Under-Told Stories Project

2007

E-waste Poses Problems in India

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television: From writing software, to sophisticated programming, to call centers…

CALL CENTER OPERATOR: Can I have your card number, please?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … computers have become the lifeblood of India’s new economy, even defective computers. At this company, machines returned by customers are methodically diagnosed and repaired, business that would be unfeasible in higher-wage countries. Even in computers not repairable, there’s plenty of value. Many components, for example, are gold-plated.

TECHNICIAN: You notice we have the copper coils, the metal pieces, the aluminum can be recycled.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And recycling these metals has spawned a fast-growing and alarming new industry. Computer motherboards are literally cooked, which releases gold and copper, but also arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxins.

These pictures were taken by the environmental group Greenpeace. Spokesman Ramapati Kumar says up to 5 million people work in this clandestine backyard trade.

RAMAPATI KUMAR, Greenpeace India: The recycling is highly dangerous in India, with all the operation and the procedure is still very primitive. And they are recycling just with their bare hand; they have no protection at all.

Ewaste from other countries

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Greenpeace estimates that some 50,000 tons of e-waste are produced in India, that is computers and other hardware discarded as obsolete. But a much larger amount, harder to pin down because it’s illegal, is imported from rich countries, where Delhi activist Ravi Agarwal says recycling is much costlier.

RAVI AGARWAL, Toxics Link: It can cost $20 to $30 to dispose of one computer, just to throw it away in a proper way. Now, instead of that, if you then export the waste to a poor, developing country in Africa, China or India, you can actually make money off that waste.

So a trader will, instead of paying $20 to the local ecology to recycle the waste, can actually sell the waste, a computer, for $13 to $15. And the person who buys it will then bring it to a place like India and auction it off and make, you know, about $10 for it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: International treaties prohibit the export of obsolete computer hardware from developed to developing countries. But there are loopholes. The stuff is shipped to intermediate points, where shipping labels are changed to hide the real point of origin. Other shipments are disguised as charitable contributions.

RAMAPATI KUMAR: One can import a computer for charity work, so therefore it is coming in the name of charity.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Greenpeace’s Kumar says recyclers have resisted attempts to tighten India’s laws governing scrap imports. Also, Indian lawmakers worry about jeopardizing the jobs of some of the country’s poorest people.

RAMAPATI KUMAR: In this country, environment is an important issue, but it’s not a priority. So livelihood becomes a priority. And basically, you know, takes a lead on all of our other issues, including the toxic waste.

A different way to recycle

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ironically, neither the poverty nor the environmental damage associated with recycling are necessary. In the Muslim district of Bangalore, India’s high-tech capital, Syed Hussain runs a business, Ash Recyclers, that’s approved and recognized by the government for safe practices. He says he’s very profitable.

“We didn’t have food to eat before,” he says. “Now, with God’s graces, I’m worth crores,” the Indian equivalent of millionaire status.

SYED HUSSAIN, Ash Recyclers (through translator): When the scientist Sahid came here, we used to be afraid of government regulations. He told us how to do it properly. He said don’t worry. He told us how we can comply with the rules, how we should do this work in a disciplined way.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The scientist Sahid he speaks about is Sreenath Shetty. It’s an unlikely partnership of an eccentric, well-to-do Hindu engineer and a Muslim junk dealer.

Shetty helped Hussain develop and use clean recycling technology, but the goal is much more to reuse than recycle. Computers may get obsolete quickly in Bangalore’s I.T. companies, he says, but for most others there is solid demand for used or repaired machines.

So much of what would otherwise become electronic waste has now been carefully stocked in an inventory of spare parts.

TECHNICIAN: See, these are the boards. These are as good as new.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And it’s entirely usable?

TECHNICIAN: Entirely reusable.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Elsewhere in the building, cathode ray tubes laden with toxic components are rebuilt instead of crushed. Many are turned into television sets, sold far more cheaply than new ones to rural customers who could not otherwise afford them.

How long can you recycle a tube like this?

TECHNICIAN: I think two to three times you can definitely recycle that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So this thing can go on beaming television signals until the next two decades?

TECHNICIAN: Yes, definitely.

The need for more Ash Recyclers

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Using his profits, Syed Hussain started a foundation that provides rebuilt machines to area schools. Most schools in India don’t have computers.

SYED HUSSAIN (through translator): Our Koran hasn’t changed in size. It can still be put on a Pentium I, Pentium II or even an old 386 machine. The children can read the Koran. They don’t need an upgrade to learn to read and write.

The scientist Sahid says we can give it to all the schools. Those learning the Ramayana, we can give it to them. We can give it to churches.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ash Recyclers conducts its own school for neighborhood recyclers with whom it does business, showing them how to properly dismantle electronic equipment. The only argument anyone has with companies like Ash Recyclers is there aren’t enough of them.

THUPPIL VENKATESH, St. John’s Medical College: We need about 100 Ash to bring everything into order.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A hundred companies like Ash Recyclers?

THUPPIL VENKATESH: Yes.

E-waste major environmental problem

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Thuppil Venkatesh, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at St. John’s Medical Center in Bangalore, headed campaigns against lead pollution.

THUPPIL VENKATESH: About five years ago, gasoline probably was the major contributor. Now we have unleaded gasoline. Now the gasoline is not the major contributor, but the recycling of electronic waste is on the rise. That is becoming the major contributor.

I think, in another four or five years, if no action is taken, we will have major contributor for the environmental pollution, and especially lead, from the electronic, e-waste recycling.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In recent months, major computer and cell phone manufacturers have pledged to make so-called green machines, more easily recycled and with fewer toxins. But there will still be a lot of old machines coming to Bangalore and other Indian cities. And for people in rich countries who are asked to donate their old computers, Dr. Venkatesh has a plea.

THUPPIL VENKATESH: My sincere request to people from the developed world, like U.S., please do not donate any electronic goods to developing world.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Don’t send your old computer to charity.

THUPPIL VENKATESH: Please, don’t send. No, no charity. By this kind of charity, you are killing the children. Please don’t do that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As it is, he says, 53 percent of children under 12 in India’s cities are lead-poisoned, meaning permanent brain damage that claims up to 20 percent of a child’s I.Q., the very brainpower that has taken this country into the information technology age.

 

Evangelical Movement Spreads in South Korea

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Amid the rubber trees and sugar cane fields of rural Thailand lies a missionary outpost of the Global Christian Fellowship. It is home for about two dozen children whose parents, mostly incarcerated or chemically dependent, are unable to care for them. They are led in prayer by Presbyterian minister Jung Woong Kim, who has lived in this mostly Buddhist nation for 30 years.

ChildRefugee2

Reverend JUNG WOONG KIM (Global Christian Fellowship, through translator): I came here to spread the Gospel. But to get into people’s hearts, you have to understand their needs, especially those of young children, the elderly, drug addicts.

DE SAM LAZARO: Reverend Kim and most of his funding come from South Korea, which is now second only to the United States in the number of missionaries it sends to the world.

Reverend SAMUEL KANG (Korean World Mission Association): Sixteen thousand six hundred and sixteen missionaries to 173 countries. By the end of AD 2030, we are going to try to send 100,000 Korean missionaries.

DE SAM LAZARO: To understand the phenomenon of Korean evangelism, he says, you need to go to where it all began. It is 4:30 on a frigid Monday morning in Seoul, but the parking lot is full and the church filled to its 9000-person capacity. In a city that also worships the work ethic, this is how tens of thousands of Koreans begin their work week. At the Onnuri church, it’s a two-hour prayer service. Onnuri calls itself an evangelical Presbyterian church. It began 20 years ago and has seen massive growth.

Ha

Reverend YONGJO HA (Onnuri Presbyterian Church, through translator): In our case, we started with 12 families 20 years ago and have grown into a megachurch of 45,000 registered members. It’s not because the senior pastor has some kind of charisma, but this is the power and work of the Holy Spirit. It’s taking place in the heart of metropolitan Seoul.

DE SAM LAZARO: And Onnuri is not the biggest church in the prosperous, bustling South Korean capital. The Yoido Full Gospel Church claims to be the largest single church in the world. Its 800,000 members attend different services across dozens of campuses, all hearing the same message.

UNIDENTIFIED MINISTER (speaking at a sermon, through translator): Everything is possible for [him] who believes.

DE SAM LAZARO: Services are translated into several languages including Chinese, Japanese and English until the crescendo, which leads to most in the congregation speaking in tongues.

Reverend HOON LIM (Yoido Full Gospel Church, through translator): This church emphasizes the gift of tongues. Speaking in tongues and through God’s tongue people can communicate directly with God, and through that activity they can also receive the gift of healing people.

Church

DE SAM LAZARO: He says the Yoido church is adding 10, 000 members every year — this in a country where there were hardly any Christians a century ago. Nowhere, at least in recent history, has Christianity grown so much in such a short period. It may have much to do with Christianity’s place in recent Korean history. Unlike many other countries where Christianity was brought by missionaries. In Korea, the church is not part of a colonial legacy. The colonial power here was Japan, and churches were involved very closely with the Korean independence movement. Although some Catholic influences in East Asia date back to the late 1700s, the first missionaries — American Presbyterians — arrived in the late 1800s.

Rev. HA (through translator): The missionaries 120 years ago came and built schools first. They established junior high, college, medical facilities, and they evangelized the noble families. So when we were still under Japanese, those intelligentsia — they linked that believing in Jesus Christ is equal to working for Korea’s liberation movement.

DE SAM LAZARO: And for a country that’s seen unprecedented growth in wealth and prosperity in the past four decades, it’s not hard to believe in miracles. Korea today is considered a developed country with a standard of living equal to some European Union nations.

Reverend CHONG GIL HONG (North-South Sharing Movement, through translator): Korean economic development is unbelievable. When I was young, Korea’s GDP at the time was the same as Congo, and I could never imagine Korea as an industrialized country.

NKoreaWar

Rev. HA (through translator): When we were hopeless, the Western missionaries came, and they introduced us to the hope in Jesus Christ, so we have a very holy obligation to share this hope in Jesus Christ with those people who are still in their misery.

