FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It was an unusual sight at Mass last Sunday [January 9] in the dusty regional capital of Bentiu. There were empty seats. But Father Samuel Akoch didn’t seem to mind, because this was an improbable historic day in Southern Sudan. Most of the absentees were around the corner, lining up for the chance to vote for secession, to create their own nation
REV. SAMUEL AKOCH (Saint Martin de Porres Catholic Church): I know that each of you came here to pray. I also know that each one of us is carrying our voting card in our pocket.
DE SAM LAZARO: And as the service concluded, it took on the fever of a campaign rally. Those voting cards came out and Father Samuel led a bee-line to the polling center, joining hundreds already there. Their ballot choice was as simple as the set-up of this polling center under a tree: Stay as one Sudan or separate into a new republic of South Sudan. That was the overwhelming favorite here. Father Samuel imagined that nation.
post02-sudanREV. AKOCH: People will be free to express their own religion, they will use their resources without anybody telling them no, so it is really great help for us to see this day. It was many people have died and they never saw this.
DE SAM LAZARO: The predominantly Christian and traditionalist black African Southern Sudan has seen almost nonstop war with the Arabic-speaking and Muslim North since the country’s independence from Britain in 1956. Two million people are thought to have died in recent years in the battered South, an impoverished land even though rich oil reserves were discovered here in the 1980s. A few feet under this fading sign is a pipeline that conveys crude oil from here in the South north to the port of Port Sudan. It’s a metaphor for the South’s complaint. The pipeline, like the oil wealth, they say, is invisible here in the South.
Oil added a new intensity to the conflict in the ’90s, a period which also saw the rise of the Islamist regime of Omar al Bashir. He’s since been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur conflict in Western Sudan. But it’s the enduring North-South war that got the attention of evangelical Protestants in America. They saw it as a religious conflict.
REBECCA HAMILTON (Journalist and Author): The evangelical community has been pivotal in the battle of Southern Sudan for its freedom, and they framed the war with the North as a battle for religious freedom, and in many ways that was true…
post03-sudanDE SAM LAZARO: Religious freedom for Christians.
HAMILTON: Religious freedom for Christians in the South. In many ways it was true, because the Northern government was trying to Islamize the South, but it was also a very useful framing of the conflict for getting the attention of key members of the United States Congress.
JOHN ASHWORTH (Catholic Relief Services): I think in the United States you had the coming together of the right-wing evangelicals, the [Congressional] Black Caucus, and the liberal human rights organizations. There’s probably no other situation in the world where those three groups would have common ground. But I think we also have to say that 9/11 played a role in bringing about the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]. On 9/11, the United States woke up to the reality that things happening in far-away countries had direct implications for the United States, and from that point we saw a much greater engagement with Sudan-Sudan, of course, having a history of being involved with so-called terrorist movements.
DE SAM LAZARO: Finally, in 2005 an American-brokered peace agreement was reached which called for this week’s referendum and also a sharing of oil revenues. At this church building-destroyed by fighting in the 1980s and now, ironically, a polling center-voters expressed hope that their sad history of slavery and exploitation would soon end.
KAFI ABUSALLAH: We have been mistreated by the Khartoum government, and we will show them that we want to stand firmly alone.
post04-sudanPETER PAL: The Northerners have made us their slaves for a long time, and we are ready to show them that we can lead ourselves. We are looking for good hospitals, good schools, good roads.
MARY DOAR: Our resources have never benefited us. Now we will get the benefit of our own resources.
DE SAM LAZARO: Managing voter expectations will be only one of several daunting tasks for the government of a new South Sudan. Keeping the peace is another immediate priority-not just with the North but within the South.
HAMILTON: South Sudan is itself a hugely divided community, and we haven’t seen for years because it’s been the greater enemy in the North, but I think once that enemy of the North is gone we will see all sorts of ethnic tensions rising inside the South.
DE SAM LAZARO: The Southern churches-Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, and others-have held ecumenical services for a peaceful referendum and will play a pivotal role in reconciling the South’s ethnic groups, whose rivalry stems mostly from land, water, and grazing rights for cattle. It’s a familiar role.
ASHWORTH: During the decades of war there was no infrastructure in the South except the church. There was no government, there were no NGOs, no UN, no civil society, and even the traditional leadership of chiefs and elders had been eroded by the coming of the young men with the guns. The church is the only institution which remained here with its infrastructure intact. It remained on the ground with the people. Now because of that we gained huge moral authority.
post05-sudanDE SAM LAZARO: Another key figure is former president Jimmy Carter. With Rosalynn Carter he’s been observing the polls and met with leaders from both North and South. On both sides the former president said he’d received assurances that religious minorities would be protected.
JIMMY CARTER: I met extensively with President Salva Kiir, and he assured me, first of all, that there would be absolutely no restraint on religious freedom in the South, that everybody, Islamic or Christian or Buddhist or whatever, would be free to worship as they chose. In the North, of course, they had had sharia law for many years, and there has been some accommodation for people of other faiths, Christians and others. President Bashir assured me this week that the same guarantees of the rights of other people to worship in different ways would be preserved, and they would not be harassed. He promised me personally that they would protect the churches and other things and protect the right of people to worship as they choose.
DE SAM LAZARO: There remain sensitive issues that could inflame tensions or worse: drawing borders, deciding on the rights of Southerners living in the North and vice versa, and a critical permanent oil-sharing revenue agreement still needs to be negotiated.
The new South Sudan, should that nation emerge, will be one of the poorest on earth. Paved roads, hospitals, and schools are virtually nonexistent, and the peace remains precarious. But all those worries have been cast aside by the euphoria of this moment-the chance, these people say, for the first time in their history for first-class citizenship.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Bentiu, Sudan.
SOUTH SUDAN DECIDES ON UNITY OR SEPARATION
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from a town that will be near the border if Sudan splits into two countries following its vote on secession. The town, which bears the scars of decades of civil war, has already seen an influx of returning southerners who had migrated to the more prosperous north in recent years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to south Sudan, which begins voting Sunday on separating from the North.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on how one town is getting ready for the referendum.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The town of Bentiu lies in the heart of Sudan in a state named Unity. Nothing could be farther from the mood here.
In the local stadium, a graduation ceremony yesterday for the new police class quickly turned into a rally for separation. No one doubts that the mostly black African South Sudan will vote to secede from a nation long dominated by the Arabic-speaking North. The two sides have been mired in decades of civil war.
It ended with a peace treaty in 2005, which called for the secession vote and negotiations to share revenues from the oil fields. Although they are located mostly in the South, oil revenues have flowed North.
JOHN GENG, south Sudan (through translator): We will show them we don’t want to be with them. Our choice will be separation, not a union.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: If the peace treaty holds, Bentiu will be just inside the northern border of the new Republic of South Sudan. It’s one reason the town has been overwhelmed by thousands of returning Southerners, people who had migrated to the more prosperous North in recent years.
It’s difficult to say exactly how many people have returned to Bentiu and Unity state, but the estimate of 100,000 is not exaggerated, according to relief agencies. That’s almost a fifth of the entire population of this state. And everywhere you look, there’s evidence of the struggle to provide for them. There’s barely enough food, provided by international agencies. There’s almost no shelter.
At this makeshift parking lot moving trucks, returnees like Marisa Nyahost spent hours hunting for their few belongings. Despite all the hardships of the trip, Nyahost, whose face bears the marks of traditional scarification, is pleased to be back.
MARISA NYAHOST, south Sudan (through translator): In the North, we were treated very badly. We want to have a good life, and this is our land. The South is going to get independence. I can do something here. I can look for something from the government. We can survive on this land. We can cultivate it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: South Sudan’s semiautonomous government paid to bring back Southerners living in the North, part of its campaign to win the separation vote.
Mary Nyanden took up the offer for much more than patriotism.
MARY NYANDEN, south Sudan (through translator): People are coming here for voting on January 9. I always hoped to go back to the place I was born. And in case a war happens, I will be safer in the South.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many analysts have expressed concern that Southerners living in the North could face a backlash if they vote to secede.
For his part, Sudan’s leader, Omar al-Bashir, has promised to abide by the results, even as he campaigned earlier this week in the Southern capital, Juba, for unity.
But, in Unity state, there’s only one place we found any support for a unified Sudan. That’s in the oil fields just outside Bentiu. Many of the workers here are from China, which also buys much of Sudan’s oil output. There are also workers here from the North. In this sample, they assumed the unity election symbol.
“We won’t have a problem if the vote goes for separation,” they said, “but we want unity, to stay as one nation.”
People who support separation, raise their hands.
JOHN GENG, south Sudan (through translator): We will show them we don’t want to be with them. Our choice will be separation, not a union.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a tall order. South Sudan would be one of the poorest nations on Earth. Paved roads and health clinics are almost nonexistent, and illiteracy is about 85 percent. Add to that a continued fear of renewed violence. The crucial agreement on oil revenue sharing still languishes. And, besides North/South tensions, there’s also a long history of deadly violence among tribes in the South.
But none of that concerns Marisa Nyahost today.
MARISA NYAHOST (through translator): I just got here. My priority was to get here and to vote. The issues like a job can come later.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not far from here, the polling places were preparing for that big event, with help from international groups to ensure that the election is conducted cleanly. Polls will be open seven days, beginning Sunday. And the results are expected to be announced by mid-February.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s report is a partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
More than five months after floods swamped Pakistan, the process of recovery is barely beginning. Click here to watch the video »
JUDY WOODRUFF: More than five months after floods swamped Pakistan, the process of recovery is barely beginning.
We have a report from Sindh Province by special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Vast swathes of Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province remain inundated, in some places under 10 feet of water. By official estimates, half-a-million of families are still in tent camps. An occasional farmer can be seen sewing the land, but the land is nowhere near ready to grow food, says the government’s top adviser on water and agriculture issues.
KAMAL MAJIDULLA, special assistant to Pakistani prime minister: The ability of the land to soak up that water is not there anymore. It’s not a sponge anymore. The sponge is loaded, and on top of which we’re in the winter season, so our evaporation rates have gone down.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kamal Majidulla says its just one of the challenges that will slow the recovery from floods that blanketed almost all corners of Pakistan. A lack of international aid is another, which he blames on what he calls Pakistan’s distorted image as a refuge for terrorists.
KAMAL MAJIDULLA: We needed $10 billion to start with. The effect of the damage is something within the region of $50 billion. We haven’t even got close to $10 billion.
And I think that a fair bit of that has to do with the kind of coverage Pakistan gets around the world, which is, sadly, quite untrue, because you can’t sort of take specific little areas where a conflagration is taking place — and it’s a serious conflagration, and it needs to be eradicated, no question about it. But there are 180 other million people living here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ironically, even within Pakistan, there’s an image problem that’s slowed aid to the regions associated with militancy and conflict.
We traveled to the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, along the Afghan border, thought to be a haven for Taliban militants, who’ve been targets of the Pakistani military and U.S. drones. Like most of the northern areas of the flood zone, the waters have receded here. But much of the farmland is still smothered under up to five feet of silt. These farmers say people are down to selling what little assets they have, like livestock that survived the floods.
MAN (through translator): Initially, some groups did come with rations and food, but, after a while, they disappeared. One of the reasons is, the location of this area is tribal-troubled, so people are not very willing to come and work in these parts.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Although extremists do live in this area, local aid worker Maqsood Alam says they have caused no trouble after the flood.
MAQSOOD ALAM, relief worker: I have been working in this district for the last four months, but I have not seen any kind of trouble with any organization.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But people in normal sort of aid agencies are very reluctant to come here because of the history of militancy; is that true?
MAQSOOD ALAM: Yes. Strategically — I mean, strategically, it is placed at such a junction of these tribal agencies, that nobody dares to come to this part. That is — you are right, I think.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Alam works for a quasi-government agency, one of few aid groups working here. With a grant from the New York-based Open Society Institute, they’ve begun to restore the farmland and also irrigation canals, which were washed away.
Ninety-five percent of the families here are without their only source of income, he says, and it will be a while before they will harvest a crop.
How many people are you talking about totally, how many families?
MAQSOOD ALAM: Probably 500 in this area alone. In the surrounding area put together, probably, it comes to more than half-a-million.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Half-a-million families?
MAQSOOD ALAM: Families that have subsistence kind of (INAUDIBLE). They have lost their source of income generation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Outside of the main areas of conflict in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, life is marginally better.
