:
If you need help caring, if you need faces and stories to go with the numbers . . .
If you don’t know how to pray, then you can go to World Vision’s prayer guide, and listen to this prayer from a Syrian Christian:
And if you’d like to help financially, here are two options for giving funds to help alleviate this great need:
I have started praying, and I hope that in the future, if I get a call for a survey, I’ll be able to say I’m praying still.
(Philip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “About Six-in-Ten Syrians Are Now Displaced,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, June 13, 2016; Connor and Krogstad, “Key Facts about the World’s Refugees,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, October 5, 2016; “Survey: While Aleppo and Mosul Burn, American Christians Less Likely to Pray for, Help Refugees than a Year Ago,” World Vision)
December 26, 2014 § 2 Comments
When we lived overseas, we were encouraged to make lists of items we would need to grab in case of an evacuation. First there was the list for what to collect if we had only fifteen minutes to leave. Then there were lists for an evacuation in an hour, in 24 hours, and so on.
While a swift departure from our apartment in Taipei was a possibility, it didn’t loom over our heads as it does for many in other countries . . . so we never made a formal list. Rather, we had a cluster of absolutely-most-important-things kept in the same room: my laptop, our passports, extra credit cards, a printout of important contact information, a first-aid kit.
We never tackled listing the irreplaceable items, those with sentimental value. Like writing a will, it was hard to think about and too easy to put off.
If you had to leave your home in a hurry, what would you take? What if you had to escape your country, as well? And what if you knew it would probably be nearly 20 years before you were able to create a new home?
Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, knows a lot about people who flee their homes and about what they lose and what they take with them. She knows a lot because she meets refugees and talks with them.
In her TED Talk, “Let’s Help Refugees Thrive, Not Just Survive,” she tells her motivation for what she does:
So I started working with refugees because I wanted to make a difference, and making a difference starts with telling their stories. So when I meet refugees, I always ask them questions. Who bombed your house? Who killed your son? Did the rest of your family make it out alive? How are you coping in your life in exile? But there’s one question that always seems to me to be most revealing, and that is: What did you take? What was that most important thing that you had to take with you when the bombs were exploding in your town, and the armed gangs were approaching your house?
She then shares the story of Hany, a young Syrian refugee who knew exactly what he would take when his family was forced to flee to Lebanon. “I took my high school diploma,” he said, “because my life depended on it.” He had risked his life in war-torn Syria to earn it, and he saw his education as his hope for the future.
Fleming goes on to tell more stories of refugees and to recount some sobering statistics, including these (I’ve added some additional numbers from “UNHCR: Facts and Figures about Refugees“):
- The approximately 50 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013 is the highest number since World War II.
- Each day last year, an average of 32,000 more people were forced from their homes.
- 33 million of the displaced people remain in their own country. 16.7 million flee to other countries, making them refugees.
- 86% of the world’s refugees are living in the developing world.
- On average, a refugee will be displaced for 17 years.
- The war in Syria has produced 6.5 million displaced people, about half its population. More than 3 million of them have entered neighboring countries.
- Lebanon, a country of 4 million, is home to 1 million Syrian refugees.
- Half of the Syrian refugees are children, and only 20% of those in Lebanon are in school.
Below is Fleming’s full TED Talk, followed by a video message from Hany, produced by the UNCHR.
The last video is “Lebanon: Through the Eyes of a Refugee,” featuring Hany’s photographs from his participation in the UNHCR workshop Do You See What I See? The two-week class on photography and writing was led by photojournalist Brendan Bannon.
November 8, 2014 § 4 Comments
What is it that makes IKEA a global phenomenon? Is it the DIY furniture? Is it the maze-like stores with free childcare? Is it the lingonberry jam?
Whatever the cause, the behemoth that is IKEA is not only the biggest producer and manufacturer of furniture in the world but also the most “meaningful.”
According to Paris-based Havas Media, IKEA ranks #6 on its list of “Meaningful Brands,” the result of a global survey measuring how people think companies benefit their “personal and collective well-being.” (Three years ago, IKEA was #1.)
(“Meaningful Brands,” Havas Media; Jennifer Rooney, “Ikea, Google, Nestle Tops in ‘Meaningful’ Impact: Survey,” Forbes, November 8, 2011)
Here’s my list of 10 things that give IKEA meaning in today’s world.
1. It’s big, Big, BIG
As of October 15, IKEA has 364 stores in 46 countries (map). These include the two stores in Taipei, where I was first introduced to the chain, and the newest store in the US, which opened last month in Meriam, KS, about two hours from my home.