DE SAM LAZARO: Nowhere is that misery more visible than above the 38th parallel where the Korean peninsula, liberated from Japanese colonization after World War II, was divided — the theater of a brutal war from 1950 to 1953. Today, the increasingly isolated North suffers frequently from famine and deprivation and things would be much worse but for care packages from the South, spearheaded by the churches.

Rev. HA (speaking during sermon, through translator): Of all the countries, North Korea is the one who uses food as a weapon. They manipulate people with food in order to control them.

DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the North’s nuclear saber rattling, church leaders say they have no option but to continue with their humanitarian cause and the long-term goal of reunifying their divided nation.

Rev. HA (through translator): To us they are our families. We are all the same nationality. We have to embrace them like a mother would embrace a prodigal son.

DE SAM LAZARO: For some churches resettling defectors from the North is central to their mission. The Durihana Mission Church is part of an underground network to assist defectors.

Reverend CHUN KI WON (Durihana Church during sermon, through translator): Let us pray for the six people who have left North Korea today for freedom.

DE SAM LAZARO: Several in this prayer group in Seoul are recent arrivals. We were asked not to show their faces to protect family still in North Korea. These women linked up with the Durihana church after escaping first to China.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1 (through translator): The woman who helped me escape had heard of Pastor Chun. We found the Web site and made a request for help.

RefugePastor

DE SAM LAZARO: Durihana has operatives in China, Mongolia and several southeast Asian countries. We were asked not to mention this one for fear of antagonizing the host government. That’s already happened in China, where Durihana’s pastor, Chun Ki Won, spent eight months in prison. China strongly opposes aid to North Korean defectors.

Rev. WON (through translator): They are leaving for China in search of food, but the Chinese government sees them as criminals. So China sends those defectors back, and as a result these people are sometimes executed, imprisoned.

DE SAM LAZARO: Some analysts worry that activities like Durihana’s are encouraging defections and complicating the politics in what remains one of the world’s most militarized places.

Professor JEONG MIN SUH (Yonsei University, through translator): The South Korean government is very sensitive about annoying the North Korean government. And it is also worrying about possible conflict with neighboring countries, including China, on the diplomatic front. The general mentality among the public and Christians is as long as such activities don’t go overboard, it’s okay. However, there are cases like some so-called relief teams who secretly enter the North and bring North Korean residents to China or other Asian countries purposely or in a premeditated way that is not acceptable.

DE SAM LAZARO: Pastor Chun insists he serves only those who’ve already escaped North Korea. The church’s main goal, he says, is an evangelized, reunified Korea.

Rev. WON (through translator): The name Durihana comes from the Bible. It means two become one.

RefugeePrayer

DE SAM LAZARO: When that day comes to the Korean peninsula, Durihana can count on an army of North Korean apostles.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2 (through translator): When the two Koreas become unified, I also want to go back to my hometown. I want to do some church missionary things for my own village.

DE SAM LAZARO: About 10,000 North Koreans have now resettled in the South — some 600 with the assistance of this church alone: missionaries Durihana hopes one day to dispatch not to distant countries but to the land of their birth.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Seoul, South Korea.

 

Prajwala Targets the Sex Trade in India

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She’s stands barely taller than these children, but to them Dr. Sunitha Krishnan is a towering figure, big sister, mother, and school principal rolled into one.

Their faces betray few outward signs of the trauma these children have endured. Every child at this boarding school Krishnan founded is a victim of rape or incest. All are HIV-positive as a result of their assaults.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN, Co-Founder, Prajwala: I don’t know what their future is. I know what their present would be. And it’s, for me, one day at a time right now. And my effort is to see that their smiles are restored every day and I can sustain their smiles.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But beneath her smile lies a deep anger that propels Krishnan, anger at what she sees as public indifference about sexual violence inflicted on children and young women, anger that took root when, as a teenaged social activist, she was gang-raped.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: I think the rape, per se, was not so much of an issue for me. I don’t know. For some reason, I was never traumatized by that, the fact that I was raped.

But what happened after that made me think the way my family treated me, the way the world treated me, the way people around me treated me. The sense that thousands and millions of children and young people are being sexually violated. And there’s this huge silence about it around me, angers me. This huge normalization of that angers me.

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan

Founder, Prajwala Schools

There’s so much desensitization that has happened, so much normalization of exploitation that has happened, so much internalization of trauma that has happened.

Removing women from prostitution

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: About half these children came from the commercial sex districts. It’s only one part of an organization Krishnan started called Prajwala, which means eternal flame. It’s dedicated to removing, she says rescuing, women from prostitution, which she calls the most pervasive form of sexual violence.

It begins with helping their children so they don’t follow in their mother’s footsteps. In 1995, she started a school with five kids. Today, Prajwala runs 17 schools with 5,000 children across the city of Hyderabad.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: If this facility was not here today, perhaps most of the girl children would be inducted into prostitution.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Even at this stage?

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: I would say eight or nine. The older children that you saw on the other floor are children who would have been easily procured for prostitution and most of the boys, right from the age of six or seven, perhaps would be pimping for their mothers.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says about two million people are trafficked every year within India or from neighboring countries. Most are inducted into the sex trade in big cities and tourist areas.

Prajwala has developed a network of informants in the sex industry to help conduct brothel raids, captured here in the group’s own hidden camera footage. Most of the young women rescued are already veterans of the trade. Many are actually very reluctant to leave.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: There’s so much desensitization that has happened, so much normalization of exploitation that has happened, so much internalization of trauma that has happened. Most of the time, you know, they develop some very close attachments, and they will any day go back. Some of them would any day go back to their pimps or procurer than rather be with us.

Malini

Peer Counselor

We asked the police, ‘Why are you hitting us?’ they said, ‘Because you do this immoral work.’ And I said, ‘Well, why are you catching us? You should go after our house madams, not us.’ But they just beat us some more.

Peer counselors help the cause

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many do go back to the life they know, but Prajwala has managed to coax about 1,500 women out of prostitution. Peer counselors, like 20-year-old Malini, play a critical role.

MALINI, Peer Counselor (through translator): When we get the girls, they cry a lot. I ask why, and I tell them my own story, that this is what happened to me and I don’t want the same to happen to you.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Malini’s story is typical. There was abuse, poverty and despair in her home. A seemingly helpful adult friend offered her work in the big city. Instead, she was sold to a brothel.

The price the brothel paid for her then became the amount she’d have to earn to buy her freedom. The accounting was elastic and entirely dictated by pimps or madams, as she found out months into her servitude.

MALINI (through translator): One day they told me, “There’s a small balance, and when you pay it off you’ll be free to go.” I asked how much. They said 200,000 rupees. I got frightened. I said, “Why 200,000? I’ve been here so many months, and you’ve earned so much money from me.” They beat me, so I ran away.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But running to the police in a city she didn’t know, she encountered only more violence.

MALINI (through translator): When we asked the police, “Why are you hitting us?” they said, “Because you do this immoral work.” And I said, “Well, why are you catching us? You should go after our house madams, not us.” But they just beat us some more.

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan

Founder, Prajwala Schools

One needs to ask questions in America, also, about why American people want small children to have sex with and that, if they don’t get it in their own countries, they seek it out in countries like Sri Lanka and India and Philippines.

Activists get assistance with raids

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Official corruption has decreased in recent years, and Prajwala’s rescue raids are now conducted with the police. At least part of this change is driven by the United States.

The U.S. Justice Department publishes an annual TIP, or Trafficking in Persons report. Countries that show no improvement in cracking down run the risk of some trade sanctions.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: At one level, it irritates me to no end that my country would require somebody else from outside to tell them that this is a problem. That’s not the right way to go about it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the same time, she’s not shy in telling the U.S. and others what to do. Twenty-five percent of sex tourists in Asia are American, she says.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: So one needs to ask questions in America, also, about why American people want small children to have sex with and that, if they don’t get it in their own countries, they seek it out in countries like Sri Lanka and India and Philippines. You’re about imposing sanctions on India, but have you ever thought about imposing sanctions on your own country?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Krishnan says Washington has laws against sexual predators, even those who offend abroad, but doesn’t enforce them enough. In India, her advocacy has led to stronger laws to counter trafficking and protect victims.

For those who are rescued by Prajwala, the first stop is this transition shelter.

PRAJWALA WORKER (through translator): You’re not old yet, and at your age girls should remember a few important things: the way you dress, your behavior. How should that be? It should be acceptable to others. For example, the way you walk.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It will take months, with lectures and skits, to unlearn the behavior and demeanor they’ve acquired over the years.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: Hey girl, where are you going? Come here. How much do you want?

First, tell me why did all of this happen?

GIRL (through translator): If a girl’s good looking, people will make comments like that.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN (through translator): Do you think this happens to any woman?

GIRL (through translator): No. It’s because of the way we’re dressed. That’s why they’re saying that.

Abbas Bee

Student

I want to get married to a very kindhearted man, and definitely I want an HIV-positive man, because I don’t want to ruin somebody’s life. He should be caring. If he is sick, I will take care of him. If I’m sick, he’ll take care of me.

Teaching skills for jobs

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Young women, like 19-year-old Abbas Bee, are trained in traditional life skills and quite untraditional occupational ones. The goal is to find good-paying jobs, jobs rarely held by women.

Prajwala employs many of the women in printing and metal workshops it has started, enterprises that help pay for its work, along with grants from UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, and others.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: We have trained young girls as welders, as carpenters, as printers, as bookbinders, as screen printers, as taxi drivers and auto drivers. We also train them as housekeepers to work in hotels and hospitals and things like that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their earnings make women like Abbas more eligible as brides, even though she, like perhaps 25 percent of women here, is HIV-positive.

ABBAS BEE (through translator): I want to get married to a very kindhearted man, and definitely I want an HIV-positive man, because I don’t want to ruin somebody’s life. He should be caring. If he is sick, I will take care of him. If I’m sick, he’ll take care of me.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: If she does get married, her wedding, like many others, will happen at Prajwala.

