India Close to Being Polio-free, But Challenges Still Remain
JEFFREY BROWN: And next to India, a poor and populous country long plagued by polio, but now health officials have come close to wiping out the disease. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro explains how that was accomplished.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In India, the battle against polio is being fought one mouthful at a time. Vaccinators have fanned out with coolers containing vials of the oral vaccine on a scale befitting a nation of 1.2 billion, says Lieven Desomer, a campaign strategist for the U.N.
LIEVEN DESOMER, UNICEF: One national round, we reach almost 75 million children, 150,000 supervisors, 1.2 million vaccinated.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They look for families especially at bus and train stations in the populous northern states, where polio is most endemic.
They look for young children, making sure first to check their pinkie fingers, where an indelible ink is placed once a child is immunized.
Thousands of times, with little fuss, each vaccinator has administered the two-drop dose of vaccine. As a result, India, one of four countries where polio is still endemic, may soon become free of it.
It’s easier to see how India can be a breeding ground for polio. Hundreds of millions of people lack proper sanitation, conditions that allow the virus to spread, usually attacking children, causing paralysis in some victims and in a few cases death.
In addition, it’s difficult for public health workers to track the movements of India’s huge nomadic and migrant populations. On any given day, 19 million people are on a train somewhere in India. That’s why experts say the huge drop in polio cases — they were up to 150,000 a year in the ’80s — is remarkable.
As recently as 2009, there were 741 cases of polio in India, more than any other nation. By last year, 2011, the number had dwindled to one solitary case, what campaigners hope will be the last one they will ever find in India.
LIEVEN DESOMER: I have to pinch myself once in a while to really realize that we actually — we’re almost there. And, for me, it’s amazing being here, because it’s part of history. We are making history here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Desomer is with UNICEF, with, along the World Health Organizations, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Rotary International, partnered with the Indian government in the multi-year $2 billion-plus campaign.
He says a few years ago, many impoverished communities resisted the vaccine.
LIEVEN DESOMER: These were communities which have not benefited from all the progress in India. And they have no roads, no clean sanitation. And they would usually campaign to say, you can reach us with a drop of vaccine. Why can’t you reach us with education and health and good water and sanitation? So, that is one thing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So they were suspicious?
LIEVEN DESOMER: They were quite suspicious.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Suspicion that the vaccine wasn’t what was claimed was particularly high among India’s Muslim minority.
Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, imam of the Fatehpuri Mosque in substantially Muslim Old Delhi, says memories are still vivid of coercive attempts by the government in the ’70s to sterilize people here.
MUFTI MUKARRAM AHMED, Imam (through translator): People thought that in the polio vaccine, they placed some medicine to sterilize people. They think that just like in the time of Sanjay Gandhi, when sterilization operations were going on, they think now, instead of doing operations, they can just give this medicine to the Muslim community and our men and women will not be able to have children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He was among many religious leaders who were approached by doctors and the U.N. agencies, reassured of their intentions, and brought on board to endorse the polio campaign.
Also coaxed in were Bollywood megastars like Amitabh Bachchan. In this TV spot, he angrily tell parents to put aside excuses like the fear of caste or religious discrimination and immunize their children.
AMITABH BACHCHAN, actor (through translator): Have you lost your mind?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His co-star in the ad, Shahrukh Khan, is Muslim.
SHAHRUKH KHAN, actor (through translator): His anger is justified. What’s the connection between caste or religion and polio? Any child can get this disease. That’s why I too have vaccinated my kids against polio. Now you please go and do the same.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Perhaps the most significant buy-in that helped the polio campaign came from the government at all levels, according to this Dr. Hamid Jafari with the World Health Organization.
DR. HAMID JAFARI, World Health Organization: The government of India has funded the largest chunk of this program, you know, up to $250 million each year, which is unprecedented compared to other countries.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government declared that any polio virus citing must be treated as a public health emergency. Jafari says that allowed for vigorous surveillance and response. Old reports of paralysis in children were investigated.
DR. HAMID JAFARI: In 2011, nearly 60,000 cases of acute flaccid paralysis were reported and investigated. And only one of those cases, the one that had onset on Jan 13., we were able to isolate polio viruses — virus. The other cases were due to non-polio causes of acute flaccid paralysis. So that tells you how sensitive the civilian system is.
