Sunday, April 19, 2015

South Africa: Xenophobic violence and the rest of us

In April 2008, I remember asking a young South African about the Xenophobic violence in his country. The response I got shocked me.

He justified the killings of foreigners. He could have as well said, we will kill all of them because they are taking our jobs.

I was short of words. And for the rest of the conference, I avoided the young man like a plague because his mind was made up. No other view made sense to him.

By the way, we were in a global conference where a teenager from Israel gave a high5 to a youth from Iraq. One of those conferences where we lived the dream-- that one day the world will be sane again. And we'll stop killing one another.

I wonder if the inter-cultural dialogue and interaction made any impact on the young South African.

Fast-forward 2015. South Africans have launched another attack on foreigners. For almost the same reason as the past.

And tens and hundreds of young South Africans might just justify the action with the same thought pattern-- they [other Africans] are taking our jobs, lets kill them all.

Forgetting that as the world continues to shrink to globalisation, young Africans will continue to break barrier and travel across borders to seek out new ventures, to foster development on the continent through cross-cultural innovations and collaboration.

Dear South Africans and other Africans, can you hear me?

Re-Orientation is key.

Image source: DailyMaverick

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Remember, this is not just about #BringBackOurGirls

One evening in Nassarawa-Eggon [a town in Nasarawa state], we were all minding our business when suddenly we heard gunshots.

Next, we heard heavy footsteps running towards the direction of our rooms [staff quarters]. Trust what followed. Doors were locked. Bolted. Light went off. Silence.

A few minutes later, we were snapped back to reality by voices of the strangers.

Apparently, one of my colleagues successfully provided shelter for some of the people who had come running towards our rooms. They begged for shelter and she obliged.

The strangers were night travellers. They had heard rumours of arm robbery attack some miles away, which prompted them [and some other drivers/travellers] to run out of their vehicles for safety. One of the closest spot was the fenceless secondary school where we were serving [NYSC]. 

That was not the first time we have had strangers driving into the school at night seeking for refuge from the terrors of armed men on the highway. There were also cases of strangers dropping in at odd hours looking for ways to lure students out of the school compound... until a group of senior students shout the stranger out of the compound.

Don't get me wrong, Nassarawa-eggon is a relatively peaceful community.

My point?

It is possible for armed men to drop into a secondary school in northeast Nigeria and whisk kids away into sambisa forest. Most schools -- especially government-funded boarding schools-- lack a lot of things, including adequate security.

The case of over 200 girls that were kidnapped a year ago, for me, has brought to light many issues that is wrong with Nigeria and how our government leaders run the system.

Let us not loose sight of those important things.

A year ago:

"Is this #BringBackOurGirls campaign real? Are you sure those girls were really kidnapped?"

Those were some on the questions in the minds of many people a year ago, when the news of the Chibok kidnapping was first announced. Someone actually confronted me with similar questions... which I had no answers to then.

There were those who passionately protested for the girls to be rescued. Amidst opposition, their attitude said: we are here to brazen it all out. 

Those who traveled to the community reported what they saw.

Then there was this:

Pictures. More pictures. Some were real, some had elements of photo-shop. It almost became a distraction. In public forums, after an event, participants were mobilised to take a group picture holding up the famous #BringBackOurGirls postcard.

But this, like the hashtag boom on twitter cannot be faulted. At least, it was relevant enough to soon draw global attention. The shame of a nation became a global discourse. How can over 200 girls be kidnapped from a school without any declaration of a state of emergency?

The apathy.

The concern.

Over a year later, we are still waiting for the girls to be brought back home.

More girls and women have been kidnapped after the Chibok girls. How about boys and men in those communities? How are they affected? They are maimed, killed or forced to join the Boko Haram sect.

Was the Bring Back Our Girls campaign a failure? Will the story of the kidnapped girls just remain another case to be remembered annually?

Will our government leaders take action to prevent future occurrence? 

We are in a time of war. War against a failing system and ineffective government. War against Boko Haram. 

Nothing can be achieved through apathy, denial or simply by wishing things away.

Our President-Elect, Gen Muhammadu Buhari and his administration [hello May 29th!] have not promised us Utopia. But at least they will hopefully help revive the Nigeria economy and deal with all these social vices, with support from the rest of us, of course.

All hope is not lost.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Waiting... Who'll be our "next" president?

Lagos is quiet this morning.
The roads are free.
Yesterday afternoon
I heard a woman
screaming at her neighbour's daughter:
Leave the street, get inside, where is your mother? If everyone starts running, where will you go? Hurry up, inside.