DR. SUNITHA KRISHNAN: At any given point of time, there is somebody pregnant, somebody delivering or somebody — something’s happening. So from birth to death, birth to death, we are the only linkage.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a daunting parental responsibility for the 34-year-old Krishnan, but not the only hazard in a job that’s taking on a lucrative organized prostitution industry. At last count, she’s been beaten up 14 times since starting her organization.

 

Muslims Face Challenges in Minnesota

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Immigration from Latin America, Asia and Africa has brought new traditions and cultures to Minneapolis and St. Paul. They were once pretty homogeneous cities, says Satveer Chaudhary. He’s the son of immigrants from India and the state’s first Hindu legislator.

SATVEER CHAUDHARY, Minnesota State Senator: It used to be Swedes and Norwegians arguing over lutefisk or lefse. Now we’ve got Germans, Scandinavians now living in the same society as Somalis, and Hmong, and South Asians. And so these are all the growing pains of a growingly diverse society.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As many as 50,000 of the new immigrants are Muslims from Somalia. Many voted for the first time in 2006, helping Keith Ellison become the nation’s first Muslim member of Congress.

FARHEEN HAKIM, Activist: I feel that the Muslim community, at least in Minnesota, has gained much more confidence than they had before. There were two Muslim candidates in 2006, and one actually won.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Social worker Farheen Hakim was the other candidate. She’s run for mayor of Minneapolis and for county commissioner and says Muslims must get involved with the everyday events of American citizenship. That’s one reason she formed this Muslim Girl Scout troop, out on a field trip recently.

GIRL SCOUT TROOP: On my honor, I will try to serve Allah and my country to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout law.

FARHEEN HAKIM: One thing I hope that these girls will be able to experience is to feel that they belong somewhere. I want them to go to have a good, boring American experience, but at the same time be able to enjoy the experience for what it is, not always think to themselves that, “I’m a Muslim who’s doing this. I’m a Muslim who’s doing that,” but, “I’m a girl who’s doing this, I’m a girl who’s doing that.”

And, you know, I don’t want them to constantly feel that they have to be different or they are different.

Mike Landy

Minneapolis-St. Paul Int’l Airport

You would have had passengers who, frankly, told the MAC that they were going to pick cabs with a certain color top light because they may not want to ride with a Muslim cab driver.

Refusal to carry alcohol

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Just how different Muslims are or should be is an ongoing debate, particularly among refugees from war-torn Somalia. Many came to this meeting seeking some answers, on the Koran, on America, and how the two intersect.

On both fronts, the answer they were told is not clear-cut. For example, Islam forbids consuming alcohol or pork, but imams differ on whether it’s OK to handle them on the job. That very question had become an issue at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, an airport at its most international in the taxi line. About three-quarters of the 600 licensed drivers are Somali immigrants.

Airport officials say in too many cases they’ve refused to take customers carrying alcohol, usually in duty-free bags, saying it’s against their Islamic faith.

STEVE WAREHAM, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: And I believe we have 5,022 documented refusals over the last several years. It has been a serious customer service problem.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The airport’s Steve Wareham convinced commissioners that it was time to crack down. Drivers said the concerns were overblown. They suggested an accommodation, like one reached across town at Target. When Muslim checkout clerks refused to handle pork products, the retailer moved them to jobs away from the food section.

Abdinoor Dolal suggested a color-coded system to identify taxis willing to carry alcohol. A similar system already exists for cabbies willing to take smokers.

ABDINOOR DOLAL, Taxi Driver: Whenever someone comes out with exposed alcohol, we give him the right, because I’m not willing to carry, but I will look for someone who is willing to carry, and I will call him forward to take the customer.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But saying customers come first, airport commissioners voted to stiffen penalties for drivers refusing service, a 30-day suspension the first time, two years if it happens again. Commissioner Mike Landy said the public was in no mood to compromise.

MIKE LANDY, Commissioner, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: Frankly, we have 600 letters. You would have had passengers who, frankly, told the MAC that they were going to pick cabs with a certain color top light because they may not want to ride with a Muslim cab driver.

Katherine Kersten

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

I am told this is bogus. It is not an issue. Islam does not prohibit touching pepperoni pizza.

Suggestions for accomodations

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The news from the airport and Target prompted headlines and often angry words from talk radio hosts and Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten.

KATHERINE KERSTEN, Columnist, Star Tribune: I am told this is bogus. It is not an issue. Islam does not prohibit touching pepperoni pizza. What about the next time around, when the Muslim cab drivers or a minority of Muslims in this community say that they won’t transport women wearing tank tops, they won’t transport unmarried couples?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jason Lewis, who bills himself as “Mr. Right,” railed against the immigrants’ demands on his radio show.

JASON LEWIS, Radio Talk Show Host: Take this as a sign, folks, of why the current immigration policy of open borders, why the current obsession with diversity training, with multiculturalism is doomed to failure.

Imam Hawa Muse

We can show tolerance and accommodation for our neighbors. At the same time, we hope other communities will not be afraid to respect ours. It’s a beautiful thing.

Local media reaction

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But legal experts assured Somalis at this meeting they weren’t the first to bring new traditions and new questions of religious freedom. Mort Ryweck is a veteran local human rights activist.

MORT RYWECK, Human Rights Activist: All of the religious groups in the country that have come over here from generation to generation have gone through some of the same problems that you’re going through.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Law Professor Michael Jordan and human rights lawyer Stephen Cooper talked about the balance that is America.

MICHAEL JORDAN, Law Professor: There are things that are going to happen in your day-to-day lives that may offend you, and it may offend your religious practices. But the price that we pay for a lot of the freedoms that we have in this country is accepting a lot of those inconveniences. Why? Because it’s believed a greater good is served.

STEPHEN COOPER, Human Rights Attorney: Throughout the country, there are cases and battles going on between virtually every religious group in the courts. It’s always hard to come up with exactly where one person’s rights end and another person’s rights start. And quite often, both sides have an excellent reason for believing they’re right.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Imam Hawa Muse liked what he heard.

IMAM HAWA MUSE (through translator): We can show tolerance and accommodation for our neighbors. At the same time, we hope other communities will not be afraid to respect ours. It’s a beautiful thing: I like the idea of people exercising their democratic rights and agreeing that they can live together, with a few accommodations.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But advocates for the airport cab drivers said they were no different from other religious minorities that are accommodated in America, like Christian pharmacists whose refusal to dispense birth control pills is protected in many states. Hassan Mohamud is a local imam.

IMAM HASSAN MOHAMUD, Al-Taqwa Mosque: We are disappointed because we see this increase in penalty as a harsh penalty against a group of fellow Americans only because they are practicing their faith.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The airport’s stiff new penalties will prompt some drivers to look for new work, but others say they could look for recourse in a very American way: through the courts.

 

Library Protects Ancient Indian Knowledge

RAY SUAREZ: Now, safeguarding ancient knowledge in a digital library in India. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from New Delhi.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: The healing art of yoga goes back thousands of years in India. But over the past three decades, it’s become a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. Yoga guru Balmukund Singh is proud of the Indian export, but when he hears that some asanas, or postures, have been copy-written by Indians who have moved to the U.S., Singh gets, well, forgive me, tied up in knots.

BALMUKUND SINGH, Yoga Guru (through translator): This is our cultural heritage. It’s ours. How can anybody else patent this? If they invent it, they can patent it. But this is originally an Indian thing. Our sages long ago developed and demonstrated it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s not just yoga. In 1997, a Texas company got a patent on basmati rice, which meant that it would get a royalty payment when anyone else sold rice by that name. The Indian government filed 50,000 pages of evidence to show that basmati rice grown in India for centuries was essentially the same stuff. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finally revoked the basmati patent in 2001.

India’s markets are filled with herbs and plants that, over the centuries, have been concocted into remedies for almost every ailment. It’s a medicine chest that Dr. V.K. Gupta says is raided all the time by companies and individuals in the West.

Fred de Sam Lazaro

NewsHour correspondent

In the ’90s, two Indian-American university researchers got a U.S. patent for turmeric, saying they’ve discovered its wound-healing properties. Once again, India’s government fought to have the claim invalidated.

Elements of Indian culture

V.K. GUPTA, Director, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library: Every year, at least 2,000 wrong patents are getting awarded on India’s system of knowledge, like turmeric for wound healing, which should not get granted.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The turmeric refers to is a mainstay of Indian cooking, but for centuries turmeric has also been used for medicinal purposes, applied to skin rashes and wounds.

In the ’90s, two Indian-American university researchers got a U.S. patent for turmeric, saying they’ve discovered its wound-healing properties. Once again, India’s government fought to have the claim invalidated.

Dr. Gupta says the problem is patent offices depend on accessible, understandable documentation to check on the validity of a claim. And that’s just what India’s government, under his leadership, aims to provide.

It’s called TKDL, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. The ambitious project began in 2002 and is transferring 5,000 years of ancient texts onto a digital database in Hindi, English and eventually French, Spanish and Japanese.

Dozens of scholars spend their day pouring over photocopies of ancient manuscripts. They’ll eventually catalog architecture, music and the arts, but the first task is formidable enough: medical knowledge. There are three main healing traditions reflecting India’s varied history and geography.

There is Unani, a system begun in ancient Greece, developed later by Arabs, and brought to India by traders and rulers. Unani texts can be in Persian, Urdu, or Arabic, all sharing the same script.

Nearby are desks for Siddha, a medical science developed in south India. These texts are in Tamil. On the other side is Ayurveda, in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Tens of thousands of drug formulations, or ingredients, are buried in verse, says Dr. Jaya Saklani Kala.

Dr. Jaya Saklani Kala

Ayurvedic Physician

Earlier, what the teachers, arajayas, used to do was, they used to transfer the knowledge orally.

Archiving 30 million pages

DR. JAYA SAKLANI KALA, Ayurvedic Physician: Earlier, what the teachers, arajayas, used to do was, they used to transfer the knowledge orally.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So it was put into verse form so that the students could read them?