And there are international standards. And those standards are now being exceeded.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says the big lesson from India for Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, three other countries where the virus is endemic, is that polio here became a huge, widely publicized national cause, much more than a public health campaign.
DR. HAMID JAFARI: You’re talking about community leaders, religious leaders, academic leaders, opinion leaders, so just getting — really turning it into sort of a national movement, so that everybody feels that they are part of this movement.
It’s not only just the health department that has to deliver on this. And I think that’s the kind of tipping point for Nigeria and Pakistan. I mean, these two countries have done a lot of good work and have made a lot of progress. It’s what it is going to take to bring them to the tipping point where India is now.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For India, the challenge is to remain vigilant and polio free for two more years to officially fall off the list of endemic countries.
Government officials say they next want to use the polio system and teams to tackle other relatively neglected diseases, like measles. Longer-term, the challenge is to build basic sanitation and education systems, things that can prevent disease in the first place.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
GWEN IFILL: Now a look at one organization’s holistic approach to healing the wounds of war.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A version of this segment aired on PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The United Nations says the Democratic Republic of Congo is the worst place on earth to be a woman.
For two decades, regional militias have clashed over the minerals here. One of the weapons of war, rape, continues, despite peace agreements and elections. By one estimate, more than 1,000 women are assaulted every day. By another, the problem has hit some 12 percent of Congolese women.
One of the few places women can turn is HEAL Africa in the eastern city of Goma. Here, women work to shake off atrocities they have faced, to deal with their traumatic injuries. This woman wears a mask to conceal her maiming at the hands of militiamen who raided her home one night in 2010.
ANONCIATA, Congo (through translator): My older daughter escaped from them. They told me to go get her. And I said, she’s escaped from you. How could I ever catch her? Since I wouldn’t give them my daughter, they hit me in the head with a machete. And after I fell down, they used that same machete to cut off my lips.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A volunteer health worker brought her here. HEAL Africa was started 12 years ago by British-born Lyn Lusi and her Congolese husband, Dr. Jo Lusi, devout Christians who’d served for years before that as medical missionaries.
LYN LUSI, co-founder, HEAL Africa: HEAL is an acronym. It stands for health, education, action in the community and leadership development, and all of those are components of a healthy society.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The facilities are spartan, but they offer the only such services to a population of eight million.
HEAL Africa survives on about $13 million a year in grants from abroad, public and private, providing everything from antiretroviral drugs to hundreds of children with HIV, to surgery to repair the bodies of traumatized women.
Dr. Jo Lusi is the only orthopedic surgeon in Eastern Congo, but he says this work is part of a larger idea.
DR. JO LUSI, co-founder, HEAL Africa: When you serve a human, I don’t see you here like a human. I see you like an image of God.
So to do that, you have to be holistic. You have to be total. You have to know a lot about the spirit, about the flesh, about the soul. Here, people are lacking everything. They don’t have food, absolute poverty. They are exploited. They are perishing because of the lack of knowledge. They are perishing because of the lack of justice. So me and my wife said, OK, how do you do a holistic system?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: HEAL Africa has trained 30 young Congolese doctors and many other health workers. But the Lusis say their holistic approach goes well beyond surgery to help rebuild women’s lives.
At this shelter, women spend months, even years recovering from rape injuries. They’re taught to sew, make baskets and raise small animals.
Basenya Bandora even allows herself to dream.
BASENYA BANDORA, Congo (through translator): I want to have a little shop, and I will make bread and I will sit there with my sewing machine, and people will bring me things to sew. I will make baskets. If I can have a little house, that would be very nice.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, for practical purposes, such dreams are pure fantasy. These women have lingering health problems. And militiamen continue to raid villages with impunity.
Anonciata frequently sees the men who maimed her, but reacted viscerally to a suggestion she might report them to the police.
ANONCIATA (through translator): I’m terrified. They would kill me. Only God can punish them for what they did.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But HEAL Africa has begun working to bring a more immediate justice for victims of rape.
In partnership with the American Bar Association, local lawyers work to apprehend suspects and put them through the legal system here. It is flawed and corrupt, but Lyn Lusi says only when Congolese begin to buy into it will it begin to work for them.