Kala Khan is a bit farther ahead in rebuilding his livelihood — a bit. He received a $220 grant from the government, along with some seeds and fertilizer from a private Pakistani aid group to replant the 1.5 acres he rents to grow wheat and this fast-growing animal fodder.
But he also borrowed about $2,000, twice this family’s annual income, from neighbors and relatives to help rebuild the simple dwelling that houses an extended family of 10. It’s far from done.
KALA KHAN, farmer (through translator): This is where my wife and I used to sleep. It was completely destroyed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, his wife shares a finished room with their two daughters. Next door, he shares this space with the family’s prized possession: a water buffalo.
KALA KHAN (through translator): My biggest burden is to pay back that loan. Our biggest expense is food and rations. It would be easier if we got more rations. We have to decide how much to spend on living, how much to pay back. After all, my stomach is important, my children’s stomach is important. It will take some time.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Spartan as life seems, Khan says he’s better off than many others.
KALA KHAN (through translator): I saw on TV that, some places, the floods were so drastic, not only did people’s crops and homes get washed away, but also their children. So, I’m thankful to God for sparing our lives. Our buffalo were safe. OK, our crops will come back, but there are people who’ve lost a lot more.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For these worst-affected flood victims, most in the downstream Sindh Province, life will likely remain on hold for several months, even years.
Simi Kamal is a water policy expert and activist.
SIMI KAMAL, water activist: I think problems that are — that we have to deal with are basically over the next year or two, really to help these people get back on the land, help them stay away from diseases as much as they can, help them with their own food needs, help gets the kids to school, you know, help them get over this winter.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And, ironically, amid all this flooding, Kamal says Pakistan actually faces a water shortage over the long term, thanks to inefficient use of groundwater on its farmland and the prospect of disappearing Himalayan glaciers that feed this country’s rivers.
At stake is not just the freshwater supply, she says, but the very food security of this large, complex nation.
JIM LEHRER: Fred’s report was a partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Regulators Crack Down on Microfinance Industry in India
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some of India’s poorest people have become victims of loan sharks. What’s happened to these women has tarnished the widely praised reputation of microlenders, who give small loans to help people become self-sufficient.
WOMAN (through translator): They came to us continuously for 10 days, and they offered loans. They said, we will give you loans and you can pay them back in easy installments. It’s not a hard thing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: People in villages like this say agents from various microfinance companies would come in and try and sell them on loans, without regard to whether they had other loans outstanding. There were no questions asked about what the loans were for. The goal, critics of these companies say, was merely to increase volume, so as to impress and attract the big investors.
MARIA POLEPAKA (through translator): I borrowed money for our daily needs, for the kids’ education. And I kept up with the payments every week for six years. But, when there is no work, it is very difficult.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Microfinance used to be the domain of nonprofit organizations, who carefully considered how the money would be used — it had to be for new enterprises that generated income — and whether it could be repaid.
The repayment rate has always been much higher than any commercial lending, around 98 percent. That’s one reason microfinance became a big business in India. Over the past decade, new commercial companies have handed out $7 billion worth of loans. And they have attracted lots of investors.
SKS Microfinance raised $350 million in an initial public stock offer last July — the result, a competitive, often ruthless, marketplace. Almost all of these women say they were coaxed into several loans from different companies, ranging from U.S. $500 to $1,000.
MARIA POLEPAKA (through translator): I have loans from three different companies, about $700 in all. I use the money from one to pay off the others, and I will continue to do that until I can’t anymore, and then I will stop making payments.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s broad agreement that microfinance can be an effective tool to bring hundreds of millions of poor people into the global economy. The key question is whether profits can be thrown into the mix, and if so, how much profit?
BASIX, the company making this promotional video, began as a nonprofit, but switched about a decade ago.
NARRATOR: BASIX will strive to yield a competitive rate of return for its investors, so as to be able to attract mainstream capital and human resources on an ongoing basis.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: BASIX founder, Vijay Mahajan, says commercialization is necessary because there just isn’t enough money in the nonprofit world to meet all the need.
VIJAY MAHAJAN, BASIX: The capital investment that’s required to meet all the, you know, unmet needs of poor people in this country, for — the world, for all kinds of things, it runs into trillions of dollars. And you need, therefore, mainstream capital to actually underpin any attempts at addressing this in a businesslike way.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the man considered the godfather of micro-lending disagrees vehemently.
Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Prize for his work with Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, lashed out in a recent New York Times op-ed. “Commercialization,” he wrote, “has been a terrible wrong turn for microfinance. Poverty should be eradicated, not seen as a money-making opportunity.”
VIJAY MAHAJAN: Yes, this is a difference of opinion I have with Professor Yunus.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The debate over commercialization isn’t an academic one. It’s had real consequences in the countryside, where people can’t pay back their loans.
Pula Polepaka, a mother of two small children, stayed current for three years with four loans. But she missed three weekly installments after her husband, Prakash, who had adequate income as a house painter, got sick. The collection boys, as she calls them, began to hound them.
PULA POLEPAKA, India (through translator): We left for another village where we have relatives, but the collection boys tracked us down in that village, and we were humiliated.
He didn’t say anything about committing suicide. He just went far away and took his life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her husband’s suicide and those of dozens of other borrowers got the attention of the media, politicians and government regulators, like Subramanyam Reddy.
SUBRAMANYAM REDDY: Yes, some day, it had to burst. The bubble had to burst.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Last October, an ordinance written by Reddy was approved by the state’s legislature. It mandated credit checks, monthly instead of weekly payments, an end to aggressive collection practices, and fuller disclosure of interest rates, which Reddy says averaged 35 percent.
SUBRAMANYAM REDDY: So, there has to be a lot of disclosure. That’s the first fundamental thing. They employ a number of unlawful elements to do their recovery.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Intimidation?
SUBRAMANYAM REDDY: Intimidation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Meanwhile, opposition political leaders upped the ante, saying the government ordinance didn’t go far enough. They urged borrowers to stop making loan payments altogether. Repayment rates plummeted, and banks stopped lending to microfinance companies.
BASIX’s founder, Vijay Mahajan, defends many of the current practices. He says weekly collections make sense, since that’s how people get paid. As for high interest rates, he says microlenders have to pay a lot to get money from banks to make their loans, and they incur high costs going door to door to collect payments. He thinks regulation has imperiled a critical source of credit for the poor.
VIJAY MAHAJAN: Instead of going after a few incidents where, you know, extreme overlending had been done, or going after one or two institutions which had systematically engaged in such practices, the entire sector was converted into a demon.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Roshaneh Zafar, a renowned microfinance lender in neighboring Pakistan, thinks there’s a reason things went bad.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR, microfinance lender: If you are talking about numbers games, then we are going to end up in a pit — in a sort of pitfall, where we end up creating over-indebted clients, which is one of the reasons that this has happened in Andhra Pradesh. We have grown too fast. And we have added too many — we have pushed credit on the same client, and therefore, they have defaulted.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But she says the answer is not necessarily to do away with commercial lending to the poor.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: If you’re not there in the long run, and you’re saying to the client, you know, I’m here to help alleviate poverty, and you’re not there in the long run, then you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. And you are not keeping to your mission and your vision, because poverty is not going to change in three years. It’s going to change in a decade or more. So, you really have to be a viable entity who has to be resource — you know, who has to manage their resources well.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mahajan admits the industry has learned a lesson.
VIJAY MAHAJAN: The lesson is you can make profits, and society will support you. They might even, actually, respect you for it. But if you are seen to make excessive profits, if you are seen to being profiteering or being — you know, personally enriching yourself beyond what is considered reasonable — and that varies from location to location — then society will revile you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: After negotiations, banks have begun loaning to microfinance companies again, and the government is urging borrowers to resume paying off their loans. There will be no loan forgiveness, but the government also wants the companies to give its borrowers more time to become debt-free.
JIM LEHRER: Since Fred finished that report, the Bangladesh government removed Muhammad Yunus as head of the Grameen Bank. A court there will hear Yunus’ appeal next week. And on Friday, India implements new regulations governing microloans.
Fred’s reporting, as always, is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Where Does Syria Stand Amid Wave of Arab World Protests?
RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight: a rare look inside Syria, an Arab country where the street protests are just beginning.
We have a report from special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro, one of the few American journalists admitted into Syria recently.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The people of Syria’s crowded capital, Damascus, face many of the same ills that have triggered street protests in so many other cities in the Arab world. There’s high unemployment here, widespread corruption and authoritarian one-party rule.
Yet, unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak or Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has faced minor and scattered demonstrations. But the situation is fluid and possibly escalating. Scenes from YouTube claim to show protests across the country, including Daraa, where there were deadly clashes.
Assad, who took power 11 years ago after the death of his father, has taken recent steps to put more money into people’s pockets, and pledged to loosen some of the tight restrictions that have marked his government’s rule. Subsidies on several food staples were increased, something well-received by this shopper in a Damascus market.
WOMAN (through translator): Everything is cheap. Cooking oil, rice, sugar, they’re all cheap this time of year.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She praises the government of the 45-year-old Assad. An ophthalmologist trained in Britain, he promised to modernize a centralized, Soviet-style economy. Consumer and luxury goods were allowed in, and Syrians living abroad were invited to return.
Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban is a key presidential adviser.
DR. BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, Syrian presidential adviser: President Bashar Assad did many important steps internally. And more important than what he did is that he is responsive, and the government is responsive to people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Syria has also taken steps to reform media regulations, including access to the Internet and social media.
In recent days, the government has removed a ban on several popular social websites, like Facebook and YouTube. Many people would get around the restrictions in the past, but now they have direct access. The key unanswered question is whether this is a political opening up, or a clampdown which allows the government to more closely monitor the use of these websites.
Veteran journalist Yahya Alous is skeptical about the changes governing media. He founded an online magazine on women’s issues in 2005. It has been forthright in tackling controversial social issues.
WOMAN (through translator): I’m working on the issue of sexual harassment that women face these days.
YAHYA ALOUS, editor (through translator): Covered women are also subjected to harassment.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Alous says the government mostly turned a blind eye to their work. But a new rule took effect a week ago requiring all such sites to be officially registered.
YAHYA ALOUS (through translator): The claim is that it will organize the Internet and protect the rights of individuals from slander and cyber-bullying, and prevent false data being published. But the truth is this is an attempt to control it. This law could result in the imprisonment of some journalists. And that’s a serious challenge.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Alous speaks from experience. He spent two years in prison earlier this decade for writing that angered the government. Since then, he acknowledges journalists have been given more freedoms.
YAHYA ALOUS (through translator): Five or six years ago, we were not able to discuss issues like honor killings or domestic violence in depth. Six years ago, we were not able to discuss corruption or senior government officials.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Are you concerned about talking to us today, as a foreign media crew?
YAHYA ALOUS (through translator): I think I would be lying if I were to tell you that I have no concerns talking to you. But the important thing to point out is that I’m not crossing any red lines, because I’m aware of where the red lines are and where they aren’t. Even government authorities openly discuss the issues that I’m talking to you about and sometimes much louder than this.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The U.S. ambassador here doesn’t think the changes go far enough. He says Syrians share the same aspirations as Egyptians, Tunisians or Libyans.
ROBERT FORD, U.S. ambassador to Syria: They want to be treated in a dignified manner, in an appropriate manner by their government. That includes everything from no mistreatment in prisons or in police stations, no torture, to the demand for political opening, the demand for economic opportunity. Those are the things which are driving the region. And Syria, I do not think, is immune from that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Robert Ford took his position in January, the first U.S. ambassador here in six years. He says his appointment was an effort to take a chill out of U.S.-Syria relations. In 2005, the Bush administration moved to isolate Syria for its close ties to Iran and militant groups allied with it. That policy has not changed.
ROBERT FORD: We have a very tough sanctions regime in place preventing American companies from doing almost any business in Syria. We do this as a means of helping convince the Syrians that it is in their interests to stop supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and like Palestinian Hamas.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That resistance to U.S. pressure may well have strengthened the Assad government, says Talal El Atrache, a journalist and author.
TALAL EL ATRACHE, author and journalist: Let me tell you something: The United States helped a lot to boost the image of the regime and its president because of its wars in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, then its unlimited support to Israel.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says Syrians strongly support Hamas and Hezbollah, both viewed as resistance forces against Israel, which occupied, then annexed the Golan Heights, captured from Syria during the 1967 war. Add to that, Atrache says, a deeply unpopular Iraq war and U.S. sanctions brought Assad support his departed counterparts in Egypt or Tunisia did not share.