DR. JAYA SAKLANI KALA: Easily memorize them. Later on, it was penned down.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some 30 million pages will eventually go from pen to hard drive. If a patent office in the West gets an application, they’ll be able to check this new library for existing knowledge, or prior art, before granting a patent.

V.K. GUPTA: Through the route of TKDL, now we are giving access to the patent offices, several patent offices we are in dialogue with — instead of stealing, we want to have a system when both collaborate with each other.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not everyone is that optimistic. There’s worry that putting the knowledge in one place will make it easier for those looking to steal ideas. And when there is a false patent claim, poor countries simply won’t have the means to challenge it, says Devinder Sharma, an activist on biotechnology issues.

Devinder Sharma

Trade Policy Activist

Thousands of patents are being drawn every week in America on plant-based remedies and plant-based products.

Preventing exploitation

DEVINDER SHARMA, Trade Policy Activist: Thousands of patents are being drawn every week in America on plant-based remedies and plant-based products. What happens is that, when the company draws a patent, you know, and somebody challenges it, then you have to go on building up a huge battery of, you know, not only lawyers with them, but also a whole lot of research to challenge those cases in America.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Dr. Gupta says patent offices will be better able to police false patent claims themselves by using the new library.

V.K. GUPTA: No patent examiner would ever like to grant a wrong patent. It is not in his interest.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the same time, he says access to the library will be strictly limited and regulated to prevent unscrupulous exploitation.

V.K. GUPTA: We will draw experts from all disciplines. Our view is for every country who is the holder of such resources must designate a national competent authority of experts and that authority must negotiate with the user of that knowledge so there is some level playing field.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ultimately, Dr. Gupta hopes joint projects with drug and biotechnology companies can revitalize research in India’s traditional systems, which languished under British colonial rule. In time, he says, the marriage of ancient plant-based remedies, the library will catalog at least 150,000 of them with modern biotechnology, and create effective new drugs for the world and an economic bonanza for India.

Step one in all of this: The library on traditional medical knowledge, including yoga, is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

 

Charity Connects American Doctors to Developing Countries

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Many leading American hospitals treat rich patients from overseas, but the overseas patients doctors see at St. Joseph’s in Paterson, New Jersey, are not rich. And they are, in fact, overseas.

On this day, Dr. Michael Lamacchia and colleagues were looking by video hookup at a 6-year-old boy in Yerevan, capital of the former Soviet republic of Armenia. Doctors there were worried about Ardan’s chronic chest infections and his slowed growth.

DR. MICHAEL LAMACCHIA, Pediatrician: How does he plot out on our growth curve?

VIDEO CONFERENCE DOCTOR: His weight and height is below the third percentage.

DR. MICHAEL LAMACCHIA: Well, that number certainly would place him in the category of someone that you what have to evaluate for immune disorders, so I think you’re right on the right track with that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The inspiration and financial backer for these video clinics often sits in. Frank Brady is not a doctor, but a kind of telemedicine midwife, through a charity he founded called Medical Missions for Children.

FRANK BRADY, Medical Missions for Children: With the telemedicine today, we’re able to help children in over 100 countries, and we’ve actually donated equipment to hospitals, multiple hospitals in those countries.

How the charity began

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Brady is a lifelong gadget geek. When he took an early retirement in 1999, he says he wanted to bring cutting-edge medical care to sick children in developing countries, many of which he’d visited as an executive for GE. Frank Brady himself was once on medicine’s cutting edge, as a very ill infant to young parents.

FRANK BRADY: I had spinal meningitis, and they didn’t expect me to last another two or three weeks. And one of the doctors happened to mention that there was some kind of an experimental drug that was being tried on adults, and how would they feel about having it tried on a child?

Well, they felt they had no choice, and they went ahead and did it. And, lo and behold, the drug turned out to be penicillin. And as you can see, it worked. And my mother always used to say to me that “God spared you because you’re supposed to do something very, very special.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It would be five decades before he accomplished that special thing. With his wife, Peg, Brady used $85,000 of their retirement money to buy video equipment made by a company called Polycom. Then they had a stroke of luck.

FRANK BRADY: Lo and behold, what happens is we end up winning a contest with Polycom for the most unique use of a piece of Polycom equipment. And that started the relationship where they started giving us or donating to us the equipment.

Reaching children around the globe

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Eight years after it began, Medical Missions has helped about 25,000 children, from video clinics located in 27 top U.S. and European hospitals. Peg and Frank Brady say, for them, it’s all about the kids.

PEG BRADY, Medical Missions for Children: I have a little boy in Brazil. Gosh, he’s just going into puberty now, and he has this huge tumor on his back. And they operated and operated, and it keeps growing back, and it’s non-cancerous, and they don’t know what to do with it. And they’re afraid that, once his hormones start growing, that it’ll just strangle his whole body, and he won’t be able to walk, he won’t be able to breathe, you know, it will just take over his body.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But thanks to the Bradys, he does have the attention of some of the world’s top specialists.

DOCTOR: For us, it’s considered a screening, but not a definitive one.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many doctors who volunteer are immigrants, happy to help patients in their native countries. Others, like pediatrician Lamacchia, say the consultations not only benefit patients but also give U.S. doctors valuable experience.

DR. MICHAEL LAMACCHIA: You gain insight by practice and experience. And, certainly, doing these consultations has also been beneficial from our point of view to gain insight on progression of disease and things that we may not as commonly see.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Brady found that about 30 percent of children in his clinics are misdiagnosed by their doctors. And he says the figure in the United States, though better, is still troubling: About 15 percent of patients are misdiagnosed. So he decided to expand, to use new communications technology to help doctors stay on top of developments in their field.

DOCTOR: They ability to do rapid sequencing…

Using the medical channel

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He started the Medical Broadcasting Channel, which gathers recordings from top facilities and medical conferences, and puts them at doctors’ fingertips. The channel is distributed worldwide by cable, satellite and on the Internet.

FRANK BRADY: That global video library of medicine, which today has about 25,000 hours of medical symposia, is used to feed our satellite network, our Internet2 network, which today goes to about 300,000 different institutions around the world

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recently, Brady added health education programs for the general public, drawing in such heavyweight partners as the National Institutes of Health.

DOCTOR: Every day, we’re exposed to sound.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who hosts one series of programs, has supported Brady’s enterprises for years.

DR. ELIAS ZERHOUNI, Director, National Institutes of Health: Over time, we realized that what was needed was reliable information, medical information related to scientific progress and science of medicine today. And I thought we should really work with Frank and see if this could be a good way of increasing health literacy around not only our country, but the world.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Frank Brady says he works twice as hard as he did before he retired, and he doesn’t take a salary. Still, he has no immediate plans to slow down. All the new advances in medicine, he says, will help the retiring baby boom generation redefine retirement.

FRANK BRADY: First of all, through the advancement in medicine — I mean, just the advancement in the area of cardiology — people are a lot healthier later on in their years. And what do you do with the time that you have left? You know, how much golf can you play? How many trips can you take? And, you know, what do you want your legacy to be?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Frank Brady will soon turn 65. “Sixty five,” he says, “is the new 45.”

 

Thailand Fights AIDS Epidemic

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Thailand’s Prabhat Namphu Buddhist monastery is an unlikely combination of AIDS hospice and tourist attraction. Amid displays of cadavers, visitors, including many school kids, observe what HIV does to the human body, in death and in life’s final stages.

Beyond hospice care, the temple’s goal is to educate the public, says Phra Alongkot, the founding abbot.

PHRA ALONGKOT DIKKAPANYO, Abbot, Prabhat Namphu Monastery: I hope that this year maybe more than 300,000 people come to our temple. That is the chance for our temple can give the knowledge for our people.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When we visited in 2002, dozens were dying each month, abandoned as they were in life by families who never bothered to collect their remains. But it was in 2002 that Thailand began to make available the once prohibitively expensive antiretroviral, or ARV drugs, for AIDS. That’s made a huge difference, says Michael Bassano, an American Catholic priest who volunteers here.

REV. MICHAEL BASSANO, Volunteer: It has changed the whole understanding of the place. I would say it’s the temple of life. We call it the hospice, but it’s the temple of life. People come here with HIV, and they sense that here they find family, acceptance, nourishment, and a willingness to keep living. And that changes the whole reality here. It is not just a place for people in their last days.

Rev. Michael Bassano

Catholic Priest

He’s 50 years old, but his family just left him. They came over and dropped him off. And they left him here with us. When he came he was all scaly, all full of scales.

AIDS stigma still strong

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But one thing has not changed.

REV. MICHAEL BASSANO: This is a new man. He just came.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s the stigma faced by AIDS patients.

REV. MICHAEL BASSANO: He’s 50 years old, but his family just left him. They came over and dropped him off. And they left him here with us. When he came he was all scaly, all full of scales.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This morning?

REV. MICHAEL BASSANO: This morning. So now we put Vaseline all over his body, and it’s cleared up pretty well. So we wonder why at home they just didn’t take care of him.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many, like this man, are dropped off, their disease unattended, many with tuberculosis, a daunting infection they must survive before they are physically fit enough to go on the AIDS medicines.

REV. MICHAEL BASSANO: She’s really struggling to keep living.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some patients are too weakened to pull through, but more and more are surviving. A few have even formed a dance troupe, a testament to how ARV drugs can restore life to normal — normal, that is, as long as they stay inside the walls of the temple, which is near the central Thailand city of Lopburi.

Nok Eng

AIDS patient

I told my parents that I wanted to come and visit, and they said, ‘Just stay where you are.’ They said that I would humiliate them.

Educating communities about AIDS

NOK ENG, Temple Resident (through translator): The only time I go out of here is to get my medicine. If I put a long sleeve shirt on, my arms are covered and people won’t notice my scars. I’d be very uncomfortable if I wore a shirt like this one.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thirty-two-year-old Nok Eng came to the temple when her skin showed rashes, a classic HIV symptom. She left when her health improved but came right back in a few months. Health care was hard to find for her and her HIV-positive husband. And it was especially tough at her factory job, where people knew she was HIV-positive.

NOK ENG (through translator): Every day at lunch, I could hear people whispering next to me, gossiping about me, being sarcastic. I just couldn’t take the criticism.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The most painful, her parents, who live in a rural community, wanted little to do with her.