LYN LUSI: I would always encourage our legal aid to work 10 times more on the issue of bringing the community in line with the law, so that they appreciate what the law is trying to do, and that they agree with it, and that there’s social pressure, there’s a — there’s a desire within the community for zero tolerance of sexual violence, of any sort of violence.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s what brought this 15-year-old girl and her father to the legal clinic to bring charges against a young man who raped her while she went to collect water for the family.
PATRICE KIHUJHO, parent of rape victim (through translator): I want him not only to be put in prison, but also to pay for the damages he caused.
Last year, I turned 75 years old. When we were growing up, we never saw this kind of behavior. When you liked a girl, we would get married. I am really astonished. I’m not sure what’s going on, how they can take little girls and assault them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Lyn Lusi thinks its a consequence of fighting that has raged for two decades in Eastern Congo, destroying any sense of community.
LYN LUSI: You have seen your village destroyed. You’ve seen your people killed, and you’re a young man with no future. I mean, you have every reason to fight and every reason to go off and join the militias.
There are also those militias that will kidnap children and take them into their armies just to reinforce their ranks. Children are extremely good soldiers, in that they have no fear and they have no conscience.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Where does one begin to repair this?
The Lusis say they’ve worked to tap the enduring faith of most Congolese.
LYN LUSI: Here is a mandate to care that’s in the Muslim community, that’s in the Christian community, and it’s present in every single locality in Congo.
You could say that probably 95 percent of Congolese will go to a place of worship once a month, at least. So this is an amazing power within the community. And if we knew how to mobilize people correctly around their mandate to care, then you can make a big impact on a social problem.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: HEAL Africa has gathered religious leaders and other elders into so-called Nehemiah committees. These gatherings address sources of violence early on, mediating local business disputes or competing land claims before they escalate.
Lyn Lusi says it’s a start.
LYN LUSI: I have no illusions that we’re dealing with major issues that are pulling Congo apart.
There is so much evil and so much cruelty, so much selfishness, and it is like darkness. But if we can bring in some light, the darkness will not overcome the light, and that’s where faith is, if you believe that.
I don’t think HEAL Africa is going to empty the ocean, but we can take out a bucketful here and a bucketful there.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her efforts received a hefty boost recently, when Lusi was awarded the 2011 Opus Prize, a $1 million award given by the Minnesota-based Opus Foundation to a faith-driven social entrepreneur.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
GWEN IFILL: Next, bringing business services to small-scale farmers in East Africa. Our story is part of a series called Food for 9 Billion. It’s a partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media’s Marketplace, and Homelands Productions.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Andrew Youn was almost done with business school in 2005 when he took a brief vacation to Kenya. It was the Minnesota native’s first exposure to the irony of life for millions of people in rural Africa.
ANDREW YOUN, founder, One Acre Fund: The shocking thing and kind of an amazing paradox is that most of the world’s hungry people are actually farmers and their profession is to grow food. And the reason they’re not succeeding right now is they’re still using tools and techniques that literally date to the Bronze Age.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He decided to apply his new MBA skills to see if he could help. He began with a pilot project to assist 40 families.
I took $7,000 of my own savings and bought seed and fertilizer and hired some local staff. And we gave it a shot. The families just kind of signed up. And they were also interested. And they had the best harvest of their entire lives in that first season. And right when that happened, I knew that there was something there.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His project turned into One Acre Fund, named after the small size of most African subsistence farms. Six years later, a staff of more than 800 serves over 125,000 farm families in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.
ANDREW YOUN: If you look at those bales of seed, for example, that stack of bales is enough to change the lives of thousands of farm families with, you know, like more than 10,000 children living in those families.
The sheer magnitude of what we can accomplish from a humanitarian perspective with very little resources is just staggering.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But One Acre Fund isn’t a typical humanitarian service. It offers a business model. One Acre gives the smallest of farmers the same services available to the biggest of businesses, credit, seed, insurance and access to markets.
It’s called the market bundle. One Acre Fund also offers training, how to space plants, when to apply fertilizer and how much. It’s not rocket science, but the results are impressive.
I’m standing in a spot that illustrates the difference One Acre Fund can make. Over my left shoulder is a pretty typical small holder farm where you’ll find a cluster of pretty randomly planted cornstalks. But walk just a few feet to that farmer’s neighbor, and you will find a One Acre Fund member. And this farmer’s seeds are of better quality. They’ve been planted in careful rows. And you can tell by the quality of the stalks and the sheer density of this plot that the yield here is going to be much higher.