TALAL EL ATRACHE: The difference with the other Arab regimes is that the credits that Bashar al-Assad got during the last six to seven years are going to give him more time to implement the reforms.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many analysts worry about a growing gap between rich and poor. Unemployment is officially around 8 percent, but it’s likely much higher and hard to measure since many Syrians work in the informal economy. Add to them waves of new entrants to the labor market — 250,000 every year and growing in this country of 22 million.
For their part, government officials say they’re committed to addressing the challenges and complaints.
DR. BOUTHAINA SHAABAN: The people in the street are, you know, voicing their ideas. I mean, all the issues are at the table. We are not defending anything that is wrong or anything that is unsustainable. And everything is open to question.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in the Damascus market, one thing became clear: People don’t talk openly with foreign journalists, who aren’t commonly allowed in the country.
We were accompanied by a government minder for all outdoor shooting, although we were free to choose anyone to interview.
Does he sympathize with the fruit-seller in Tunisia?
We tried to ask this 18-year-old fruit vendor about the unrest in other Arab countries, but his father quickly intervened.
MAN (through translator): That’s not our job. Our job is selling fruit and vegetables.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Most of the analysts we spoke to until this week said they did not expect Syria to erupt in street protests, but they were quick to add that events are unfolding in ways no one can predict.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: With its high walls, gates, and rituals, the Bhopal central jail looks forbidding, almost medieval. However, inside is a world of routine and order. It starts with the morning roll call for some 2000 men–about a third more than the prison is supposed to hold-some of the most notorious convicts in the surrounding region. As in every prison there’s a hierarchy here, a subgroup of elite inmates. But these guys have earned the distinction not for being tough, but for being calm. In the prison’s main hall, some 150 men are led in the deep breathing yoga exercises by one of their own. For much of the morning, they’ll go through the whole cycle of yoga’s asanas, or postures, and breathing exercises that cover the entire body.
BINKU TOMAR (prison inmate convicted of murder): I feel healthy when I do yoga, and I don’t have any violent thoughts. It helps me have positive thoughts.
SURAJ BOSE (prison inmate convicted of murder): In the past, before yoga, my mind used to wander a lot. I used to be like a bird in a cage. I used to have a lot of anger.
DE SAM LAZARO: Both men are serving life sentences here for murder-in Tomar’s case, multiple murders
BOSE: I get a lot of peace of mind after doing yoga. Whenever I do yoga exercises I really feel at peace. You really want to be at peace here.
DE SAM LAZARO: And they have one more significant incentive. For every three months in the yoga program, their jail sentences are reduced by 15 days. In India, even people sentenced to life can have their sentences reduced to as little as 14 years for good behavior, an evaluation largely in the hands of prison staff.
BOSE: I am hopeful. I’ve done my crime, and I have to do my sentence. It will be up to the officers to decide if my sentence will be reduced.
DE SAM LAZARO: For their part, prison officials say yoga, which was introduced into this facility two years ago, has brought them peace, too.
LALJI MISHRA (Prison Superintendent): We used to have a lot of conflicts, but we don’t see very many now. People are respectful of each other.
DE SAM LAZARO: Jail superintendent Mishra says the yoga program is being expanded across the prison system. Not only does it calm the jail atmosphere, he says, but it may also help thin the ranks through early release of those who’ve completed a course in yoga. He says the prison system in this central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is overcrowded and understaffed.
MISHRA: We have 120 jails and 17 doctors for about 35,000 inmates. We have 40 health workers, but that’s not enough staff to look after the health of all the prisoners as is called for by the national human rights committee. We need to find a way to gradually release more of them.
DE SAM LAZARO: Prison officials say very few inmates who go through the yoga program have resorted to crime after their release. So the key question is: has yoga transformed these men-and how?
The most common definitions describe yoga as a system of exercises dating back 3000 years, practiced as a part of the Hindu discipline to promote control of the body and mind. At the prison, inmates also come from Muslim, Christian, and other faiths, so the superintendent says yoga is never presented as an extension of Hinduism. The majority of inmates here are Hindu.
MISHRA: Anyone who breathes can do yoga. If you breathe, yoga belongs to you.
DE SAM LAZARO: But yoga scholars say it involves much more than breathing exercises.
KAMLESH MISHRA (Yoga Scholar): If you practice yoga, it’s not just about making your body fit. It’s about a changing your mental state, your consciousness. The breathing exercises help increase oxygen flow to the vital organs. It stimulates the nervous system, brings sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into balance. The whole way how you look at the work, look at other people, is transformed.
TOMAR: I can control my anger now. I want to go away from crime. I want to join the mainstream of society and support my parents.
BOSE: I’m not sure what kind of work I’ll get, but I know I’ll continue to do yoga.
DE SAM LAZARO: Whether and how long that resolve will endure is the key question. In other words, are minds truly transformed? Even a few inmates confess they’re not sure.
PRASHANTH TIWARI (prison inmate convicted of murder): I am definitely a changed person. I have good thoughts, but what about the others, those who would attack me? What are their thoughts? I would not be the first attack someone, but I would be the second if someone attacked me.
DE SAM LAZARO: There’s no hard evidence yet on the impact of yoga on recidivism, but prison officials say with the health and management benefits they can see no downside to a morning yoga class.
Pakistan Mircolending Program Looks to Aid Women in Poverty
JIM LEHRER: Next, poverty in Pakistan.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on a program focusing on women.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR, investment banker: Over the past 10 years, a lot of changes have happened in this neighborhood.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Roshaneh Zafar is an investment banker with a mission, trying to stamp out poverty in neighborhoods like this one in her hometown of Lahore, Pakistan.
Educated in the United States, Zafar has made an estimated one million loans to some of the poorest people here.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: You may not see the same poverty that we saw a — over a decade ago. So, after 10 years, you begin to see changes in the family and their lifestyle.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her business in microfinance, lending small amounts of money to start and expand businesses, is tough to make work in a country where two-thirds of the people live on less than $2 a day. And it’s gotten even tougher in recent years.
Last summer’s epic floods meant an end to all loans in the affected regions. Those who had lost everything needed immediate assistance to get their lives back in order, rather than loans they would have to repay. And there’s the ongoing threat of terrorism. She says it’s both a threat and an urgent reason for her work.
What’s the connection between these communities and terrorism in the work that you’re doing?
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: You know, I — I think economic development is a — is one of the tools that can help us control the issue of terrorism, because I really believe it’s about when — once hopelessness sets in, you will start looking for radical change, or you will start looking for radical options. And poor people and their kids become cannon fodder for such groups.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But it’s gotten harder to convince people that there’s anything to be hopeful about, especially when violent events make it hard to go out and earn money, hard to afford food today, let alone plan for tomorrow.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: Two years ago, clients were beginning to talk about the future, and they were more — more, you know, optimistic about the future. Now we are saying the same. OK, we will do the next 24 hours. Let’s see how it goes. So, that’s the mind-set shift that we have — we have seen.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But Zafar and her group Kashf, which means “Revelation,” were determined to make microfinancing work. So they changed direction. Rather than focusing on groups, they started concentrating on individuals, spending more time with each family to get to know them and to teach them how to succeed.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: It’s not just about numbers. It’s not how many women you access. It’s not how many families you access. It’s how many lives you transform.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Zafar targeted women because their role in Pakistan’s economy has traditionally been hidden behind closed doors.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: The women businesses are home-based businesses. And…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, behind a lot of these storefronts are homes and families run by women, and those are the targets of your — of your loan program?
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: Absolutely.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across Pakistan and in the narrow byways and alleys of this ancient city are small family businesses, financed with loans from Kashf. Since 1995, it has given out about $200 million to more than 300,000 women. Many are repeat customers.
She took us to visit Ruquia Boota, who borrowed 120 U.S. dollars eight years ago and has grown her embroidery business, with the help of two more loans. She now employs her two daughters and occasionally up to 10 other women from the neighborhood.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR (through translator): How do you know what is selling and how much material to buy?
WOMAN (through translator): We get orders and then buy accordingly, and we also know what the trends are.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR (through translator): Where do you get your materials from?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her questions are not just polite conversation. Kashf’s loan officers are required to closely follow their borrowers’ business affairs. It’s all part of a financial education that begins before the first money is handed over.
MAN (through translator): I’m going to show you this chart. It has four kinds of expenses: necessary, unnecessary, emergency, and wish list.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Prospective borrowers get basic tips on how to budget their expenses and rank their priorities.
MAN (through translator): Where would you put the cell phone?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kashf gets most of its funds by borrowing from commercial banks and a development fund backed by Pakistan’s government and the World Bank. It disperses its loans, typically $150 each, after rigorous vetting.
Every day, young loan officers, most of them female, fan out to visit clients, like Sobia Saeed. She has steadily expanded her salon business with three loans.
WOMAN (through translator): I have been doing these kids’ hair today — one more left to do.
WOMAN (through translator): How much do you charge for each?
WOMAN (through translator): Thirty rupees.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s about 40 U.S. cents. This 27-year-old entrepreneur is doing a lot better than before, but, like most borrowers, is hardly well-off.
It’s one reason Zafar says her group makes sure that loan proceeds are put to their intended business purpose, not to household or even emergency use. That is also a change.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: If the money is misutilized — let’s say they have spent half of it to — you know, to fix the roof in the house — then the loan officer goes and informs the branch manager, and we tag that loan. And we will then monitor it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: 98 percent of the loans are repaid. But, for Zafar, it’s not just about the money. It’s about changing the status and well-being of women.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: Every two or three years, we do an impact assessment. And we discovered that 40 percent of men — we interview men also — they said, “We have stopped beating our wives,” as a result of the loans, because most quarrels are over money, lack of money.
54 percent of them said, “We respect our wives much more now.” And inter-spousal relationships have improved. And over 80 percent of men said to us that, “We now consult our wives in all decisions.”
While we — when we talked to the men — women, they corroborated these results.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Zafar is a fierce advocate of microlending, but she’s learned its limits.
ROSHANEH ZAFAR: Microfinance has been bandied as the solution for poverty alleviation. I don’t think we have done ourselves justice by falling into that trap either. Financial inclusion definitely helps, but it’s not the only thing. You need education. You need health. And that takes time. And it’s not going to be as visible as, let’s say, constructing a dam is going to be.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But she also can see some long-term results beginning to appear.
Sadhiya Aijaz and her husband, Mohammed, worked for years cutting metal by hand into short strips to be bent into chain links. Loans brought them the machines.
SADHIYA AIJAZ, Pakistan (through translator): We are able to produce a lot more now. There’s also more money. It’s much easier for us now.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But, most importantly, they can now afford to get their children educated, to prepare the next generation for a better life.
SADHIYA AIJAZ (through translator): Previously, life was very tough. But now, with money coming in, life has become much easier. We can send our children to be educated, give them clothes, books, food. I want my children to become officers, to be educated, like you people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Roshaneh Zafar, the next challenge is to help more women scale up their enterprises. Kashf has set up a bank to help borrowers move from the typical $150 loans to $1,000 or more. Her goal is to help 50,000 current borrowers create larger enterprises in the next three years.
JIM LEHRER: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Monastery Works to Preserve Ancient Christian Texts
RAY SUAREZ: Next, a project that protects early religious texts from age, insects and war.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.
REV. COLUMBA STEWART, director, Hill Museum, St. John’s Abbey: Who would have thought that in a monastery in Central Minnesota is the world’s largest collection of photographs and manuscripts?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For 50 years, this underground library at St. John’s Abbey has collected and catalogued historic Christian manuscripts. Father Columba Stewart says it’s part of a monastic tradition that dates back to the 6th century.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: I’m a Benedictine monk. There’s an impulse in Benedictines to exercise this role of cultural guardianship. And that’s an impulse that continues even in the modern age.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many of the texts were handwritten long before printing presses. Some, like this Koran, were created soon after, this one commissioned for study by some of the first Protestant scholars.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: It’s the first printed copy of the Koran. It was published in 1543, with a preface by Martin Luther.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Father Columba says these ancient texts echo with relevance to our time.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: Christians were — were dealing with Islam and there was a real desire to understand it better. So the result was they wanted a translation of the Koran into Latin, so that Christians could read it. And, of course, it wasn’t for the sake of religious understanding, it was for the sake of refutation.