NOK ENG: I told my parents that I wanted to come and visit, and they said, “Just stay where you are.” They said that I would humiliate them.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The temple might provide knowledge, but Mechai Viravaidya, Thailand’s best-known anti-AIDS campaigner, says it could be making the problem worse by isolating people with HIV.

MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA, Anti-AIDS Campaigner: People go there and they get frightened. “I’m afraid of these people. I don’t want to see because they look terrible.” And I would say the last choice would be to have a community of those living with HIV, like a leper colony.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mechai is an economist known for quirky campaigns to popularize condoms. He’s called the “Condom King,” and many Thais call condoms “Mechais.” Now, to fight the stigma over AIDS, he’s taken a different approach, a program that offers loans to start small businesses. It’s called Positive Partners.

MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: We lend money to a pair of people, one infected, the other not infected. Together, they must do business. The uninfected person encourages you and also creates, tries very hard to create understanding or compassion within the village so that people who know that this person is living with HIV have a chance on a daily basis to communicate, to listen, and somebody explaining, “Look, that person is perfectly normal. You watch. I go with him. I let him ride on the back of my bike and all these things.”

Plak Damlako

AIDS patient

I go to hospital, and when I see people, they ask me, ‘Where have you been?’ I tell them I was at the hospital. They ask me, ‘Why?’ And I tell them I have AIDS. They say, ‘No, no, you don’t have AIDS.’ I have to convince them that I have it.

Facing ridicule and stereotypes

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the village of Banjan, Duang Deenok accepted an invitation from her HIV-positive aunt, Plak Damlako, to start a food business. She was nervous at first.

DUANG DEENOK (through translator): At first, everyone was pretty scared, so we went to talk to the doctor, because my auntie was taking care of all these children, feeding them. The doctor said that, if we’re afraid that the children were infected, we could bring them in to get checked. And, again, the only way to get AIDS is from needles or sex.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Both women say they’ve been open about Plak’s HIV status.

PLAK DAMLAKO, AIDS Patient (through translator): I go to hospital, and when I see people, they ask me, “Where have you been?” I tell them I was at the hospital. They ask me, “Why?” And I tell them I have AIDS. They say, “No, no, you don’t have AIDS.” I have to convince them that I have it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The two women say there have been few problems with social acceptance, possibly because Plak shows no outward signs of illness. Sales of their fried chicken and spicy vegetables are brisk. It’s one of about 900 new small enterprises funded by the Positive Partner program, everything from motorcycle repair to handicrafts to livestock raising. Duang says she only encounters an occasional snide comment at her food stall.

DUANG DEENOK: Some people say, “Hey, did you bring AIDS with you today?” When they act like this, I say, “AIDS isn’t that easy to get. You can’t get it from the ticks on a dog.” I tell them that you only get AIDS from needles and sex. Think about it.

What I make here, you can eat. But if you do get AIDS, I’ll take you to where you can get medicine. Sometimes I’m just sarcastic, because they’re not always nice to me.

Mechai Viravaidya

Anti-AIDS Campaigner

Because public education has died down, knowledge of HIV, the extent to which it’s discussed, goes down and down and down, so the stigma is still around and gets stronger because for the lack of public education.

Teaching youth about AIDS

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Because of highly successful awareness campaigns in the 1990s, most Thais learned how HIV is and is not transmitted. And the country’s once high HIV infection rate came down almost 90 percent through the decade, but public education had tapered off in recent years, says Mechai.

MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: And because public education has died down, knowledge of HIV, the extent to which it’s discussed, goes down and down and down, so the stigma is still around and gets stronger because for the lack of public education. So we just have to continue to do more. And then the stigma will come down, but nothing works like actually seeing a person living with HIV and getting them to have experience with HIV people. That’s the best experience at changing attitudes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mechai’s non-government agency is trying to bring that experience to schools, as well. HIV-positive individuals spend time answering students’ questions.

AIDS PATIENT: People can tell that, even though I have AIDS, I’m still living my life, doing my work. I just want to tell you guys, “Don’t discriminate.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On the day we visited this rural school, the lectures were followed by sex education sessions for these high school students, a particularly worrying group. After declining for years, HIV infections among young Thais have gone upward again.

PHRA ALONGKOT DIKKAPANYO: More than 50 percent of the new cases who are infected with HIV are the children, our children. Big problem for our country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts say the lesson from Thailand is that the message — to fear AIDS, but not people with AIDS — must be repeated again and again, or it will quickly be lost.

 

Rash of Farmer Suicides in India

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: It should be a joyful time when the harvest comes in, but in the cotton-growing region of Vidarbha, there’s not much to cheer.

VITTAL SHINDE, Farmer (through translator): It’s been two days now. I’ve been eating in the restaurant nearby, and I’ve been buying straw for the bulls and sleeping here on the cart. It’s of no use because we are not getting good prices.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the market where traders and growers haggle over quality and price, farmers like Vittal Shinde hang on in vain hope of better offers.

VITTAL SHINDE (through translator): They’re offering 1,900 rupees. I need 2,700 rupees per hundredweight to be profitable. Last year, I got 2,000, so last year, too, I lost money.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Two thousand rupees is about $45 U.S. dollars for every 200 pounds of cotton, about a third less than his break-even point. But others are even worse off: Many farmers, like Thulsiram Mandre, have little to take to market.

THULSIRAM MANDRE, Farmer (through translator): See this flour? Normally it’s at least double this size. The seedling is dying; so many seeds are stunted.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And an alarming number of others have lost harvest and all hope.

The day we arrived at her small home, neighbors gathered with Krisnabhai Tekham, the quiet interrupted by the sobs of mourners. A day earlier, Krisnabhai had buried her husband, Dalap, who committed suicide.

KRISNABHAI TEKHAM (through translator): He came home from the field, and he collapsed. His mouth was smelling of pesticide, so we put him on a cart and took him to the hospital in town, but he died on the way.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dalap Tekham leaves a young daughter, his 38-year-old widow, and her elderly father, whose land he also used to plant.

INDIAN FARMER (through translator): The crop has just dried up. We have so much debt, my son-in-law couldn’t pay it. I have no idea how we can deal with it now.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In an unmarked grave some two miles from where he lived, Dalap Tekham was laid to rest. He added one to a grim tally. Here in the Vidarbha region of central India, some 1,300 cotton farmers took their own lives in 2006. That works out to a suicide rate of one every eight hours.

To find out what’s driving so many farmers over the edge, we talked to Thulsiram Mandre, who says he is close to that edge.

THULSIRAM MANDRE (through translator): At the most from cotton, I may make 60,000 rupees this year. That’s not enough to pay for fertilizer, for family expenses, then loan payments. There’s nothing left. I didn’t pay back one penny to the bank last year.

Sudhir Goel

Indian Government Official

If it happens that the monsoons have not behaved, the markets have not behaved, and both have not behaved simultaneously, then the farmers lose income. And the loss of income is to such an extent that they can’t service their loan.

“A globalized trading system”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Indian’s cotton farmers have been vaulted into a globalized trading system, and they’re at the mercy of two unpredictable monsters: the monsoon and the market, says Sudhir Goel. He’s the chief central government official in the region.

SUDHIR GOEL, Government of India: If it happens that the monsoons have not behaved, the markets have not behaved, and both have not behaved simultaneously, then the farmers lose income. And the loss of income is to such an extent that they can’t service their loan.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government has responded by making more loans available, but Goel admits this merely keeps the local cotton economy going and may keep some predatory private moneylenders at bay. It doesn’t address the low cotton prices in the market. For that, he blames subsidies the E.U., and especially the U.S., give to their farmers.

SUDHIR GOEL: $3.2 billion subsidy in America for roughly 25,000 cotton growers has certainly suppressed the cotton prices world over.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government here used to guarantee Indian farmers minimum prices, but it has backed away from such subsidies under new market-oriented economic policies. Besides monsoons and markets, farmers face another problem: Monsanto, according to Vandana Shiva. She’s a nuclear scientist who became an anti-globalization activist 20 years ago.

VANDANA SHIVA, Activist: Every seed that is in the market in cotton today is linked to one company or the other, licensed and controlled by Monsanto.

Vandana Shiva

Activist

All the gods and divinities of this amazingly diverse country have been mobilized to sell toxic seed and non-renewable seed, and farmers have been seduced by it.

Using hybrid seeds

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says peasant farmers used to use natural fertilizers and pesticides, and they grew and saved their own seeds to plant the next year’s crop. In the ’70s, coaxed by the government and international aid donors, farmers began to use hybrid seeds bought in the store. These offered the promise of better yields and disease resistance, but they can require careful management, including chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

More recently, genetically modified BT cotton seeds were introduced by St. Louis-based Monsanto, licensed and sold under the names of well-known Indian seed companies. BT seeds are patented, so farmers aren’t allowed to grow and replant them. They must be bought every year from the seed companies, which market them with film stars and even Hindu deities, says Vandana Shiva.

VANDANA SHIVA: All the gods and divinities of this amazingly diverse country have been mobilized to sell toxic seed and non-renewable seed, and farmers have been seduced by it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thulsiram Mandre at first wasn’t going to plant BT seeds on his 10-acre farm, but he says an ad changed his mind.

THULSIRAM MANDRE (through translator): The famous lecturer, what’s his name now? Nianana Pataka was on the TV ads there saying this year was going to be disease-free. Last year, there was a disease called red leaf, which ruined all the crop. So I decided I’d plant it on just three acres to be on the safe side.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the dreaded red leaf disease has returned.

THULSIRAM MANDRE (through translator): They keep saying this is red disease, red disease. I really don’t know why this is happening.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mandre is learning that his new crop is not as disease-resistant as the ad said. His is the classic saga in which many illiterate farmers eventually lose their land, says Vandana Shiva.