Better harvests begin with better seeds and fertilizer that the farmers get at a discount.
ANDREW YOUN: The individual small holder farmer is about the least powerful person on the planet, you can imagine. But when we aggregate 100,000 of them or more together, then we get a lot of purchasing power and we can get them a good deal, we can deliver, we can add a lot of value to them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But, even with a good deal, cash is hard to come by here, especially at the start of the season. So instead of making the farmers pay up front, One Acre Fund gives them loans for the seeds and fertilizer they need, loans that are insured.
ANDREW YOUN: Poor people are of the worst suited people in the world to have risk in their lives. They’re already living on the margin. And having a bad harvest, for example, and bad weather basically means it could be as severe as a child or even two dying. So, rain insurance is a standard part of our package. And so if the rain doesn’t fall, they don’t pay.
Another risk is death. We have what we call funeral insurance.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The loans must be repaid at harvest time. But most farmers begin paying their installments well in advance. The default rate is less than 1 percent.
ANDREW YOUN: Wow. Congratulations.
So, this lady was saying that she was getting a milk cow. And she’s selling now, earning about $2, $2 a day from that milk cow.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In Rwanda, Agriculture Minister Agnes Kalibata likes the fact that even though One Acre Fund is a nonprofit, it works with farmers as business partners.
AGNES KALIBATA, Rwandan agriculture minister: There’s always a sense of dependency. When they’re offering the private sector, there’s a sense of — it’s a give-and-take. So, One Acre Fund brings that on the table.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The approach is showing results. On average, farmers enrolled in One Acre Fund have seen their crop yields triple.
Joyce and Maurice Soita have done much better than average.
JOYCE SOITA, One Acre Fund farmer: For now, we have 18, but. . .
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Before.
JOYCE SOITA: . . . before, two or three bags.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, before, you used to get two or three bags of maize from your land, and now you get 18 last year.
JOYCE SOITA: Eighteen, yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Soitas took me to see the investments they have made with their profits, school for their four daughters, about 160 U.S. dollars per year.
JOYCE SOITA: My first kid, she say that she wants to be a doctor. Then I told her, keep up.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Keep up. Yes, keep up that ambition.
JOYCE SOITA: Yes.
ANDREW YOUN: Our farmers go from subsistence to finally getting enough food for their entire families, but then also selling surplus for the first times in their lives.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And Youn says this is opening up new opportunities for farmers.
Richard Sitati has been a One Acre Fund farmer for three years. He not only has surplus food staples like maize, but also grows crops for cash: peanuts and bananas. In the old days, Sitati had to rely on middlemen in his local market here in Twele for everything: buying seeds, selling the occasional surplus, with little bargaining power.
Now he visits a new kind of stall in the market. It sells information. Bananas, he learned, were fetching much higher prices in El Dorat, a town about 100 miles away.
RICHARD SITATI, One Acre Fund Farmer: So, here, I found out, when you look at the bananas, in Twele it’s 280.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Yes. Yes.
RICHARD SITATI: But when you go to El Dorat, it’s about 400.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So you can look at this board here and determine where the best place is to sell?
RICHARD SITATI: Yes. Yes. Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A new for-profit company called KACE has set up outlets like this one in markets across Kenya. The Internet and cell phone connections inform the trading boards and link producers like Sitati with distant buyers.
KACE was started by an Adrian Mukhebi, an economist trained at the University of Kansas. Mukhebi says the centers faced resistance when they first opened.
ADRIAN MUKHEBI, founder, Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange: Middlemen and traders didn’t like them. They opposed them. Why? Because we were providing information to the farmers. We were empowering the farmer to know the market prices and increase the farmers’ bargaining power.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Now he says, even though middlemen get a smaller share of the pie, the pie has gotten much larger.
For farmers, getting the best price is also a question of timing. Soon after a harvest, there’s plenty of maize, so the price plummets. One Acre staffers, most of them just out of college, are working on a pilot project that would offer loans for farmers to store some of their grain.
MAN: A farmer normally is selling their maize in January. We wanted, just basically, instead of them selling their maize, have it put right back in their house and then pay that school fee.
ANDREW YOUN: The farmer would be very tempted to sell their harvest almost immediately, so they could pay for school fees. But really they ought to be holding onto that harvest for about six months, when it’s much more valuable and scarcer in the hunger season.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So they’d get a better price for it.