(“Bringing the IKEA Concept Worldwide,” Inter IKEA Systems B.V.)
2. It has an “effect” named after it
IKEA is known for it’s “flat box” furniture, bought in a box at the store and assembled at home by the customer. While this can cause frustrations, especially if a piece is missing, it has it’s upsides. Researchers from Harvard, Yale, and Duke found that when people put effort into creating something, they like it more, even valuing their creations over others of higher quality. They dub this the “IKEA effect.”
(Michael Norton, “The IKEA Effect: When Labor Leads to Love,” Harvard Business Review, 2009)
3. Now it’s a kind of diplomacy, as well
It’s too early to say for sure, but I think the term IKEA diplomacy is going to catch on, too. Just a little over a week ago, Sweden recognized Palestinian statehood. This was followed by a swift condemnation from Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who said, “Sweden must understand that relations in the Middle East are much more complicated than self-assembly furniture at Ikea.”
“I will be happy to send Israeli FM Lieberman an Ikea flat pack to assemble,” responded the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom. “He’ll see it requires a partner, co-operation, and a good manual.”
(Inna Lazareva, “Ikea and Peace in the Middle East,” The Telegraph, November 1, 2014)
4. IKEA’s catalog is published in biblical proportions
Each year, IKEA prints millions of its catalogs each year. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2012 the company planned to distribute 208 million, which is estimated to be more than twice the amount of Bibles that are produced each year.
In 2012, the IKEA catalog made news when the company removed images of women from photos in the version distributed in Saudi Arabia. IKEA later apologized.
And September marked the announcement of the 2015 catalog in the highly innovative—dare I say groundbreaking—form of the “bookbook.” Genius.
(Jens Hansard, “IKEA’s New Catalogs: Less Pine, More Pixels,” Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2012; “Is the IKEA Catalogue Being Distributed in More Prints than the Bible?” Skeptics Stack Exchange; Ben Quinn, “IKEA Apologises over Removal of Women from Saudi Arabia Catalogue,” The Guardian, October 1, 2012; )
5. Its product names are just so Kwïrki
If you’ve shopped at an IKEA or browsed a catalog, then you know that each product carries some kind of Swedish—or Swedish-ish—name. They often sound odd (a shelf named Ekby Bjärnmum), sometimes funny (a soil block is called Kokosnöt), and sometimes unfortunate (I’ll let you Google for these yourself).
Of course, this isn’t just a Swedish-to-English issue. The Wall Street Journal reports that before opening a store in Thailand, IKEA put together a team with the sole purpose of catching names that sound off-color to the Thai ear, such as Redalen (a bed) and Jättebra (a plant pot), both of which sound like Thai sexual terms.
And then there’s Lufsig, IKEA’s stuffed wolf toy. In December of last year, an anti-government protestor in Hong Kong threw one at Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Cy Leung during a town-hall meeting. The man tossed the toy because Leung is called “wolf” by his critics. The action took on more meaning since the Cantonese name for the stuffed toy sounds like a crude sexual term in that language. Lfusigs became a must-have item and soon sold out.
(James Hookway, “IKEA’s Products Make Shoppers Blush in Thailand,” The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2012; Per Lilies, “Stuffed IKEA Toy Becomes Offensive Anti-Government Symbol in Hong Kong,” Time, December 10, 2013)
6. Name another furniture store that’s known for it’s food
According to The Wall Street Journal, IKEA’s food division is on par in sales with Panera’s and Arby’s. And the cornerstone of its in-store restaurants and grocery products is the humble Swedish meatball, of which they sell around 150 million each year.
The meatballs are nothing fancy, just really, really good. Here’s how they’re described on the company website, in typical Scandinavian understatement:
– Meatballs are minced meat formed into round balls and then fried. Serve with boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam and cream sauce.
Even after its meatballs were recalled across Europe early last year, the store’s culinary reputation survived. Why the recall? Trace amounts of horse meat were discovered in a batch made by a Swedish supplier. If that news still gives you pause, have patience. Next year IKEA plans to roll out meatless vegetarian meatballs.
In the UK, IKEA even brews its own line of dark lager and regular brew beers.
Remember, this is a furniture chain we’re talking about.
(Jens Hansegard, “IKEA’s Path to Selling 150 Million Meatballs,” The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2013; Andrew Higgins and Stephen Castle, “Ikea Recalls Meatballs after Detection of Horse Meat,” The New York Times, February 25, 2013; April Gosden, “Ikea Plans ‘Green’ Meatballs to Help Tackle Climate Change,” The Telegraph, April 17, 2014; Laura Stampler, “IKEA Now Brews and Sells Its Own Beer,” Business Insider, July 18, 2012)
7. It doesn’t want only to sustain its business, it wants to sustain the planet, too
Vegetarian meatballs aren’t the only thing “green” about IKEA.