VANDANA SHIVA: That innocent farmer is grabbed by the agent, who says, “Here’s a miracle seed that’s going to double your income. You’re going to be a millionaire. Put your thumb print out here.” The farmer has no idea what he’s signing onto. The farmer has no idea that, two weeks down the line, he’ll have to come back for pesticide. But then the leaves will start shriveling up, the agent will say, “No, no, you also needed irrigation. We didn’t tell that to you in the beginning, so take a tube well loan, and here’s another loan.”

Kishore Tiwari

Activist

Government is not helping these people at all. It’s just some peanuts, so meager that you can’t even call it help. People have lost all confidence in the leaders.

Biotechnology in developing nations

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Monsanto company declined our requests for an interview. It did issue a statement that, in part, reads, “While some may suggest that BT cotton is to blame, the fact is that there are multiple social, economic and environmental factors that make agriculture challenging in India.”

The company’s Web site features several scientists who support the use of biotechnology in developing nations.

MONSANTO SPOKESMAN: Our BT farming households are able to spend more on health care and also able to spend much more on reproductive and child health care.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It also features Indian farmers who say they’ve had great results with BT cotton.

MONSANTO SPOKESMAN: I bought a truck, tractor, built a house (inaudible)…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, the government’s Sudhir Goel agrees some farmers are doing well with BT.

SUDHIR GOEL: The BT cotton, where you have rains, gives good results. If it in an irrigated farmer, he fetches good results. So we should not blame BT cotton.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The problem is fewer than 10 percent of farmers in Vidarbha have irrigated fields that can provide the regular watering that BT, more than ordinary cotton, requires for optimal results. Most farmers here still rely on rainfall; too much, too little, too early, too late and a BT crop can wither.

So what does Goel make of the ads for seeds that may not be suitable to the terrain here?

You say you cannot control advertising. Surely, if it is false and misleading, you can.

SUDHIR GOEL: It is not false. In fact, in their advertising campaign and also in the packets which they are selling, it is mentioned that the best results are with irrigated farming.

Thulsiram Mandre

Farmer

If the government does not forgive our loans, and if we cannot get 2,700 rupees per hundredweight for cotton, then already we are starving. I know I will have to commit suicide sooner or later.

Rural economy gets less attention

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says the government is committed to increasing the acreage under irrigation in this region, but that inspires little confidence on the ground, says farm activist Kishore Tiwari.

KISHORE TIWARI, Farm Activist (through translator): Government is not helping these people at all. It’s just some peanuts, so meager that you can’t even call it help. People have lost all confidence in the leaders.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tiwari’s organization tallies and posts pictures of the grim suicide toll in Vidarbha. He says the government priority has been the new urban, high-tech-based economy. In rural areas, where 70 percent of Indians live, he says little is spent on infrastructure and corrupt officials don’t protect farmers from illegal moneylenders.

KISHORE TIWARI (through translator): If a country wants to develop properly, you can’t ignore one part of the society and make it so weak. That keeps the whole society from prospering.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Aside from crop loans, the government has given farmers, like Thulsiram Mandre, pesticide, spray equipment, and a water pump. He’s used neither.

THULSIRAM MANDRE (through translator): The water just trickles out. It’s useless.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Even in farmer relief programs, he says, everyone seems to benefit except the farmer.

THULSIRAM MANDRE (through translator): If the government does not forgive our loans, and if we cannot get 2,700 rupees per hundredweight for cotton, then already we are starving. I know I will have to commit suicide sooner or later. If you think about everything, the loan I won’t be able to repay, the family who will suffer if I commit suicide, if you think of both the options, the suicide option is less troublesome.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Both the state and central governments have lent hundreds of millions of dollars to farmers, and there’s no indication from either of any move to forgive the loans of Thulsiram Mandre and tens of thousands of distressed cotton farmers.

 

Organization Helps Preserve African-American Family Land

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, another in our series of profiles of Purpose Prize nominees. The prize is awarded to people who began new social enterprises after retiring. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from the Sandhills region of North Carolina.

FARMERS MARKET ATTENDEE: And we don’t have to put it all out, but let’s put enough out to…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: This summer, for the first time in recent memory, there was a farmers market in Spring Lake, North Carolina.

FARMERS MARKET ATTENDEE: We do thank you for giving Mrs. Jenkins a dream.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The weekly event is the brainchild of Ammie McRae Jenkins. She retired in 2001 at age 60 and returned to the Sandhills area, a sprawling region about an hour south of Raleigh-Durham, a land steeped in rich, sometimes painful history.

On this spot in 1789 in the Sandhills largest city, Fayetteville, North Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution. But this also was a market where slaves were bought and sold. Ten miles away is the Army’s Fort Bragg. Tucked inside is another would-be landmark.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS, Sandhills Family Heritage Association: This is what is left of the foundation.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A few rocks from the fireplace are about all that is left of the 650-acre McRae family homestead, built by her great-grandfather. He was in a pioneering group of freed slaves who bought and farmed land here after the Civil War. This was Jenkins’ childhood home.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: We grew everything. We had the fruits, the vegetable gardens. We had lots of hogs. We had cows, goats, chickens.

Fulfilling her ailing mother’s wish

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That all changed suddenly in 1954, when her father died of lupus at age 35. Ammie was 13. Soon after, her mother and six younger siblings were harassed by racist hate groups and evicted from this land, which eventually became part of the Army base.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: We didn’t leave because we wanted to. It was through intimidation. My mother didn’t know that people were working behind the scenes to take the land. So we lost all of that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Were you paid at all for that?

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: Oh, no. No, we were not paid.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Just completely sent…

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: Just completely lost. It was like a bad memory. Amongst all of the good memories that we had living here, that was a bad memory.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She went to Durham Technical College and was a computer programmer and businesswoman in Raleigh, where she married and had two children. She never wanted to come back to these childhood haunts, thinking it would bring back painful memories. But she did so in the late-’70s to fulfill one of her ailing mother’s final wishes.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: She wanted to see the old home place before she died. We wanted her to see it, but she was so sick at the time that she couldn’t come. Coming down that road, that fear was still there, and it was like, “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.”

But I wanted to do it for Mama, because Mama had told me, “See, if you just go, look around, if there’s an old jar lid or anything that reminds you of the old home place or if there’s still any grapes or pears around, bring me something from the old home place.” And I wanted to do that for her. We came down that road and started up the little road that leads to the house, and a miracle happened.

A back-to-the-land movement

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That miracle was that it brought back fond memories and a rediscovery of her ties to the land, her own family’s story similar to many African-Americans who moved, willingly or unwillingly, to cities and urban lifestyles.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: We didn’t have land. We left from being self-sufficient to, where do we go from here? We have nothing, to the point of accepting handouts and that type of thing. So I know what it is to own land, which is one of the reasons that I’m so passionate about land ownership, especially if your whole culture and everything about your life is tied to that land, so it was just like we had lost everything.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 2001, a retired Ammie McRae Jenkins founded the Sandhills Family Heritage Association, a back-to-the-land movement for African-Americans. It provides workshops on estate planning and how to avoid modern-day versions of the fraud and intimidation that dispossessed her family.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: We are in an emergency phase right now trying to hold onto our land, because we are losing land now at a rate of 70 percent of African-American farms, as compared to the 18 percent in the white community.

Hanging onto the land

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says many who have left the area inherit land here, which they attempted to sell to developers in this fast-growing region. Jenkins tries to coax them to hang onto land or to sell to a relative who might farm it.

Ed and Sheila Spence are a poster couple. They returned to their native Sandhills area after long military and teaching careers in San Diego, California.

ED SPENCE, Resident of Sandhills Area: My grandparents were sharecroppers. We literally lived off the farm. You know, all our meats come from the farm, the hogs, the cows. All the vegetables came from the farm, but they never owed any of the land. And so this was special for us to be able to do the same thing that we did when I was a child, but now we own the land.

SHEILA SPENCE, Resident of Sandhills Area: Last year, we cut it down, because we didn’t realize that they produced grapes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Spences bought 10 acres in 2001 on which they grow various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and raise goats. Jenkins’ program linked them with available extension services to reacquaint them with land management practices that sustained their ancestors.

ED SPENCE: They lived off the land. Their medicine came from the land. Their food came from the land.

SHEILA SPENCE: We’ve shared that with our grandchildren. With Sandhills, we had a youth program. My granddaughter and I participated in that program, and it was very enlightening to her. Without her being out in the field, in the heat of the day, picking peas, she would have never been able to realize what it was like for our ancestors to be working on sharecroppers’ farms or be enslaved, to have to do that.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: This is Mr. Wright, our black farmer of the year.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ammie Jenkins says the next step is to help people go beyond just owning farmland, but to making a living. The farmers market is one way.

AMMIE MCRAE JENKINS: I’m not talking about living in the past, but I’m talking about recognizing those things that we had that are of value and building on those assets.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her ultimate goal is to recognize and preserve those things in a museum. Jenkins is negotiating with the Army to put it on the homestead her family began here in 1882.

 

Group Helps Homeless Children

GWEN IFILL: Now, another in our series of profiles of Purpose Prize nominees. The prize is awarded to people who began new social enterprises after retiring. Tonight, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on one man’s efforts to help homeless youth.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: In the shadow of San Diego’s gleaming downtown, behind the chain link and shrubs, are haunts only a few homeless people know.

RICK KOCA, StandUp for Kids: Hello. Anybody here?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And Rick Koca wants to keep it that way.

RICK KOCA: Got some nice candles. I see kids’ clothes mostly. It’s a kid, at least a couple of kids. I don’t necessarily want to say where this place is. I don’t want people to come and hurt them or anything else when they’re sleeping.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Except to the adults who prey on them, Rick Koca says homeless kids are largely invisible in society, even though they number some 1.3 million.

RICK KOCA: If there’s one thing that I hear over and over and over, it’s, “Oh, my goodness I didn’t know there were homeless kids on the streets by themselves. I see the adults. I never see the kids.” Well, we don’t see the kids — first of all, we’re probably not looking. And then, I don’t know what we’re looking for. They don’t look any different than you or I.