And this whole question of how Western, predominantly Christian countries, dialog with or relate to majority of Muslim countries is something we’ve been talking about since 9/11. But what we forget is there are centuries — centuries of experience of Christians and Muslims
And in many of these areas, significant Jewish communities as well –living together. And it wasn’t always easy. And these manuscripts tell the story of that. They tell the story of legal prescriptions, which were made either to protect or to oppress a particular community.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Preserving that history is a matter of utmost importance to religion scholars like Father Columba.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: If you believe that we can learn from the past — the past of our lives, the past of our families and our own nation or culture, the only way the past has come down to us is in the form of these writings.
Ethiopian manuscript, Latin manuscript.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Impressive as the physical manuscripts are, this library’s much larger collection consists of digital copies of sacred texts. Most of the originals remain in churches a world away from here.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: Over 100,000 manuscripts from Europe, the Middle East, from Ethiopia, from India; well over 30 or 40 million pages. We’ve lost count long ago.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The texts are recorded digitally, catalogued
and stored in underground vaults.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: And our pledge is that those will be safe forever.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The library’s effort began in the 1960s in Europe, a time when microfilm first became available; also a time when there was fear of a nuclear war.
Next, the librarians went to Ethiopia, anticipating, correctly, that many of that country’s orthodox manuscripts could be destroyed in the political turmoil of the ’70s and ’80s.
In recent years, the focus has been on the Middle East.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: Our goal since 2003 was to do as many Eastern Christian manuscripts in the Middle East as possible, because we all know that these manuscripts are endangered from a variety of causes.
The one people think of most is violence, because they associate this region, whether it’s Lebanon or a place like Jerusalem, certainly a place like Iraq, with immediate physical danger to manuscripts.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We followed Father Columba to Jerusalem, a city fought over for centuries among Muslims, Jews and Christians; also among Christians.
These pilgrims were on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where they believe Christ was buried.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: I’m going to show you a diagram of the Holy Sepulcher Church. All that’s left now is really this area.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The building was destroyed by Muslim rulers and rebuilt in the 13th century by the Crusaders. It is one of Christianity’s holiest sites; also a symbol of its divided family, something that complicates the task of tracking down and digitizing their sacred books.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: So the Greeks have the central piece, the Armenians have quite a bit of the chapel surrounding the center, the Latins have the far side, the Syrians have a small chapel in the back, the Copts have a small chapel inside. So it’s a little microcosm of all the different religious traditions here in the Middle East.
And, unfortunately, relations are not always easy, because when you have all of these different groups living in a — what is a fairly small building, they’re fiercely protective of their rights.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many regions where these traditions evolved, modern day Turkey and Iraq, Armenia and Russia to the north, as far south as India, have seen war and upheaval through the ages. And just
last October, a Syriac Orthodox Church was bombed in Iraq. All this increases the urgency to record the texts that have survived, says
Father Columba. He is particularly interested in digitizing the Syriac church’s collection in Jerusalem.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Father Columba.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fine. Thank you very much.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: Good to see you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It will take dogged diplomacy.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: These Eastern Christian communities, many of which have been persecuted — massacres are within living memory –this stuff is really in their gut.
And so you — you have to build a relationship where they understand that the motives that we bring to these projects is one of deep reverence.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Minnesota library also brings the money need for such projects, several hundred thousand dollars each year, raised from various private donors. Local church staff are trained in the tasks. And while copies go to Minnesota, the local church retains copyright.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: So if you have a monk or a layperson who you think would be a good person to do this work or two people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our monks, always, they will be with them. Yes.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: This is a very — a very old manuscript, perhaps 7th, 8th century?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn’t say.
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: It doesn’t say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn’t…
FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: But it’s very old…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In years ahead, Father Columba expects to return repeatedly to the Middle East, until, as it were, the word is made safe.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Project for Under-Told Stories. Starting in January, the project will be based at St. Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Ghana Looks to Give Citizens a Voice in Their Economic Future
GWEN IFILL: Next, an African country combines democratic reforms with the bounty of its land.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Ghana on efforts to give ordinary citizens a bigger say in their economic future.
MAN: This is your show, the “UNIIQ Breakfast Drive.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Radio reaches nearly all of Ghana’s 23 million people, and lively give-and-take is a breakfast staple. Tempers flared and guests from different political factions jumped all over each other’s words, but, once the show was over, all was quickly forgiven.
It’s a scene that sharply contrasts with the civil wars and bloodshed in many of Ghana’s West African neighbors. In a continent where long- running dictatorships are the norm, Ghana has enjoyed two decades of thriving democracy. Two incumbent leaders have lost in general elections. In 2008, the margin was less than 1 percent. Yet, on both occasions, the sitting president stepped aside and power was transferred peacefully.
Ghana was the first African colony to gain independence back in 1957 from Britain. It had its share of autocrats and military coups, until the early ’90s, when long-ruling strongman Jerry Rawlings, seen here with President Clinton, stepped aside and allowed democratic elections.
That marked a turning point, says political scientist Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi.
EMMANUEL GYIMAH-BOADI, political scientist: It’s the first time we have had both economic growth and political stability and freedom. In many ways, the economy has been improving and improving since the early ’90s, and seems to have begun to gallop a bit for the past six years or so.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ghana is a major exporter of cocoa beans, and also gold and diamonds, but new wealth awaits.
MAN: In June 2007, Kosmos struck gold.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A U.S.-based drilling company discovered major oil reserves in 2007, and Ghana’s first oil revenues began to flow last December.
The hope is that Ghana can avoid the fate of other African oil nations, which have squandered their wealth through mismanagement and corruption, leaving their populations poorer than ever.
PATRICK AWUAH, Ashesi University: Ghana has been very fortunate to have discovered oil after democracy, and not before, because that democracy is going to influence how that — you know, how Ghana manages its oil wealth.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Patrick Awuah is one of a growing number of overseas Ghanaians who have returned. He went to college in the U.S., then worked at Microsoft. He came back to start a university called Ashesi, or “Beginning.” Ghana’s fledgling democracy needs leaders, he says.
PATRICK AWUAH: We have borrowed the liberal arts, the model of the liberal arts and sciences, as the way to do that, that teaches broad perspectives, a deep ethos, a deep concern for ethics, and a specialization.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ashesi has 450 students and will soon triple that number in a new campus just outside the capital, Accra, with funds from the World Bank and other investors. Students and alumni we talked to echoed the school’s values.
Business major Naa Ayeleysa Quaynor-Mettle hopes they will make a difference.
NAA AYELEYSA QUAYNOR-METTLE, university student: Because you’re training ethical leaders, entrepreneurs, who are going to take over in terms of the integrity, in terms of sharing the national cake or the national pie among everybody, so that the majority of the nationals, the Ghanaian nationals are not eating the drops or the crumbs from the table, but then we’re sharing equally.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Right now, Ghanaian are hardly sharing equally. Although Ghana is better-off than it’s West Africa neighbors, there’s a wide gap between urban and rural areas.
The vast majority of Ghanaians and much of this country’s poverty reside in the rural hinterland. And most experts say that the only way to really attack poverty has nothing to do with gold, diamonds, or even oil, but rather to create more economic activity and more jobs in rural communities like these.
One example is in shea nuts. They are exported to Europe and America to be processed into shea butter, for skin creams or food additives. There’s a move to start doing more of the lucrative processing right here. In the northern Tamale region, Rita Dampson co-owns one of a growing number of small local processors. They are supported by aid groups, companies that use social awareness in their marketing, and also a U.S. aid project set off by Congress to boost trade with Africa.
RITA DAMPSON, business owner: When you pick the nuts and sell, that’s just the end of it. But when you process it into butter, the profits you can get to support your children, by paying their school fees.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So there’s more profit if you process the nuts?
RITA DAMPSON: Yes, please.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hundreds of women today sort and clean the shea nuts, and once they’re crushed, spend hours as human mix masters, knead the viscous dough to release the prized shea butter.
A few businesses have also started using mechanized plants to increase production, but the shift to local processing has a long way to go. The vast majority of shea nuts are still exported.
Local processing is even more difficult with what is still Ghana’s biggest export: cocoa beans. Very little chocolate is made anywhere in Africa because of a lack of refrigeration and milk. So the emphasis here is instead on getting a better price. Kojo Adojeno Tano and his neighbors belong to Kuapa Kokoo, Ghana’s largest cooperative. It was set up 20 years ago with the help of a British aid group called Twin Trading. It, an American group called Fair Trade USA, the Body Shop, and others have helped find buyers who have pledged to pay fair trade prices.
The co-op even owns part of a Fair Trade chocolate line called Divine, sold mostly in Europe and online in the U.S. Kuapa Kokoo members help each other with chores, cutting open cocoa pods, fermenting and drying the beans inside them. Nationwide, the co-op has 64,000 members and is itself a democracy. Members elect their national leaders, as well as local recorders, usually a trusted elder.
In this group, it’s this Kojo Tano.
MAN (through translator): This year, we were able to buy 1,497 bags.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Meticulous accounts are disclosed at group meetings. The co-op’s profits have paid for community wells, credit unions and schools. It’s hardly made anyone rich. Few people here have even tasted chocolate, for example.
Fifty-four-year-old Tano is an exception.
How old were you when you first tasted chocolate?
MAN: I was 48 years.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You were 48 years old?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But he’s much more interested in how much Fair Trade chocolate is consumed in Europe and America.
MAN: We need more money from you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, Fair Trade doesn’t have a fair share of the chocolate market. Kuapa accounts for just 5 percent of Ghana’s cocoa farmers. Still, it has improved life for Kojo Tano, whose six children are all getting an education. Two are in college.
MAN: When I grow old, they will look after me.
NAA AYELEYSA QUAYNOR-METTLE: This is the best time to be a young person in Ghana.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The optimism is echoed back in the capital, especially among young urbanites, like the business major Naa Mettle.
NAA AYELEYSA QUAYNOR-METTLE: With the oil find, Vodafone is just coming to settle. There is KPMG. There’s Pricewaterhouse. There are all the giant, more international companies coming in. I think those opportunities are just overthrowing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: From big oil to small shea nuts and cocoa beans, Ghana’s challenge will be to make the benefits flow more evenly, especially to its rural areas and, at the same time, keep its commitment to democracy and free media.
MAN: The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation has, for the second time, lifted a total of 994,691 barrels of Jubilee crude oil.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, oil revenues are meticulously reported. How all the new money will be monitored will be central to the political debate that will only heat up as elections approach next year.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
SMALLER FAMILIES TREND IN BRAZIL
GWEN IFILL: Now we have another story in our series on global population issues. It’s a partnership with National Geographic Magazine, which has been reporting on this topic throughout 2011. The September issue examines the declining birth rate in Brazil.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Psychoanalyst Maria Correa de Oliveira says Sunday brunch in her Rio de Janeiro apartment with husband Paolo and their two children is a favorite ritual. It brings back fond memories of her own childhood.
MARIA CORREA DE OLIVEIRA, psychoanalyst (through translator): When I was a child, every Sunday, my father would make fried eggs and bacon for all six of us kids.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There are two big differences. She grew up in a much larger family, and the Sunday ritual always began with church in this predominantly Catholic nation of 200 million.
Fewer people go to church in the modern Brazil, which is now predominantly urban. Correa de Oliveira says there’s simply no space for large families like the one she grew up in. The extended family all live in Rio and often gather for dinner. It is prepared in the kitchen of their mother, Madelena. She had six children and wishes she had had more.
MADELENA DE OLIVEIRA, mother (through translator): I had one girl, two girls, three girls and then I wanted a boy. So I thought, he should have a friend, but, instead, I had two more girls. I stopped after the sixth child. There were complications. My doctor said that I physically could not have any more children.
In that sense, I was pardoned from the church from having any more children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, her six children have a total of just seven offspring among them, a poster family for one of the swiftest demographic shifts in history.
Brazil’s birth rate is now lower than the U.S. rate of just over two children per woman.
Jacqueline Pitanguy is a leading women’s rights advocate.
JACQUELINE PITANGUY, women’s rights activist: When — Brazil, from six children per woman in the ’60s, we have now 1.9. There has been a dramatic decrease in the numbers of children that each woman has throughout her life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says the shift is the result of a dramatic change in the role women play in society. It was symbolized most visibly by the election of Dilma Rousseff in 2010, the first female president of Brazil.
Brazil’s women’s movement began in the 1960s and was closely allied with groups that resisted the military dictatorship at the time. Pitanguy says it paved the way for new progressive policies by the late ’80s.