The company started selling roof-top solar panels in the UK last year and in September it announced plans to expand that offering to 8 more countries in the following 18 months. It’s starting with the Netherlands and Switzerland and will move on from there.
As reported by Reuters, IKEA has installed 700,000 solar panels on its own rooftops at stores around the world and has plans to up its global use of wind turbines to 224. Other green initiatives include plans to replace, by 2020, all the plastic in its products with recycled plastic or renewable materials, such as wood.
And if you’re driving your electric car in the United Kingdom, you’ll appreciate IKEA’s announcement that all UK stores now have free electric vehicle rapid recharging points installed in their parking lots.
(“IKEA to Widen Solar Panel Sales to Eight New Nations from UK,” Reuters, September 22, 2014; “Electric Vehicle Charging,” IKEA)
8. In the time it takes to put together a couple bookcases, you could build a shelter for a refugee
Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the IKEA Foundation has invested $4.8 million to develop portable shelters, to be used by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Last year, 50 prototypes were shipped, in flat-pack boxes, to Syrian refugee camps. Olivier Delarue, UNHCR head of innovation, says that his agency was looking for an improvement on the tents typically used to house the displaced around the world and turned to IKEA for its “expertise in certain areas—such as logistics and flatpacking—that we could learn from.”
According to The Boston Globe, each 188-square-foot unit takes about four hours to assemble. The cost of a prototypes is $10,000 but is expected to fall below $1,000.
(Caroline Winter, “Ikea Sends its New Flatpack Refugee Shelter to Syria,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 11, 2013; “Ikea: Refuge in a Flat Box,” The Boston Globe, July 5, 2013)
9. An IKEA store is like a 20-bedroom home away from home
It seems that many IKEAs not only have lines of people waiting to buy home furnishings, they also have lines of people wanting to make themselves at home.
Take, for instance, shoppers in China who lounge on the couches and climb under the covers for naps in the beds (photos at ChinaHush). Camilla Hammar, marketing director for IKEA in China, tells Advertising Age that stores there don’t just allow the try-it-out approach, they welcome it, embracing the idea that for the Chinese, shopping at IKEA can be an emotional experience. “It tends to initiate very romantic feelings,” she says. “The first time some couples start talking about getting married is in our showrooms. So that’s something we’ve tapped into.” And that’s why the store in Nanjing hosted three Swedish-style weddings for three couples as a PR event.
But it’s not just the Chinese who want to take advantage of the store’s sleeping—or wedding—accommodations. When Havas Media UK was looking for a way to promote the chain, they found a Facebook group called “I wanna have a sleepover at IKEA.” They latched on to the idea and organized “IKEA’s Big Sleepover” for 100 lucky customers.
And when couple in Maryland looked for a venue for their wedding in 2012, they chose the IKEA store where they had their first date. Another pair, this time in New Jersey, got married last year in an IKEA framing department, the same place where they’d met eight years earlier.
Even Hollywood knows that domestic magic can happen in IKEA.
(Key, “IKEA in China, ‘Our Home Is Your Home,” ChinaHush, July 27, 2012; “Happy to Bed,” Havas Media; “A Wedding in Aisle 3? Why Ikea Encourages Chinese to Make Its Stores Their Own,” Ad Age, December 10, 2013; David Boroff, “Couple Gets Married in Maryland IKEA,” New York Daily News, April 20, 2012; Eliza Murphy, “Couple Says ‘I Do’ in IKEA’s Framing Department,” ABC News, June 11, 2013)
10. And it can put your love to the ultimate test
Of course, adding IKEA to a relationship doesn’t ensure bliss—even in Sweden. A story in The Local last year recounts how police were called to a home in Strömstad by neighbors who were concerned about loud noises during the early morning hours. The authorities found that the “banging and screaming” was caused by a couple putting together a piece of IKEA furniture, and by their crying child.
There’s nothing like assembling furniture to check your love for your significant other. Well, maybe shopping for furniture can have the same effect. A trip to IKEA could be the perfect premarital outing for couples wanting to see if their love has what it takes to go the distance. Take a look at the video below to get an off-kilter view of the store that just might be “the number one place where couples realize they actually can’t stand each other.”
(“Police Called to Swedish Family’s IKEA Nightmare,” The Local, November 8, 2013)