Resources for homeless kids

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One place you will find them is at the StandUp Center. It’s the centerpiece of an organization Rick Koca founded called StandUp For Kids. And, indeed, it’s hard to tell homeless kids from volunteers. This is a place to get a meal, toiletries, clean clothes, to check e-mail, play games, get a state I.D., or just get cleaned up.

RICK KOCA: And then the girls have their own shower and their own bathroom. Boys aren’t allowed to come down here and use this part.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And if only for a few hours, it’s a place to be safe.

RICK KOCA: So many couches here, because lots of kids like to come in, just sit down and go right to sleep. They know no one is going to hurt them, no one is going to touch them, or anything else. They don’t have to worry about anything.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rick Koca says he’s always been involved with helping children. He grew up in a large family in Nebraska, was a scouting volunteer when his own kids were growing up, and also worked in a children’s home in Britain, where he was once posted during a 30-year naval career.

When he retired 18 years ago, he started StandUp For Kids to work with homeless children. Last year, StandUp served homeless youth some 58,000 times across the country. Koca discovered early that homelessness was a symptom of much deeper issues.

RICK KOCA: Their issue is, “I’m not homeless. I’m lifeless, and you can’t make this worse. You can’t shoot me. You can’t stab me. You can’t rape me and make this situation worse.” And I think, as I began to walk the streets and saw that, that was horrible to me that kids didn’t care what you did to them. I mean, and lots of people did and do unbelievable things to children on the streets.

And that’s why it didn’t become about homelessness. It became about helping young people put their lives back together.

So you’ve been on the streets, on and off, for four years, is that what you said? Since you were 15, but you finished high school. You got a GED or what?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Diploma.

RICK KOCA: Got a diploma. And how come you’re not in city college now, Alex?

Surviving on the street

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Koca says most homeless kids are bright and resourceful, traits that allow them to survive on the street. We brought our cameras along as Koca visited what they called a squat, an abandoned, boarded-up hotel shared by Alex and two buddies, Jeff and Shadow.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: OK, don’t set the house on fire like you did on the other one.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: I didn’t set the house — oh, yeah.

RICK KOCA: And how old are you?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Eighteen.

RICK KOCA: How long have you been homeless?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: A year.

RICK KOCA: A year. What grade did you finish in school?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Eighth.

RICK KOCA: Eighth grade. And do you see the point of getting a GED?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Well, me and Jeff are going to go back to…

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Las Cruces.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: … Las Cruces, and there we’re probably going to go to the college over there.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The only electricity here is in the smoke alarm batteries, so the group moved to the upper floors.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: It might be a little bit dirty, but it gives us a roof to sleep over during the nighttime. And then when it rains, it beats sleeping under a bridge in the rain.

I’m like a packrat. I come through here, and I’m like another man’s treasure is another man’s trash and blah, blah, blah. You know how the saying goes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On this day, Shadow’s haul was a concert ticket he got from panhandling.

RICK KOCA: Where’s the concert?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: It was the House of Blues.

RICK KOCA: Oh, the House of Blues. And then you went like that?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: I always do.

RICK KOCA: Just curious.

Fleeing abuse at home

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They have survival skills, Koca says, but not social skills. Many homeless youth are fleeing abuse at home, he says, only to find new forms of it on the street.

RICK KOCA: We know that, in the U.S., a child runs away every minute. Within 48 hours, 50 percent of them return home. Our concern is about the other 50 percent who, according to statistics, 42 percent of them become involved in prostitution just to survive. And it’s an equal number among males and females. Therefore, there’s four things that you can do. You can prostitute yourself, sell drugs, beg for money all day, or steal.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Alex and Jeff admitted they’ve done all four, including what they call survival sex.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: And me and him — I’m going to tell them anyways. We were — and this guy named Uncle Don…

HOMELESS TEENAGER: And Georgio.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: … and Georgio, basically they’re porno producers. Basically what they do is $250 a film.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Basically, Georgio finds you. You have sex with Georgio, and then he hooks you up with Uncle Don, who’s the producer, and who gets you into the porno.

RICK KOCA: So would you consider that the worst thing that you had to do to survive on the streets?

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Yes.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: The worst thing, because I’m not — that’s not my lifestyle. I don’t like doing that stuff.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Restoring stability to young lives like these is complicated by everything from legal problems to mental illness to family disputes. But beneath the rough exterior, Koca says, is often a strong desire to get out of their predicament.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: Right now, I’m just looking for a job.

RICK KOCA: But you’re going to Las Cruces? When you come back and you’re ready to look for a job, I’ll give you a cell phone and I’ll pay for it. If you want to go to school and you need a cell phone, I’ll pay for it. And I’ll say that to all three of you. We’ve already given three kids cell phones.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: That can’t be a bad deal…

HOMELESS TEENAGER: That can’t be beat.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: No, dude, I’m staying here. Forget that. I need a cell phone so I can get in contact with people and I can get in contact with my mom and my job.

RICK KOCA: We’re going to get you — get your GED, back into college, right at city college. Same thing with you. I’ll hook you up with some nice clothes. I’ll hook you up with a cell phone and hook you up with a lawyer you need and you already know.

RICK KOCA: After you get back into school, I’ll buy your books if I have to buy your books. And as long as you keep going, then I’ll keep going.

HOMELESS TEENAGER: I have issues that…

RICK KOCA: And that’s fine. That’s fine.

Programs in 37 cities

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: StandUp for Kids now has programs in 37 U.S. cities. Its annual budget is still under a million dollars, thanks to some 5,000 volunteers.

RICK KOCA: So you can see how many we have in Baltimore, 531; Boston, 790.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Large companies that target the youth market have donated the cell phones and clothes, even grants for legal aid. They’re small things that kids could expect from a family in normal circumstances. Koca is clear that StandUp cannot do big things, like law enforcement, mental health care, or social work.

RICK KOCA: It isn’t about case management. You know, that is a very necessary part, but that’s not something we do. You know, it’s like we’re not the pastor, either, you know? We’re not the eye doctor. And we do the family piece.

He says, “Hey, Dad, I got your e-mail, and I’m happy to hear from you.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rick is a father figure to dozens of young people, some who’ve moved onto stable lives, others, like this one, in prison.

RICK KOCA: And we’re not working. We’re just volunteers who help homeless and street kids. And we just kind of…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At 64, Koca plans to cut back on his hectic schedule. He traveled 197 days last year. But even in this second retirement, he plans to speak out on behalf of the generation of his grandkids. He says 13 homeless young Americans die every day from disease, abuse or suicide.

 

Schools Promote Healthy Lunches

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Long before the kids come to school in St. Paul, the staff at the district’s main kitchen have been hard at it. Their daunting task: 40,000 lunches, headed to 98 different lunchrooms.

But in the off times, a celebrity chef has been volunteering his time to help make the food coming out of here healthier and tastier.

SETH DAUGHERTY, Chef: … one tablespoon of mint puree, because when you’re doing…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A 42-year-old father of two school-aged children, Seth Daugherty has been revamping recipes. Some, he says, have been simply awful.

SETH DAUGHERTY: One of the last times I was here, I worked on a meat lasagna recipe that was a large recipe. It was like 60-plus pounds of salt, 80 pounds of brown sugar, and 100 pounds of textured vegetable protein. But when I was finished, it was half the amount of salt, no sugar, and no textured vegetable proteins, adding a bunch of raw garlic and fresh onions to it, really making it a sauce again.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Daugherty has been on the cover of Food and Wine, one of the best new chefs in 2005, and now teaches at a culinary school. He wants to give kids what he calls “real food.”

SETH DAUGHERTY: And I really want these kids to be the ones that will break the cycle of processed foods and bring that culture of cooking back into our society, where one-third of all meals are eaten in cars, which is scary.

Young Americans eat poorly

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many of the rest are eaten in school.

The University of Minnesota’s Mary Story says just 2 percent of young Americans eat according to the USDA guidelines for good health.

MARY STORY, University of Minnesota: Too few fruits and vegetables. Low calcium intake, especially for adolescent girls. Diets that are high in fat, saturated fat, trans-fat, which will lead to cardiovascular disease, diets that are high in sodium.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the past, public health advocates saw school lunch as the answer to poor nutrition. Congress created the lunch program in 1946 in response to widespread malnutrition among military draftees during World War II.

Today, some 30 million children receive school lunches. The schools charge about $1.25 per meal. But about 60 percent of the children, those from low-income households, get them free or at reduced price, subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lunches must meet federal nutrition guidelines, and districts are now required to have overall wellness programs. But Story says schools have not managed to promote good eating.

MARY STORY: The Army released a report last year that a third — 32 percent of 18-year-olds in this country that were applying to any branch of the military were overweight. This is really a social responsibility issue, I mean, where everyone really has to take their part. It’s not a matter of just saying, “People, they can choose what they want.” It’s not working now.

St. Paul tries to improve nutrition

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a NewsHour funder, and the Centers for Disease Control recently searched for school districts to study as models for good nutrition and wellness programs. St. Paul was among just six they chose.

St. Paul has taken several steps to improve what students eat and drink in its schools. For example, no more candy rewards; no more candy sales for fundraisers. And what about birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Halloween? For those kinds of events, treats are allowed once a month in a class. And vending machines now can carry only water, small containers of juice, and milk.

But our visit to St. Paul Central High showed how daunting the challenge can be. Some kids brought in soda and chips. Some used the newly introduced salad and sandwich bar, but most instead stood in long lines for cheeseburgers. At least there’s no super-sizing, says food service director Jean Ronnei.

JEAN RONNEI, St. Paul Public Schools: A half-cup serving of McDonald’s fries is not necessarily a bad choice. When you get into super-sized, it certainly is. For us, a half-cup portion is all that’s ever available to our students.

SETH DAUGHERTY: Two tablespoons of olive oil.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in the kitchen, Chef Daugherty is launching a full frontal assault on another deep-fried potato staple.

SETH DAUGHERTY: Tater tots. You’ll see tater tots in every school district in every school in all of America. Today, we took just fresh potatoes and roasted them in a little rosemary garlic, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, so simple, but so good.

Look at those, potatoes are looking good.