If everyone starts running?
To where? For what?

3pm. Yesterday.
Offices shut their doors.
Too early. It used to be 5pm, for some.
I could smell the fear in the air.
It still stinks.
It is like we are all waiting
for the dragon that will be unleashed
once the election results are announced.

The war may never come.
But still,
the roads are empty this morning.
Fear is a terrible state to be in.

This is not poetry.
This is not journalism.
Whatever it is,
Pray for Nigeria.

The picture was taken last week. Army officers on their morning parade around Adeola Odeku. It has nothing to do with elections.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

MSF Launches Global Women's Health Multimedia Feature

"Because Tomorrow Needs Her" Explores Multiple Health Challenges Affecting Women

[Press Release] - In advance of International Women's Day on March 8, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today launched Because Tomorrow Needs Her, a multimedia initiative focused on improving access to women's health care worldwide.
In videos, photos, and stories of patients and medical workers, Because Tomorrow Needs Her, calls attention to the shocking loss of women's lives in many of the countries where MSF works.  Every day, approximately 800 women and girls die of preventable complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
"It is unconscionable that in many parts of the world today, women have no access to quality obstetric care, when providing it is not complicated," said Séverine Caluwaerts, an MSF obstetrician/gynecologist. "High impact, yet low-cost interventions by trained health staff can have a dramatic impact on maternal mortality."
To cite one example: In 2012, MSF initiated ambulance referral systems in parts of Burundi and Sierra Leone. These countries have some of the world's highest rates of maternal mortality and feature very few hospitals or qualified medical workers. However, once women experiencing complications in childbirth could take an ambulance to a hospital with trained staff, where services such as surgery and blood transfusions were available, the maternal mortality rate in the districts dropped by more than 60 percent.
Because Tomorrow Needs Her bears witness to the barriers that women and girls face in seeking essential medical care in many communities where MSF works, whether they are due to poverty, conflict or cultural norms.
Photographers Martina Bacigalupo, Patrick Farrell, Kate Geraghty and Sydelle Willow Smith captured images and videos of women in Burundi, Haiti, Malawi, and Papua New Guinea, working with MSF medical teams. Patients and medical workers wrote first-person reflections from the front lines of the crisis — such as villages and clinics in Afghanistan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.
The specific health challenges that women face go far beyond childbirth. Because Tomorrow Needs Her also looks closely at MSF's experience with pre- and post-natal care, obstetric fistula, unsafe abortion, sexual violence, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Obstetric fistula alone affects untold millions of women and girls and remains largely neglected. A consequence of prolonged, obstructed labor, an obstetric fistula is an opening between the vagina and the bladder or rectum, causing lifelong incontinence if left untreated.
Bacigalupo photographed women before, during and after surgery for obstetric fistula in Burundi, over the course of several months. Many of the women are isolated by society, forced to live separately or shunned by neighbors because of their incontinence.
"What struck me is the strength with which these women try to preserve their dignity, long before they meet any doctor who tells them it is possible to have a normal life," Bacigalupo said.
Because Tomorrow Needs Her also devotes a chapter to unsafe abortion, which is one of the top five causes of maternal mortality worldwide. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Patrick Farrell documented the rise of abortions that are self-inflicted or performed by nonmedical personnel in Haiti, where laws prohibit the procedure and economic barriers prevent access to proper health care services. Such issues are not unique to Haiti, nor are the consequences.
"On a daily basis, MSF staff in hospitals and emergency rooms the world over see women and girls with complications from unsafe abortions …"  write Caluwaerts and Catrin Schulte-Hillen, who leads MSF's working group on reproductive health and sexual violence care. "They require immediate medical care, and sometimes surgical interventions and blood transfusions, to save their lives."
In total, MSF operates 131 projects worldwide that provide dedicated emergency obstetric services in areas where other health systems are nonexistent or are severely affected by conflict or neglect.
Bacigalupo and three MSF women's health experts — Caluwaerts, Schulte-Hillen and Africa Stewart (see bios below), will speak about the project in a March 4 panel discussion at Pace University in New York City. Journalist Nina Strochlic of The Daily Beast will moderate.  Admission is free but registration is required at The event, co-sponsored by Pace University's Student Government Association and the Pace University Rotaract Chapter, will also be webcast live at 7:30 p.m. EST, at
An exhibit of the photographers' work will be open to the public from March 4 to 10 at Pace University's Schimmel Center.
The full multimedia project, Because Tomorrow Needs Her, can be viewed online at
Panelist bios:
Martina Bacigalupo studied photography at the London College of Communication. She lives in Burundi, where she works as a freelance photographer, often in collaboration with international NGOs. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Sunday Times Magazine, Le Monde, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Liberation, Internazionale, and has been shown in several international venues, including PARIS PHOTO 2013, UNSEEN, Amsterdam 2014, and AIPAD New York 2014. She won the Canon Female Photojournalist Award in 2010 and the Fnac Award for photographic creation in 2011.
Dr. Séverine Caluwaerts is a gynecologist-obstetrician and one of the referent gynecologists for MSF. Prior to joining MSF, she spent a year of her residency in South Africa where she cared for a large population of HIV-positive women. She has completed assignments for MSF in Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Burundi, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. When she is not on mission, she works with HIV-positive pregnant women in Belgium and is involved in teaching medical students and midwives.
Catrin Schulte-Hillen has worked for MSF as a midwife, project coordinator and project manager in conflict and post-conflict contexts in Africa, Latin America, and the Balkans. She is the leader of MSF's reproductive health and sexual violence care working group. Prior to that, Schulte-Hillen was a program director for MSF-USA and worked for several years as a health advisor and consultant for MSF, the European Commission, and other NGOs. She is a licensed midwife and holds a Masters of Public Health, a license in applied epidemiology and statistics, and a degree in business administration.
Dr. Africa Stewart is a wife and mother of three who graduated with honors from The Johns Hopkins University. She completed her medical degree and residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Drexel University and Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Stewart joined MSF in 2011 and has completed assignments in Sudan, South Sudan and Nigeria. She is an outspoken supporter of women's rights and specializes in obstetric fistula prevention and repair.  She continues to serve her local communities with adolescent outreach and education.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Opportunity For Young Leaders: Satyagraha Institute Announces Nonviolence Training Program