JACQUELINE PITANGUY: The new constitution that came when the country was democratized recognizes the role of the state in allowing couples to make free decisions concerning their reproductive lives and the duty of the state in providing information and the means to have this done.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says 80 percent of women of child-bearing age use contraception. At the same time, a robust economy has needed their labor. Today, women make up 40 percent of the country’s work force up and down the economic ladder. The majority of college graduates in Brazil are women.
MADELENA DE OLIVEIRA (through translator): For example, my granddaughter wants to be a chef. It never occurred to me when I was a child to be a chef. But I always did encourage my daughters to have a profession and to work.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, the women around her table range from screenwriter and physical therapist to systems analyst and business consultant. Women can aspire to any career, but few aspire to have large families. The demands of career far outweigh those of a once-influential Catholic Church, which has long opposed all forms of artificial contraception.
MADELENA DE OLIVEIRA (through translator): I do know a number of Catholic families who have just one or two children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What’s noteworthy about Brazil’s declining fertility rate is that it’s happening not just in the growing, prosperous middle-class areas, but also in the poorer sections of what remains a very unequal society.
Despite the economic growth, about a quarter of Brazil’s population remains below the poverty line. Many live in the rural Northeast, but millions have crowded into slums, or favelas, in cities like Rio and Sao Paulo. They suffer from high crime and still lack some of life’s basic needs. But they do have health services, including information about and access to contraception, including sterilization.
These women live in a Rio favela, where they work for a sewing cooperative called Coparaha. Liliane Moreira da Silva has three children, trying unsuccessfully to have a son. She couldn’t control the gender balance of her kids, but she can control the decision to have them, she says.
LILIANE MOREIRA DA SILVA, mother (through translator): You only get pregnant if you want to, because we have free access to any sort of family planning.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Lucelia Carvalho, who is 34, has a six-month-old daughter. Boy or girl, she plans to have only one more child, unlike her grandmother.
LUCELIA CARVALHO, mother (through translator): My grandmother had 10 children, but didn’t have a radio or television. It’s not just television. There are commercials, all kinds of information.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, television, including the wildly popular soap operas, or novellas, have been a major cultural influence in defining the ideal Brazilian family, says Jacqueline Pitanguy.
JACQUELINE PITANGUY: In the ’70s, these soap operas started to be aired in national chains throughout the country. And they were, you know, associated with the modernity. And modernity was associated with couples with two or three children. And this is very important in terms of a symbolic message, you know?
WOMAN (through translator): It works both ways with the novellas. It goes in both directions.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We visited Elizete Magalhaes’ living room one evening. The novellas are a stable she can’t resist, she says, engaging and captivating, even though, in some ways, discomforting.
ELIZETE MAGALHAES, Brazil (through translator): In my day, we used to play with dolls. Now kids are playing having boyfriends and girlfriends, like they see on TV.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Psychoanalyst Correa de Oliveira’s life and family may look much like the soap opera ideal. She and her husband just celebrated 25 years of marriage. Still, she wishes her children could have a simpler, carefree life that she enjoyed.
MARIA CORREA DE OLIVEIRA (through translator): What I observe in my work with children and parents is the difficulty in transmitting to the new generation the sort of values that we grew up with, the respect for authority, on how to behave. If religion isn’t the axis from which we’re getting our values — and I don’t necessarily think it should be — what is replacing it? Where are we getting our values?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For their part, Catholic Church officials decry the shift among young people to what they see as extreme materialism.
Father Anibal Gil Lopes is with the Rio Archdiocese.
REV. ANIBAL GIL LOPES, Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro: They want to have cars, houses, objects, but they don’t want to have children or a family. Then this means a change in, I would say, in a philosophy, how you see life, the meaning of life. This weakens a nation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This weakens a nation?
He fears Brazil is headed to an imbalance in its population like that seen in many European countries.
REV. ANIBAL GIL LOPES: Confrontation — social confrontations in Europe derives, is due to the fact that the old population cannot be supported by the work of the younger people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There are not enough young people?
REV. ANIBAL GIL LOPES: Exactly. There are no people to work and pay taxes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ney Costa who heads a family planning advocacy group, says the current birth rate is still much higher than in European nations. He says Brazil can prepare for its more gradual shift.
DR. NEY COSTA, Brazil (through translator): The medical field has grown and evolved. But there are more specialists in such things as geriatrics. And these sorts of things are helping support the older population.
Brazil is far from the crisis that Europe is living. And the good news is that we have time to prepare and implement more policies and mechanisms to sustain this new Brazil.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says Brazil has a chance to be the first large nation to get close to a population balance, although demographers say, right now, its birth rate is slightly below replacement.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
INDIA’S SURROGACY BABY BOOM
JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: the second of two reports on Indian surrogate mothers who are paid to bear children for infertile Western couples. The money lifts the women out of poverty, but the transactions also raise many ethical issues.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro traveled to western India to explore those issues. The surrogate in this story asked that we not reveal her name.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Minutes after delivering a slightly premature infant by C-section, Dr. Nayna Patel, was back in the office and on the phone to the parents.
DR. NAYNA PATEL, Akanksha Infertility Clinic: Congratulations. It’s a baby girl. Where are you, in Mumbai, right now?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They were en route from their home in England and didn’t reach the small town of Anand, India, in time to watch a surrogate mother give birth to their child.
DR. NAYNA PATEL: Surrogate is also fine. Yes, the baby is also fine. And we have taken the pictures.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Patel has delivered some 400 surrogate babies since 2004. Her clinic implants embryos in surrogates she recruits from the area and pays around $7,000 for a pregnancy carried to term. Biological parents come from across India and around the world.
Kirshner Ross-Vaden came here from Colorado to pick up her baby girl named Serenity. She was born four weeks premature, but after a week in neonatal intensive care, she was ready to be discharged.
MAN: And here’s all reports.
KIRSHNER ROSS-VADEN, Mother: OK. Good.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Serenity’s 46-year-old mother traveled here with her 9-year-old son. She had tried unsuccessfully in recent years to conceive. Surrogacy was her last hope and India her first choice.
The cost, $10,000 to $15,000 all told, is a fraction of what it is in the U.S. And, in America, she added, surrogacy contracts are not always airtight
KIRSHNER ROSS-VADEN: You can sign 100 documents. It doesn’t matter. If that surrogate changes her mind, she can sue you for that child. And, oftentimes, she will win. And coming here to India, these women, they don’t want my child. It’s very cut and dry. They do not want my child. They want my money. And that is just fine with me.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s not fine with everyone.
DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, Director, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics: And the contracts are usually written, to be blunt, to protect the wealthy people who are commissioning the baby, so that if the woman suffers an injury, if the woman has a health problem due to childbirth, if there’s a long-term chronic condition, then what?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: University of Pennsylvania ethicist Arthur Caplan worries the relationship is inherently lopsided between poor, minimally literate women and well-heeled couples who commission them to have their children.
For example, surrogates in India are routinely implanted with up to five embryos to improve the chances of a pregnancy. In the U.S., clinics usually implant no more than two, sometimes three.
DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN: Why would you use three, four, five embryos in India? Because you don’t want the couple to have to come back. It’s expensive, even for a rich person. So you’re trying to maximize the chance of pregnancy, even if it might compromise the interests of the babies.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Patel concedes that implanting five embryos heightens the risk for infants and mother and says she is now lowering that number to three or four. But she says the downside of fewer embryos is a lower pregnancy success rate.
When multiple embryos develop into viable pregnancies, Dr. Patel’s policy is to reduce them by selective abortion. Aside from possible religious concerns, this process could present medical risk to the surviving fetuses.
DR. NAYNA PATEL: Parents, yes, there are some who say right from the beginning that, Doctor, put less embryos because we are not for reduction and we don’t want this to happen.
So, in those cases, we definitely never transfer more than two. But there are certain parents who don’t have any objection to this. And surrogates, we don’t allow them to carry more than two.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Patel insists that her facility protects the interests of surrogates as much as the clients of her commercial surrogacy program and the infants she delivers.
DR. NAYNA PATEL: We do a lot of psychological counseling to the surrogate and the family before we recruit them. We explain to them the procedure of IVF, what all they will have to undergo.
If she has had any complications during her previous pregnancy, we will ask her not to become a surrogate, because the same can repeat this time, to make it very sure and safe for her.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The moment their pregnancies are confirmed, surrogates are required to move into this home run by Dr. Patel. They’re offered skills training in things like tailoring, but mostly it’s a quiet, sedentary life.
The women who spend nine months in this surrogate hostel have all experienced childbirth with their own biological children. It’s a prerequisite for becoming a surrogate. What very few of them have experienced with those previous pregnancies is any kind of prenatal care. And that’s in sharp contrast to the pampering they get here, with meals provided and medical attention, should they need it, round the clock.
Dr. Patel acknowledges the irony, but says its part of a thorough surveillance to ensure smooth pregnancies for both surrogate and parents’ sakes.
DR. NAYNA PATEL: We have a fetal medicine specialist who checks all the surrogates every three weeks. We have been able to detect minor congenital malformations, which we inform the couple that this can be treated post-delivery without any impact on the baby.
We have had patients whose surrogate had babies with Down syndrome, which was detected, which was confirmed with amniocentesis, and we aborted those babies after the consent of the couple.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Well in advance, she says parents are consulted on decisions like pregnancy termination. Similarly, parents must accept their babies, once born, whether healthy or not.
Surrogates we spoke to talked about building a new home and using their money for their children’s education. The money, $7,000 to $8,000, would otherwise take them decades to earn. Most say they were happy to have helped infertile couples.
The woman who bore baby Serenity, whom we met earlier, admitted to some sorrow at her separation.
SURROGATE MOTHER (through translator): You can’t help it when you have carried a baby for nine months. I would like to see how she does in the future.
KIRSHNER ROSS-VADEN: I do have her address, so I can get a hold of her. And I hopefully will be able to maintain some kind of a relationship with her.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We caught up with Serenity’s mother in Mumbai, an hour’s flight from Dr. Patel’s clinic. She and son Brandon were holed up in a hotel, awaiting DNA test results and myriad documents to satisfy the Indian and U.S. governments that the infant could leave the country.
KIRSHNER ROSS-VADEN: Am I living happily ever after now? I certainly hope so. I hope that I can get her home, and I hope that she is a happy, healthy little baby, and that — that is what I will have, that she will remain such and grow up as such, a happy, healthy little girl.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But will every surrogacy story end happily? Right now, India has only voluntary guidelines, and it’s not clear whether future laws will be adequately enforced. And standards vary widely.
For example, Dr. Patel says she only serves infertile patients. But some clinics offer surrogates to healthy parents who, for career or convenience, want to avoid pregnancy.
Ethicist Caplan worries about where all of this is leading.
DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN: We may get into situations where people start to say, as genetic knowledge improves, you know, I’m not infertile, but I would like to make a baby with traits and properties that I want to avoid or that I desire.
And that day is coming. And I think it’s important to keep in mind, as we watch the evolution of surrogacy as an international activity, what is really something that a tiny handful of people use who suffer from infertility tomorrow can be what more people are interested in because they have a more eugenic or perfectionist interest in making their children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For her part, Dr. Patel plans a major expansion of her one-stop surrogacy shop, a leader in what’s now a half-billion-dollar industry in India. She makes no apologies for making a lucrative living and insists that, for her, for surrogates, for new parents, it’s win-win-win.
JEFFREY BROWN: A version of Fred’s story can be seen on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.” And his reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
In Karachi, a Call for Calm Amid Deadly Ethnic Violence
RAY SUAREZ: Violence has never been a stranger to the people of Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial center. But as violence has intensified in recent months, some citizens are trying to stem the tide.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has a report. A version of Fred’s story can be seen on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Modern-day Karachi has been defined by migration.
In 1947, at independence, when the British partitioned India, millions of Indian Muslims flocked to the city. So did people from other provinces of the new Pakistan, like Punjab and the northwest along the Afghan border, and migration from that troubled region skyrocketed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and after 9/11.
Today, Karachi’s neighborhoods, its politics, and much of its strife happen along ethnic lines.
In recent weeks, hundreds of people have been killed in ethnic clashes in this mega-city of some 16 million.
ARIF HASAN, architect: I think almost all of Karachi’s issues are related to the conflict in Afghanistan.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Architect and prominent social researcher Arif Hasan says divisiveness set in the late ’70s. That’s when Pakistan’s military ruler introduced strict Islamic conservatism. It intensified as Pakistan, with U.S. support, closely allied with the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation
ARIF HASAN: And it was from this city that that war was fought.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, the rival political parties are largely ethnic, and there’s little consensus on how to share power to govern a divided city.