JEAN RONNEI: Oh, boy, they’re looking fabulous. Little hot. Bellissimo! I think they’re a little on the dry side, though.

SETH DAUGHERTY: A little on the dry side?

JEAN RONNEI: Maybe a little bit over-baked. Why don’t you guys try them and see. I think the flavor is really good. It’s nice and garlicky.

SETH DAUGHERTY: See, I like the way they’re cooked.

JEAN RONNEI: You like them crunchy?

SETH DAUGHERTY: Yeah, I like them like that, because I want them to have a little hard shell.

JEAN RONNEI: I have been outvoted.

Testing the new potatoes

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The key votes, of course, will come from her customers. The baked rosemary potatoes got their critical first test at St. Paul’s Galtier Elementary School.

TEACHER: Did you put ketchup on them? No? No ketchup? How was it?

STUDENT: Good.

TEACHER: Good? Are they spicy?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There was one question she didn’t ask, so we did.

If you had to choose between tater tots and the new potatoes, how many of you’d choose the tater tots? How many of you’d choose the new potatoes?

SETH DAUGHERTY: You know, I look at my own kids, age 7 and 11, and they eat everything. Did they eat it all the first time? Well, of course not. You know, I mean, it takes about 30 times for a child to really, after tasting it, to think, “Wow, maybe that’s OK.”

But, you know, after those 30 times, they might decide that they don’t like it. And that’s OK. Not everyone likes everything. And so it’s just continuing to put different products in front of them that are real food.

Taking the food habits home

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At Galtier Elementary, where 80 percent of the kids receive free or reduced-priced meals, Principal John Garcia takes the message of good food to their classrooms and, he hopes, their homes.

JOHN GARCIA, School Principal: My nurse and I have been teaching a nutrition course in fourth grade. We work on the food pyramid. We look at nutritional choices again. And it has gone home. And the parents have said, “You know, we’ve changed the way we shop at home. We actually read the labels on the back of packaging now. We have more fruits and vegetables in our home than we ever have.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, these fifth-graders who have gone through the school’s nutrition classes seemed more accepting.

How many of you would choose tater tots? How many of you would choose the potatoes you had today?

Converting taste buds is one of two challenges; the other is finding the money. Rosemary potatoes cost about 20 cents per serving. That’s twice the price of tater tots and a fifth of the entire amount budgeted for a St. Paul school lunch.

 

Iraqi Refugees Find Safety in Sweden

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, Iraq’s faraway refugees. There have been reports of thousands of Iraqis returning to their homeland from neighboring Syria, but some are much further from home. Special Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has that story.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Sweden was not part of the coalition that went into Iraq, yet this Nordic nation has taken in more refugees from there than any other country outside the Middle East.

At Friday prayer services in the city of Malmo are refugees from some of the world’s most violent conflicts: Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and, most numerous nowadays, Iraq.

TEACHER (through translator): Our topic today is adapting to Swedish life.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They are people like Haider Kassam al Tamimi. He left his wife and two small children in Baghdad after his life was threatened.

HAIDER KASSAM AL TAMIMI, Iraqi Refugee and Auto Mechanic (through translator): I was working for a government ministry in the electricity department. A private American company came in to work with the ministry, and the Mujahideen were against the Americans. They sent me a threatening letter because I did not quit my job.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sweden took in some 9,000 Iraqi refugees in 2006. The U.S. admitted 202 Iraqis in the same period. Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem.

TOBIAS BILLSTROEM, Swedish Migration Minister: If the U.S. had taken in as many refugees as Sweden has done so far per year, it would have been approximately 500,000 that the U.S. would have accepted so far, if you compare the amount of the populations.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Proportionally?

TOBIAS BILLSTROEM: Yes.

Dan Eliason

Swedish Migration Board

So still 90 percent of them are still entitled to stay here. I would say that probably we have the world’s most liberal and generous legislation when it comes to asylum matters.

Liberal asylum laws

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recently Swedish courts ruled that only those who face a personal, rather than a generalized threat of harm should get asylum. Still, Dan Eliason, who heads the agency that processes asylum applications, says most Iraqi ones are approved.

DAN ELIASON, Swedish Migration Board: If you are individually threatened, tortured, or something like that, then you can, of course, have right to stay. So still 90 percent of them are still entitled to stay here. I would say that probably we have the world’s most liberal and generous legislation when it comes to asylum matters.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s not new. Sweden has long had a policy of giving cradle-to-grave welfare benefits to refugees and natives alike. About one-fifth of Sweden’s nine million people today come from immigrant stock.

Immigration is closely linked to the country’s post-war economic boom. It first brought migrants from Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey. In the 1970s, political refugees began arriving, from Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, like Mustafa Diner.

Today he co-owns a halal butchery, whose soaring sales mirror the new demographics: $20 million a year of meat slaughtered according to Muslim custom.

MUSTAFA DINER, Businessman (through translator): We began in 1995 with four employees, including myself. Now we have 27 and could get much larger if we had more space. People want halal meat. The business has grown steadily.

Britt Nordebrink

Swedish Citizen

I think it’s quite good, but maybe we have difficulties in taking care of all the refugees, because they have so many problems. They have had wars, and so then they come to Sweden, and they need psychological help.

Bearing a burden

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The steady growth of Sweden’s refugee population — most happen to be Muslim — may be good for business. And on the street, most people we talked to like the idea of Sweden as safe haven. But there’s growing worry about the new influx.

BRITT NORDEBRINK, Swedish Citizen: I think it’s quite good, but maybe we have difficulties in taking care of all the refugees, because they have so many problems. They have had wars, and so then they come to Sweden, and they need psychological help.

GUN EDSTROEM, Swedish Citizen: Perhaps it’s too many.

BRITT NORDEBRINK: Because we can’t take care of all of them.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Are there too many here already?

BRITT NORDEBRINK: Yes, I think so.

ROBIN TRAVIS: You make sure that they get jobs, they get somewhere to live, and they get a place in Swedish society. Otherwise, you create a problem.

ULF WISTROEM (through translator): Unfortunately, we have imported a lot of crime from different countries. The immigrants that commit crimes make all the other immigrants look bad. This problem has made the right-wing party get a lot of votes. We should accept less immigrants. We’re taking too many Iraqis, and it’s hard on our economy.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Those who support the immigrants say the problem is that refugees have trouble finding work, despite a robust economy. They want to add on-the-job training to the classroom instructions the newcomers get.

HAIDER KASSAM AL TAMIMI (through translator): It’s hard to feel integrated. We don’t have the language.

Bejzat Becirov

Director, Islamic Center of Malmo

This mosque is not imported. It’s on Swedish soil, a Swedish model so all Muslims should be able to be here. You cannot bring politics from your own countries here. We’re very clear: No politics from other countries, just Swedish politics.

Problems of integration

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Haider Al Tamimi, an auto mechanic, is frustrated no one will hire him until he can speak Swedish. He’s forced to crowd in with three others in a small apartment amid an acute shortage of public housing.

But for every story like his, some Swedes say they hear about others who don’t want to integrate. Peter Frankel is a business consultant in the southern city of Lund.

PETER FRANKEL, Swedish Business Consultant: There are those who miss their homeland so much that they stay in their misery. In their mind, they stay there. And you can see that clearly in the way they dress, in the way they insist on keeping their name, and in reinforcing that and go into conclaves.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The conclaves he refers to are immigrant clusters where Hamid Feyli and his wife, Selma Rahim, live. They’ve spent 15 years here. He has a good job as a carpenter, and three of their four children were born here. Still, they say, they will never be Swedish.

SELMA RAHMAN, Iraqi Immigrant (through translator): Look, we are Muslim. One of the most important orders in Islam is to respect the people, place and culture where you live. When we translate this to practical behavior, it means respect for the law, and this is enough.

HAMID FEYLI, Iraqi Immigrant (through translator): We don’t want to stay here. We are going to our Iraq. Our Iraq is rich. Our Iraq is powerful. We have petrol, agriculture. We have everything. We hope only that the leaders will do the right thing. We hope Iraq will be like Sweden. Actually, it could be better than Sweden.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But he concedes that repatriation is likely to be years away. That makes retaining one’s original identity difficult, especially for the next generation, says the man who founded the Islamic Center of Malmo, which has a mosque, community center, and this government-funded primary school.

BEJZAT BECIROV, Director, Islamic Center of Malmo (through translator): In the second generation, it will change. Parents still hold onto these dreams, but the children don’t.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bejzat Becirov’s goal is to forge a new Swedish Islamic identity here, leaving behind issues that divided members in their countries of origin.

BEJZAT BECIROV (through translator): This mosque is not imported. It’s on Swedish soil, a Swedish model so all Muslims should be able to be here. You cannot bring politics from your own countries here. We’re very clear: No politics from other countries, just Swedish politics.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Still, this mosque has been firebombed three times in recent years. No one is sure if it’s the work of right-wing or Islamic extremists who have called the center “Islam-lite.”

Such incidents have raised fear that a segregated, marginalized immigrant community could invite terrorist groups or turmoil, like that witnessed in the Paris suburbs last year. Offsetting those concerns are Sweden’s relatively positive history with immigration and that this aging society needs the newcomers, says business consultant Frankel.

PETER FRANKEL: So there’s a historic understanding or sense that, given some time enduring it, this will be something positive for Sweden. And we need those people in a lot of jobs. I mean, we really do. I think it’s a question of time, and I think there is a strong consciousness of that, even though, of course, for the moment, perhaps for a couple of years, it will be — it’s tough, and it is irritating.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One source of irritation, even resentment from all sides, is the fact that the United States isn’t taking on more of the refugee burden. Ilmar Reepalu is the mayor of Malmo.

MAYOR ILMAR REEPALU, City of Malmo: Sweden didn’t take part in the Iraq invasion. If you look upon the second quarter this year, 4,500 of the Iraqis came to Sweden and were accepted here; 2,500 went to Greece; 400 get to Spain; and 180 to United States, 180. That’s half the number that we accepted in Malmo in the same time. How come?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The U.S. has promised to sharply increase the number of Iraqis it will admit, but that number will still be a fraction of those who will go to Sweden.