Training Leaders in the Traditions of Nonviolence

Satyagraha Institute ( announces its first summer institute, to be held August 2 -22, 2015 in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The program will provide leaders interested in nonviolent social change an opportunity to deepen their understanding, skills, commitment, and community.

Mohandas Gandhi, who famously experimented with the possibilities of nonviolence, coined the Sanskrit term satyagraha, or truth-force, to identify a method of social change. Satyagraha is a way of directly engaging with others to work out the difficult aspects of life without resorting to coercion, harm, or ill intention.

The summer learning experience will be rooted in a course of study, the arts, community life, and the inner life. Resident faculty and a variety of visiting resource people will guide the exploration of nonviolence in the traditions of Mohandas Gandhi, indigenous spirituality and culture, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, and various spiritual traditions. Training will also be provided in conflict prevention and tools for conflict resolution.

Faculty include: M.P. Mathai, a well-known Gandhian scholar from India; Darlene Pipeboy, a Dakota elder and pipe keeper; Amelia Parker, Executive Director of Peace Brigades International; Priscilla Prutzman, Executive Director of Creative Response to Conflict; Clare Hanrahan, an author and organizer with the New South Network of War Resisters; and Fernando Ferrara, founder Mesa de Paz in Mexico.

The institute is designed for leaders of groups, organizations, movements, and communities. The program also welcomes promising young people who are likely to be future leaders.

The application deadline is May 31, 2015. Space is limited, so early application is suggested. In order for this program to remain affordable, it relies heavily on donor contributions. Satyagraha Institute welcomes contributions via its website, Contact: Carl Kline, Program Coordinator Satyagraha Institute (605) 692-8465

Sunday, February 01, 2015

How To Change The World...

"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world."

- Unknown Monk (1100AD)


Sunday, January 18, 2015

On Ideas Whose Time Has Come & Feminine Leadership - Jess Rimington

Here is to a productive week ahead!!

I hope you are inspired by these words of a beautiful leader and friend:

Jess, Ashima and Jen-- OWYP team- Disney World, Florida USA 2007

"Our dream came true and we proved something very important: independent of who you are or where you come from, independent of the world being in economic crisis, if you never give up, have a business plan that works, stick to your ethics, and have a strong culture, then a community, together, can birth an idea whose time has come." Jess Rimington, founder One World Youth Project.

"I have come to believe that at this particular moment in human history the world needs more feminine leadership, embodied in and demonstrated by both women and men. The art of feminine leadership is to give space so that the flame burns brighter, to witness so that there is safe space, to trust so that others trust themselves, to give power so that power multiplies, and to leave when the time to leave has come." Jess Rimington, Founder One World Youth Project.