Frequently, one faction or another will call a strike, declaring its own curfew to shut down the city. These turf battles have exacted a huge toll on the economy, says Hasan.
ARIF HASAN: Every time you have a strike or the city closes down, at least half-a-million households don’t have any earnings on that day because they are day wage earners.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Amid the deadly chaos, one of the loudest voices appealing for calm has been that of an energetic 84-year-old named Abdul Sattar Edhi. He called a recent news conference in the city’s press club.
ABDUL SATTAR EDHI, Edhi Foundation (through translator): I’ve been asking people one question. We’ve been Muslims for 1,400 years. Why don’t we become human beings? Why have we lost touch with our humanity?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Edhi moved to Karachi from western India soon after Pakistan’s creation, 62 years ago. He began an ambulance service in the 1950s, trying to serve a city that was growing rapidly. It now has the largest fleet in the city, mostly simple vans with stretcher, lights and siren.
Partly because the country has few services, the Edhi Foundation has grown into one of the largest social service agencies. Edhi, who had little formal education, boasts that his entire $10 million-plus annual budget comes from ordinary Pakistanis, abroad and at home.
To demonstrate, he stood on a busy Karachi street for about 15 minutes. Dozens of passersby thrust money in his hands. The donations help fund food relief in neighborhoods that have been under siege for days during the fighting.
Rumana Husain has written a new book about her native city.
RUMANA HUSAIN, “Karachiwala: A Subcontinent Within a City”: I don’t know where we would have been if Edhi wasn’t around, really.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In what sense do you mean that?
RUMANA HUSAIN: In every sense, because he seems to be everywhere. He’s like — you know, even if an animal gets hurt, and if there is a — there’s a donkey lying somewhere or a crow fallen from a tree, it seems that it is Edhi volunteers who pick them up.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says, across Pakistan, the name Edhi holds a special place.
RUMANA HUSAIN: It is awe and respect, not just him, but also for his wife, Bilquis Edhi, because they have worked hand in hand.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bilquis Edhi oversees facilities that house about 9,000, women in shelters, children in orphanages, schools and this nursery for abandoned infants, most of them severely handicapped.
Bilquis Edhi began working as a nurse for the fledgling Edhi organization more than four decades ago. She accepted Edhi’s marriage proposal, even though he was more than 20 years her senior. She says she admired his dedication to service. His flowing beard wasn’t a look she favored, she adds, but it was a symbol of his devout religious practice.
Today, Pakistan is far more conservative and beards are common, but, in most cases, a false symbol of piety, she says.
BILQUIS EDHI, Edhi Foundation (through translator): People had beards because they were practicing. Today there’s less practice, but more beards. It is this high number of narrow-minded people that have created all of the trouble we have in our country.
ABDUL SATTAR EDHI (through translator): When there is poverty, illiteracy, when people don’t get their rights that gives rise to organizations like the Taliban, and other such groups were formed, and it just spreads from that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On Karachi’s streets, Edhi says, there’s growing despair. These men pleaded with him to help them get more police protection in their neighborhood. It is encounters like these that Edhi says prompted him to ask the country’s top military leader, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to send soldiers in to restore law and order.
ABDUL SATTAR EDHI (through translator): Mr. Kayani, I am appealing to you. Where have you been sleeping?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His call surprised journalists at the crowded news conference.
MAN (through translator): Do you want a dictator to come in, like Musharraf?
ABDUL SATTAR EDHI (through translator): Brother, if for the time being you have to say salaam to somebody, there’s no harm. If a civil revolution comes in, there will be anarchy and millions will die. What is needed for three to six months is, somebody should come and control the situation.
MAN (through translator): Are you inviting martial law?
ABDUL SATTAR EDHI (through translator): Brother, tell me if there’s a different road.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, others say Pakistan has already been on that martial law road. Until 2008, this country was ruled mostly by military men.
And Ayesha Tammy Haq, a lawyer and talk show host, says most people are not ready to abandon its fledgling democracy.
AYESHA TAMMY HAQ, attorney: We don’t want those people to come back and run this country. The military is responsible for a lot.
They have run and controlled Pakistan for so long. The Afghan policy is theirs. Foreign policy is theirs. Everything is the military’s. And so therefore we need to allow these terrible civilians who are so corrupt and so dreadful, we have to allow them a little time to get it together and to change the way things are done in Pakistan.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It will be up to civil society to hold politicians accountable, she says, much as it did during the rule of General Pervez Musharraf.
Civic groups led by lawyers fought successfully to restore judges Musharraf had dismissed, eventually forcing the general himself out in 2008. For his part, Abdul Sattar Edhi says he can only hope that change comes with a minimum of violence. For now, the demand for his services has never been higher.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
In Senegal, a Movement to Reject Female Circumcision
The practice of “female circumcision” is widespread, affecting an estimated 140 million women worldwide. It is also unspoken. Even its euphemisms evoke images too uncomfortable to talk about in some social settings.
The societies in which the practice occurs — a swath of Africa from Senegal to Egypt, plus pockets of west and south Asia — are traditional, patriarchal and conservative. They also are predominantly, but only coincidentally, Islamic. The partial or complete removal of the clitoris, female genital mutilation in United Nations parlance, dates back 2,000 years, and it is practiced in both faiths in the region.
Attempts have been made from time to time to stamp out the practice: by missionaries in colonial times, U.N. proclamations, even laws to ban it, all to little effect. From all this history, Molly Melching, founder of an organization in Senegal called Tostan, derived a lesson.
“Tostan found that using approaches that shame or blame people really was just the opposite of what would work in changing social norms,” Melching said.
In the two decades since Tostan — which means “breakthrough” in the local Wolof language — began using a human rights education approach, almost 5,000 villages in Senegal have abandoned the practice of female genital cutting, she said.
Melching is a Danville, Ill., native, who has lived in the west African nation for more than three decades. Her words are carefully chosen to be neutral. The practice of cutting, not mutilation, has been largely abandoned, but not totally eradicated. The latter also implies that local communities themselves make this decision on their own initiative.
Tostan’s staff and volunteers, all drawn from local communities, hardly mention cutting, certainly in the outset. Instead, they rely on an expansive education program of seminars conducted in the villages on human rights, including the right to good health. In time, people learn about germ transmission and how complications suffered by so many women during childbirth can be traced back to the cutting that occurred during their childhood, Melching explains. All this leads to community discussions that examine the origins of the practice, with surprising results in most cases.
For one thing, people learn there’s no religious requirement for cutting. It is thought to have originated in the concubines of ancient rulers as a sign of a woman’s “virtue” or a means of controlling her fidelity and sexual appetite. The procedure has always been performed by women “circumcizers.”
Melching says religious leaders, many of whom have personal recollections of a female relative who suffered, have been supportive in all but the most conservative regions. They are especially appreciative of being consulted first.
Tostan’s message to the communities is respectful, non-judgmental and simple: we know you want to do what’s best for your daughters’ future. It is sensitive to the fact that from the community’s perspective, girls who are not cut are likely to be ostracized and unable to find marriage partners. That makes it critical that large numbers of communities — the marriage pool — abandon the practice collectively. Tostan helps coordinate, organize and raise the funds for such declarations — gala events attended by thousands of people from hundreds of villages:
“One part of bringing about a change like this is to get everyone to change at once, what we call coordinated abandonment. Everyone has to see that everyone else sees that everyone is changing,” says University of California, San Diego, professor Gerry Mackie, who has closely studied Tostan.
There are instances in history for this kind of massive shift in social norms. Women’s feet were once bound in China, but the practice was abandoned in barely a generation. And there’s a more recent example Melching notices when she returns to America: cigarette smoking was common and widespread when she left in the 1970s, but with increasing awareness of the health consequences, it has become widely unacceptable today.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: In an ancient, crowded land with wide religious diversity, Judaism has a tiny footprint. In New Delhi, it’s in this quiet enclave. A small group of worshipers gathers here every Friday, a mix of foreigners and Indians. In India’s ancient religious mosaic, Judaism is a newcomer. Its roots go back only two millennia.
EZEKIAL MALEKAR (Judah Hyam Synagogue): When Israel, the oldest Jewish community, landed, they were shipwrecked, and they came to India about 2,000 years ago.
DE SAM LAZARO: There were at least two subsequent mini-waves that brought Jews to India: people fleeing the Inquisition and people who came during British colonial days as traders. There were perhaps 30,000 Jews across the country at one time, but many moved to Israel after its formation in 1948.
MALEKAR: Now we have only 5,000 Jews all over India, and in Delhi we have just 5, 6 Indian-Jewish families. We are like a drop in the ocean.
DE SAM LAZARO: Ezekiel Malekar is the keeper of Delhi’s tiny synagogue, built in 1956 on land donated by the Indian government. A lawyer and retired civil servant, he’s not an ordained rabbi, but for three decades Malekar has volunteered to lead this congregation, reconciling its ancient rituals and traditions with the practical modern reality.
MALEKAR: In order to read this portion of the Torah you require a quorum of 10 men, what we call in Hebrew minyan, so here we take into consideration the presence of women also. Some people don’t like it, especially those who are very Orthodox when they come to the synagogue. But I said that we are such a small community that if I have these practices I won’t be able to conduct the services in the synagogue.
DE SAM LAZARO: The majority of India’s remaining Jews live in the commercial capital, Mumbai. It was in this city during the 2008 terrorist attacks that six people were killed at a Jewish community center that mainly served Israelis and Western visitors and businesspeople. Since then, the Delhi synagogue has also come under 24-hour protection from the Indian government-the first time Jews here have ever faced the specter of violence.
MALEKAR: Jews have been living in India for the last 2000 years and without anti-Semitism and persecution, and therefore I always say that India is our motherland. I am an Indian first and Jew second. When Mr. Shimon Peres came here…
DE SAM LAZARO: …the president of Israel…
MALEKAR: The president of Israel. I was asked by the BBC media that what is your feeling about Israel and India? And I said that Israel is in my heart, but India is in my blood.
DE SAM LAZARO: But those who call themselves Indian and Jewish are fewer and fewer. One of Malekar’s sad tasks is to tend the cemetery, whose census now exceeds the congregation in the synagogue next door.
MALEKAR: This is the last place, where we go to the divine abode.
DE SAM LAZARO: On a happier note, Malekar will soon preside over his daughter Shulamit’s wedding, which will be a historic event in Delhi’s Jewish community.
MALEKAR: I don’t remember even after 1956 there has been a single wedding in the synagogue.
DE SAM LAZARO: At 66, Malekar will finally witness a marriage here between two Indian Jews, leaving only the worry about who from the handful of young congregants might be willing to take over from him.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in New Delhi.
In Brazil’s Slums, Economic Inequality Tackled With Technology
GWEN IFILL: Next, we take another look at economic inequality, this time in a developing nation.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on how one man is using technology to transform lives in the slums of Brazil.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rio de Janeiro’s gleaming skyline befits a world economic power. But there’s another world not far from the skyscrapers and storied beaches of Copacabana starkly visible in the surrounding hillsides.
It is a violent world. Even after police crackdowns and community policing initiatives in these slums, or favelas, Rio had 4,800 homicides in 2010. That’s more than 10 times the number in New York City, which had the most murders among U.S. cities.
Social entrepreneur Rodrigo Baggio blames much of it on drug trafficking and says it is rooted in poverty.
RODRIGO BAGGIO, Committee for Democracy in Information Technology (through translator): Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world, but it is also has one of the world’s highest levels of inequality. A large portion of the population lives in economic and social exclusion. They earn very low incomes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Baggio grew up in a privileged Rio family, a self-described computer nerd, but he’s focused much of his work on using technology to tackle that inequality.
His Center for the Democratization of Information Technology, or CDI, works with local community or faith-based groups to bring technological literacy to people in the favelas. Instructors come from the community, get training from CDI, and teach the basics about software, how to do research on the Internet, shoot video, often with just cell phones.
This equipment may be more readily accessible now, but Baggio wants to transform how these tools are used.
RODRIGO BAGGIO (through translator): Technology and technological inclusion allows for an impact that’s greater than just learning how to use a computer and being able to have access to the Internet. The big impact is that it empowers low-income communities because it teaches them to utilize technology to understand their reality in a better way and identify the challenges that they face.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Baggio’s favorite example is this video posted on YouTube by a group of young people.
RODRIGO BAGGIO (through translator): These kids went out with cell phones and digital cameras and they were interviewing community members and taking pictures in order to better understand their reality, the challenges that they face in the community. They chose an example of a photo of rats. One of the kids had taken a photo of rats.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They traced the rat problem to garbage not properly disposed of or collected. Then they spread word through handmade and computer-generated fliers.
They sent this video to the mayor, posted it on YouTube, and Baggio says all the publicity got a response from city hall that resulted in better trash services.
RODRIGO BAGGIO (through translator): I mean, this is a story, you know, 10 kids from a class that used technology, use the Internet to discover a problem, and find a solution for it and change their reality as a result.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Baggio left a prosperous business career in 1995 to start CDI, looking to combine volunteer work he’d done with street kids and his computer savvy. He relied mostly on corporate donations early on.
Today, there are 820 CDI-affiliated computer centers, plus 6,500 smaller cyber-cafes. Together, they serve 1.3 million low-income people across Brazil and 13 other countries. CDI still gets corporate donations, but designs self-sustaining enterprises. Once a computing school is set up, for example, the community partners must maintain them, often through nominal fees for students who can afford it.
At this community center, a hardware repair shop employs CDI alums and generates income for the school. Just up the hill, another alumnus, Alex Jose do Nascimento, opened his own tiny cyber-cafe.
ALEX JOSE DO NASCIMENTO, cyber-cafe owner (through translator): Because this is a very poor area of the slum and they have never had access before really at all, I hope that for the next few years, 2014 and 2016, to really be able to grow this business.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: 2014 is when soccer’s World Cup comes to Rio, followed by the 2016 Olympics. Nascimento hopes to benefit from the windfall in spending by the city and tourists.
So are many people who work in poorly paid jobs, hotel maids and restaurant help, who are signing up with this CDI-run training center to upgrade their career prospects.
Twenty-three-year-old Wanderson Skrock is the center’s manager. He’s also getting his business degree in college. He’s come a long way since running into a CDI trainer while in a juvenile prison for drug dealing.
WANDERSON DA SILVA SKROCK, center manager (through translator): The Internet really opened my eyes. When I was a drug dealer, I had all the money, all the bling, all the women, all the material things that I wanted, but I didn’t have freedom.
I was afraid to leave my community, afraid to go to the beach, shopping. I didn’t go to the malls. I lived in fear. I really fell in love with these guys, Rodrigo’s story and several of the other teachers. I started to learn about them and saw that it was kind of this happy family, and I wanted to become part of this happy family.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rodrigo Baggio says technology is bringing sweeping change around the world, but it must be channeled properly.
RODRIGO BAGGIO (through translator): We’re seeing these spontaneous revolutions happening in North Africa and the Middle East, where people have been using technology to get access to information for mobilizing.
This can happen in a chaotic way, as in England recently, where the kids outside the mainstream that don’t have access to computers and clothes and stuff are now breaking into stores. But they can happen in a more organized way as well. Technology is a tool that allows people to mobilize in order to gain a better quality of life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And the more Brazil’s poor gain access to technology and the know-how to use it, the more Baggio says they can participate in the country’s booming economy, which he adds will get a $100 billion stimulus in new roads and other improvements for the World Cup and Olympics.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
India’s Massive School Lunch Program Aims to Curb Widespread Malnutrition
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to India, where the economy is growing rapidly, but not fast enough yet to take care of its millions of poor and hungry children.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on a solution that’s resulted in the world’s largest school lunch program.
A version of this story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In thousands of schools across India, teachers will tell you to add one more R to reading, writing and arithmetic. Recess, they’ll tell you, may be the most critical part of a student’s school day.
That’s because morning recess is when students are provided a hot meal, as are a few younger siblings who are allowed to come along.
Dinesh Sharma is the principal of this school in Rajasthan.
DINESH SHARMA, principal (through translator): In this school, only about five children in all are able to bring a lunch from home. We have about 300 children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Anywhere from a third to 40 percent of the world’s undernourished children live in India today, and about half of all children here have stunted growth.
Those grim statistics contrast sharply with the glowing ones on India’s economy, a disparity of growing concern in the country, says social researcher Biraj Patnaik.
BIRAJ PATNAIK, social researcher: India finds itself acutely embarrassed. Its ambitions of being a global power are very poorly reflected in social sector indicators, and there is the acute embarrassment that the second-fastest growing economy in the world has almost half of its children malnourished.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 2005, India’s Supreme Court ruled for civic activists and ordered the government to ensure that every child gets a cooked meal in school.
Patnaik, who works for a commission that monitors compliance with the court order, says officials resisted at first.
BIRAJ PATNAIK: On the grounds that there was no infrastructure, that teachers would get overburdened, that India just didn’t have the financial resources to start a program of this nature. But the Supreme Court reaffirmed that fiscal constraints can never be allowed to come in the way of children’s right to food, and if the government had to tighten their belt, that had to happen elsewhere.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With the stroke of a pen, the court ordered the largest school meal program in the world. That left the daunting task of implementing it, says Chanchalapathi Dasa.
CHANCHALAPATHI DASA, Akshaya Patra: The challenge in our country is how to deliver it and deliver it up to the last mile. That is the challenge, because a large country with 120 million children in hundreds and thousands of schools, that delivery is a genuine challenge.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dasa’s group, called Akshaya Patra, or Bottomless Pot, was among the first to step in. It was started in the ’90s by a group of Hare Krishna devotees preparing a few hundred school lunches as part of the sect’s call to service. Later when such meals became the law of the land, Akshaya Patra went to the government for funds to expand and to India’s corporate sector for expertise.
CHANCHALAPATHI DASA: Passion alone is not enough. You need to have organization. You need to have organizational capabilities. You need to have management capabilities. Akshaya Patra has been a very unique marriage of dedicated missionaries and professionals coming with a heart.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And with their wallets. Among India’s growing middle class, there’s a dawning of philanthropy, he says. Many people are attaining wealth at a much earlier age.
CHANCHALAPATHI DASA: My parents probably would have a house — we come from a middle-class family — would have a house when they were probably 50 years of age.
In today’s India, by the time someone — and someone working in a software company in India — by the time they are 28 or 30 years old, they already have a house, they have a car, and then what? They still have a lot of disposable income, and they are genuinely looking for opportunities where their money can be used well for social development.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Akshaya Patra is now the largest of several social enterprises doing school lunches. It serves 1.3 million children every day from kitchens like this one, efficient and productive as any in the world, says manager Govinda Das.
GOVINDA DAS, Akshaya Patra: We cook about 150,000 meals in three hours’ time, and the ingredients that we use, something like 7,000 kilograms of wheat flour every day, and from that we make about 300,000 chapatis…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Three hundred thousand?
GOVINDA DAS: Three hundred thousand flat-breads per hour.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hours before students show up to school, workers begin feeding wheat flour into giant mixers. At the other end, flat-breads called chapatis emerge, 40,000 per hour, packed in spotless conditions.
In industrial-sized cauldrons, rice and a lentil stew called dhal are prepared. Flavoring varies by regional preference, but no animal products are used. Hare Krishna devotees are vegetarian in principle. So are most students, by economic necessity.
In Rajasthan’s desert summer, school starts early, and the meals arrive as early as 9:00 a.m. In the four years since Akshaya Patra began catering in this area, the most visible impact is in school attendance. It’s up 11 percent, no surprise to principal Madhu Kilani.
MADHU KILANI, school principal: Some of the students have — their economic condition is so poor that at night also they are not able to eat food in their home, so they depend, many of their strength depend on their midday meal.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the whole day’s nutrition?
MADHU KILANI: Yes, for the whole day nutrition.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says the students have more energy and improved concentration in class. For its part, Akshaya Patra plans to expand its lunch program five-fold by 2020.
Still, not all children, especially in the vast countryside, have benefited equally from the Supreme Court’s order, says compliance monitor Biraj Patnaik.
BIRAJ PATNAIK: Jharkhand, for instance, is a state where I often visited, and I despair at the quality of the meals that are being served there. Even within states where the meals work well, in the more inaccessible and remote parts of the state, you have meals which are not comparable at all in quality to what children in the rest of the country are getting.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: “We like it,” they responded when asked about their food.
But when I asked how many students have to go hungry on the days when there’s no school, the response was also nearly unanimous. They all did. Despite the Supreme Court’s sweeping order and large recent initiatives to address it, malnutrition remains a daunting problem. It is the root cause of 2,500 child deaths in India every day.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
After String of Disasters, Aid Organizations Struggle to Meet Demands
GWEN IFILL: Next: too many crises, too little money.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on efforts by private aid organizations to keep the charity flowing.
A version of this story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s been a relentless run of disasters around the world lately, earthquakes in Japan, Haiti and Chile, tornadoes in the U.S., floods in Pakistan, Australia, and China.
For relief organizations, it’s been a challenge to keep up.
Mike Lloyd, who heads a Minnesota group called Kids Against Hunger, says some disasters bring immediate responses.
MIKE LLOYD, Kids Against Hunger: When the earthquake struck in Haiti, there was a tremendous outpouring for that event. And it went on for several months, where we had groups all over the country wanting to pack meals, and it was a real scramble for us to meet that demand.
And, of course, donor dollars followed the demand for packaging the meals. When the Joplin tornado happened, of course we had a similar experience.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Each year, Kids Against Hunger volunteers have packed some 50 million ready-to-mix meals to be sent to needy regions around the world.
But Lloyd says not all disasters are created equal in donors’ minds. The famine and fighting in Somalia and other countries in the Horn of Africa that have displaced hundreds of thousands into refugee camps has been more of a challenge.
MIKE LLOYD: Situations like we see in the Horn of Africa are long-term. They are political, at least partly political. They’re somewhat related to the drought situation, but it’s been a long-term political struggle in those areas. And that has just not — has not excited the packers and the donors in the same way.
DANIEL WORDSWORTH, American Refugee Committee: It’s not so much about compassion fatigue. I think people are as compassionate today as they ever have been. For us, it’s actually more a belief fatigue.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Daniel Wordsworth says many people are reflexively wary of some countries. Wordsworth heads another Minneapolis-based aid agency, American Refugee Committee, or ARC.
ARC also saw a huge response to the Haiti earthquake, but support for Pakistan, hit by massive floods a few months later, was far weaker. Wordsworth says, at first, there was also indifference toward the Horn of Africa.
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: I think what we see in both Pakistan, and we’re seeing it very strongly in Somalia, is that — and it really is almost confronting to us — is the lack of belief that people have for that country.
So, it’s not that they don’t feel compassionate. It’s that they just can’t make the connection. They don’t believe that either change is possible there or that their money, or their resources, what they give, will actually translate into something different on the ground. That’s the crisis that we’re seeing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Wordsworth says it’s the deeds of 1 percent of the population that have given Pakistan and Somalia reputations as hostile terrorist havens.
So, in its fund-raising campaigns for Somalia, American Refugee Committee has tried to defang Somalia’s image, drawing heavily on the fact that the largest Somali-American community is right in its home base in Minneapolis.
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Our doctors may be Somali, our local business professionals Somali, our taxi drivers Somali. We actually get to meet the 99 percent on a regular basis.
MAN: I’m a star.
WOMAN: I’m a star.
WOMEN: And we are a star.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Somali Minnesotans, prominent and otherwise, have led a varied media campaign, drawing in the larger local community.
WOMEN: We hosted a charity dinner.
WOMAN: I’m a star because I donated money that I earned from a car wash.
WOMAN: I organized an art show.
WOMAN: I collected pennies for Somalia.
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: It’s a whole different side of Somali culture that people don’t normally see. And then through — I think, through that lens, you can see a dynamic, amazing group of people. And your ability then to believe that if this country is full of people like this, there’s huge hope for that country.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Is it working?
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: It’s working really well for us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How do you know?
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Actually, we are seeing the same outpouring of compassion that we saw for Haiti. I think we would be one of the very few organizations in the world that can say that, that we’re tracking about the same.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Donors fall into two distinct categories, according to Mike Lloyd, individuals who give small amounts and often volunteer their time, and large donors, individuals, as well as corporations and foundations. He says grassroots campaigns and images of suffering are less effective with large donors than they are with the individuals.
MIKE LLOYD: Those gifts are given from the heart. They really react to the emotional sense that they’re making a difference in an individual’s life.
And when we talk to corporate givers or large donors, their dollars are usually more intended, or in their mind at least, to things that are going to have lasting impact. So they’re less likely to be driven by the emotional aspect of having an impact on an individual and what’s going to happen with my dollars. Are these going to really change anything, or is it just going to be the same after the dollars are gone?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: ARC’s Wordsworth says smaller donations are also more likely to keep coming, despite the economic downturn, since people tend to be more sympathetic in tough times. Corporate donors, as well as well-heeled individuals, need more convincing, he says.
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Maybe it’s a case that, when you’re investing a lot, it’s like any investor. You know, you want to actually have a pretty strong argument made to you before you’re willing to step forward with substantive amounts.
And so that group has been — has taken more time. And I’m not actually claiming at this point that we have had huge success with folks with deep pockets. But, again, I know, in the case of one individual, that actually what made the difference for him was sitting down with Somali people here in the Twin Cities, that, actually, again, it was just that face-to-face interaction.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the challenges, American Refugee Committee says it has gotten some major corporate donations, most likely because their corporate headquarters are nearby.
DANIEL WORDSWORTH: Groups like Best Buy, General Mills, the Mosaic Company, UCare, a health insurance provider, because they’ve got Somali staff, they can see it more quickly, and then the rest of the staff and the rest of the company comes around behind them and shows some solidarity.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: ARC has used its donations to run a hospital in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
But there’s always more to be done, says Linn Biorklund, who works in refugee camps along Ethiopia’s border with Somalia for the group Doctors Without Borders.
LINN BIORKLUND, Doctors Without Borders: I think it’s important to point out that the emergency is not over. It’s ongoing. We continue to see people coming. And these people are living here in the camps. And they are in great need of humanitarian assistance.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One of the biggest challenges is to keep attention focused on ongoing crises, like that in the Horn of Africa, even as they recede from headlines or get buried by bigger headlines about a new disaster.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Somali Refugees Flee to Ethiopia to Escape Famine, Violence
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, deepening conflict and famine in East Africa.
Kenyan troops have been drawn into the civil war in Somalia between the government and the al-Qaida allies, Al-Shabab. Starving Somali refugees are seeking their escape via Ethiopia.
From the refugee camp near Dolo on the Ethiopian border with Somalia, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this report.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s here at the Ethiopia-Somali border that some 400 refugees arrive every single day, most of them women and children, most of them fleeing not just famine, but fighting.
With normal escape routes to Kenya virtually closed by escalating conflict, the exodus of Somali civilians has moved west to Ethiopia. We ran into Adar Adan, who had walked for seven days to get to the Ethiopia line. She had first come a few weeks earlier, but went back to Somalia to fetch four of her six children. She hopes her husband with the two others will soon follow.
ADAR ADAN, Ethiopia (through translator): I just went back to sell our remaining animals. There’s nothing to eat. There’s a drought. A while back, there was fighting. Now there are government soldiers there, but there’s nothing to eat.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When did she last eat?
ADAR ADAN (through translator): We had some tea earlier today. Some lady gave it to us as charity.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She was heading first toward a reception center about a mile further in where the Ethiopian authorizes register newcomers.
With care packages, they’re moved to an increasingly cramped transition area. Until recently, the average stay here was about a week. But with regular camps at capacity, the wait has been getting much longer, says Dr. Benjamin Levy, a Michigan native who has been here for about eight weeks with the group Doctors Without Borders.
DR. BENJAMIN LEVY, Doctors Without Borders: There are currently 6,000 people that are waiting to be placed in a refugee camp. They have already crossed the border. They have already come for help. And they’re currently not receiving much more than rudimentary help.
They’re planning to open another camp. It is — that is at least a week, if not several weeks out.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So far, the number of Somali refugees who have landed here in Ethiopia is around 135,000, and it’s growing. We’re in a camp called Hilaweyn. It is the fourth camp that was built to accommodate them. And it’s filled to capacity.
Hilaweyn is 21 miles from the border. It looks on the outside like any dusty small town in rural Africa. Life goes on in the little shops that offer food items, tailoring and battery charging. Cell phones are abundant, but not electricity.
To get a keener sense of what people here have been through, Dr. Levy says, come to the camp’s makeshift hospital.
DR. BENJAMIN LEVY: Our mortality rate at one point was approaching 10 percent, which in a census of 60 to 80 children, means that we were losing approximately one child a day.
Tell her we will try giving her thicker milk today. And I would like to try to get her to see if she’s willing to drink it by mouth.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That rate has gone down a bit, but many of Levy’s patients struggle to hang on. This child is 3 years old. She weighs 14 pounds. From tube feeding, like she’s receiving, to the protein-rich Plumpy’nut paste given to those who can still eat, nurses and doctors try to rebuild the withered bodies of dozens of children each day.
DR. BENJAMIN LEVY: The malnutrition is the underlying problem, but the children that we bring to — within the hospital typically have very see severe diarrhea 10 to 20 times a day, very severe chest infections, pneumonia in both lungs.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And they keep coming. Twice as many refugees streamed across the border in October as they did in September. For them, this seems like a promised land.
Hassan Kulow survived a perilous 12-day donkey cart ride, including close encounters with the al-Qaida-linked terror group Al-Shabab.
HASSAN KULOW, Ethiopia (through translator): When we reached (INAUDIBLE) inside Somalia, there were some Al-Shabab fighters there. They started to fight with the government troops and they captured a lot of guns and ammunition and they slaughtered a lot of young people. Then, after that, nobody was allowed to bury them. In the end, people just threw their bodies in the river.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, Kulow, his wife and five children squeeze into a tiny tent. Yet it’s the first time in years that they have had adequate food and shelter in relatively peaceful surroundings.
He quickly took advantage of the medical care being offered. His 4-year-old daughter, Saado (ph), suffered a respiratory infection and got a prescription for an antibiotic. But Kulow and everyone else here wonder, what comes next?
HASSAN KULOW (through translator): A lot of problems forced us to come here. And now we are here. As for the long-term future, me and my children, we don’t know anything about education. We don’t read or write. We need to be educated. We need to be sent to South Africa or America to get some of these facilities, so that we can catch up with the rest of the world. But there’s no way we can go back to Somalia.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Resettlement to third countries could be years away. Canada, Britain, the U.S. and Scandinavian countries have taken in large numbers of Somali refugees in recent decades.
For now, the challenge for the U.N.’s World Food Program is to raise funds to sustain the camps here and in Northern Kenya. So far, assistance, including $650 million in cash and kind from the U.S. government, has stocked the warehouses with staples and critical supplements, like this high-calorie pre-mixed powder.
Girma Mandefro is with an aid group contracted by the U.N.
GIRMA MANDEFRO, relief worker: This is a (INAUDIBLE) for just one person.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And it’s a fortified food to just boost people’s nutrition.
GIRMA MANDEFRO: Exactly. Exactly.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Is it meant for children?
GIRMA MANDEFRO: This is meant for children, yes, children under 5.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s enough supply to last through 2012, and the World Food Program has begun seeking donations for later in the year. It’s a challenging task for a region that’s been chronically distressed and in need for years.
Program spokesman Jaakko Valli:
JAAKKO VALLI, World Food Program: I can understand where the concerns or the donor fatigues comes from. It’s — it’s challenging to show real needs of the Somali refugees because some of their displacement is induced by drought, and that doesn’t show in the news camera lens as appealing than the damage where an earthquake or even floods can show.
And Somalia and the Somalis fleeing to the neighboring countries have been an issue on news, on the media already for several decades.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Dr. Levy says things seem precariously under control in these camps, but he’s preparing for the worst.
The news that Kenyan forces have entered Somalia to fight against Al-Shabab militants has made the situation more complicated.
DR. BENJAMIN LEVY: My understanding is that the camps in Kenya have seen a decrease in the number of people that they are seeing, even as the fighting across the border increases.
We’re wondering, does that mean that the people who want — you know, need to come or want to come have come, or does that mean that people are so entrenched and terrified, that they are unable to leave at this moment, and as soon as the fighting lets up, there will be a new flood of people coming across the border? The situation is absolutely far from — far from resolved.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, for both providers and refugees, planning is done on short horizons, with smaller victories, a smiling child, a relieved mother.
JEFFREY BROWN: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.
Minn. Church Recalls How Christmas Carols Saved Some U.S. Lives in World War II
RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, the true tale of a Christmas Eve attack and rescue during World War II, retold by a Minnesota congregation.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our story.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the annual holiday dinner at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, people are encouraged to share personal Christmas stories.
This year, Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen delivered an epic.
REV. TIM HART-ANDERSEN, Westminster Presbyterian Church: So you are a radio studio audience tonight for WPCB, Westminster Presbyterian Church Broadcast Company.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dozens of volunteers came together to build a set simulating a 1940s-style radio drama, arranged by “Prairie Home Companion” veteran and church member Vern Sutton.
It’s based on a true story the pastor heard from his father when he was growing up.
MAN: The night before Christmas, 1944.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On Dec. 24, 1944, as the decisive Battle of the Bulge raged, some 2,200 American G.I.s boarded the ship Leopoldville in England headed for the battle’s Belgian frontier.
MAN: It just don’t feel like Christmas Eve.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hart-Andersen’s father, Hank Andersen, was crammed in the ship’s hold.
REV. HENRY “HANK” ANDERSEN, Leopoldville survivor: It was just a miserable situation. So I said, let’s go up on deck and sing Christmas carols. I would say there were 15 to 20 of us were there.
And we were singing Christmas carols. And I was leading them. And all of a sudden, this is becoming a rather tender story. And we can see the lights of Cherbourg in the distance.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The drama used sound effects to convey the disaster that was about to strike as the ship was just off the French coast. Some 800 lives were lost in the deadliest incident of the war for the U.S. Army.
WOMAN: Emergency stations. Emergency stations. All hands to emergency stations. The Leopold’s been hit.
WOMAN: The U-boat torpedo hits the Leopoldville below the waterline on the starboard side. Scores of those lovely Yankee boys are killed instantly by the explosion. Others drown as water rushes into the ship. Most of the survivors stand on the deck and watch as other ships come alongside to begin rescue operations.
MAN: Hey, Sarge, Sarge, Sarge, what do we do? That British destroyer, it’s pulled up alongside us. Shall we make a jump for it?
REV. HENRY “HANK” ANDERSEN: These guys were paralyzed. They just would not jump. And — and they had seen some jump and not made it. So, it was quite a jump across.
And I remember getting over there and sliding across what little deck there was, slammed into the bulwark that was there, staggered back up to the rail. And the sight that I had made it enabled them then to start jumping.
MAN: Gee, Rosenblum, are you going to jump?
MAN: Is there another choice?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The character Rosenblum was written into the drama when Gail Rosenblum, a local columnist, came across Andersen’s story. Her late father, Sidney, was on the ship, and she’s convinced he was in the singing group. And that, she’d like to think, influenced her love of this music.
GAIL ROSENBLUM, Minneapolis Star Tribune: My friends joke. They tease me because I’m a Jewish girl who loves Christmas carols. I always loved them as a girl.
And so, when I heard the story of Hank and put that all together, I felt like now I understand why I love them. They saved my father’s life, because all the men who came up on deck to sing, thanks to Hank leading them up there, they survived. And all the men who didn’t come up were the victims of that, you know, that torpedo.
REV. TIM HART-ANDERSEN: Her father had this love of music before he went into the service. My father did. And the more we talked, the more we began to sense a kind of narrative that really wound together in some pretty remarkable ways.
MAN: Hey, Archer, can’t a Jew enjoy the lights and sing a few tunes?
MAN: You sing Christmas music?
MAN: So, who do you think does the best Christmas music? Ever wonder about that? Irving Berlin? Mel Torme? Johnny Marks? All Jews. “Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas” all invented by my people. Who else would name a red-nosed reindeer Rudolph?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His family says Sid Rosenblum talked very little about his war experience. He went on to become a psychologist. Sid Rosenblum died in 1988 at 63.
Hank Andersen was headed to a law career before the war, but became a minister instead. He was an active civil rights campaigner in the ’60s, influenced during the war by an all-black unit in the then-segregated Army which fed and comforted the ship’s survivors when they reached land.
REV. HENRY “HANK” ANDERSEN: They surrounded us and sang Christmas carols. And I — I was so stunned.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At 87, Hank Andersen lives in retirement with Mary Andersen, his wife of 64 years.
MAN: The Yanks who survived found a whole new meaning to that Christmas day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tim Hart-Andersen says he’s glad his father is still alive to see an important story preserved by and for the next generation, one that, in some ways, has morphed into a sermon.
REV. TIM HART-ANDERSEN: I would hope that the kind of universal theme here is that hope cannot be cut off and light cannot be turned off. The human spirit can sing its way through anything.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.