ANDREW YOUN: Exactly.
MAN: If we can help our farmers store their maize for longer, then we can help them make a lot more money.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One Acre Fund took in $5 million in farmer loan revenue last year, but still needed a million dollars in grants and donations to cover their expenses.
They say their Kenya and Rwanda operations should break even in a few years. But sustainability also depends on the investments that governments will make, from building new roads to improving storage facilities and seed and fertilizer supply.
At the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Margaret Kroma says the government support is critical for groups like One Acre Fund to succeed.
MARGARET KROMA, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: Otherwise, we can have beautiful, wonderful islands of excellent work that just fades away over time. How do you make that ultimate connection between the technology that works in smaller assistance and the larger policy environment, the institutions that will ensure that these innovations continue to be scaled up and scaled out?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Andrew Youn agrees. But for now, the program’s success is built on the farmers’ success, one acre at a time.
ANDREW YOUN: It’s really wonderful to see. People really do invest every dollar they finally gain and start building kind of like a staircase to a better life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Youn predicts One Acre Fund will exceed its goal to serve 1.5 million farm families by 2020, a 15-fold increase from today, but still a fraction of the 40 million families that he says could use help across Africa.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Every day, hundreds of people gather in a makeshift worship center on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.They profess their Judaism in prayers, pictures, and words. They’re hoping to be heard most immediately by authorities in Israel, which they call the Promised Land. Many left spartan farm lives in the rural north of this ancient east African nation and moved to the city years ago in hopes that they, like thousands before them, would be taken to Israel.
Ethiopian Jew: Our members are suffering. They are destitute. They don’t have places to sleep.
Ethiopian Jew: I come to follow God’s word. He said, as I disperse you I shall bring you together. Because of that I want to go back to the Jewish home. DE SAM LAZARO: Their pleas have fallen mostly on skeptical ears even though more than 75,000 Ethiopians, including many relatives of these people, were accepted in recent years into Israel.Their acceptance into Israeli society, however, has been difficult. Many in Israel’s religious leadership have questioned whether the Ethiopians are truly Jewish. Many were subjected to conversion rituals upon their arrival in Israel. In recent years, Ethiopians, particularly in the second generation, have taken to street protests.
Ethiopian Jewish Demonstrator: I think what we are looking here today is thousands of Ethiopians saying here to the Israeli society: no to discrimination, no for racism. All of us we came here to Israel to be equal with Israeli society.
DE SAM LAZARO: The Ethiopian Jewish tradition dates back hundreds of years-many believe more than 2,000 years.
MESFIN ASSEFA (Scholar-Activist): The origin of Ethiopian Jews dates back to biblical times when the Queen of Sheba or Magda first went to visit King Solomon, and she returned bearing a child conceived during this visit. The young prince, later King Melenik, went to Israel to meet his father when he was 20, and he returned to Ethiopia accompanied by 1000 members from each of the tribes of Israel.
DE SAM LAZARO: Other migrations followed from ancient Israel, he says, but this account has a number skeptics.
GETACHEW HAILE: It’s more of a legend than historical truth.
DE SAM LAZARO: Getachew Haile, a religion historian now in Minnesota, says there’s no evidence of any trail linking Ethiopia directly with ancient Israel.
GETACHEW HAILE: We have Greek inscriptions, Arabic inscriptions. There is nothing in the sort of Hebrew inscriptions.
DE SAM LAZARO: More likely, he says, Jews came here from the Arabian Peninsula or Yemen centuries later and settled amid certain isolated populations, helping convert them from the Orthodox Christianity that predominated.
HAILE: One possibility, this is a theory, is that some people might have migrated from over the Red Sea, come into Ethiopia, and converted them. The other is within the Ethiopian community, within the Christian community, who rejected Christianity.
DE SAM LAZARO: Through the ages, he says, some Ethiopian kings enforced a rigid conformance to the predominant Orthodox Christianity. Those outside this system, called falasha or foreigners have been marginalized.
HAILE: They are considered outcasts, and I have no doubt that they have been treated like that within the Ethiopian Christians.
DE SAM LAZARO: Thanks in large part to this persecution, the so-called falasha became Ethiopia’s poorest people, and this has complicated the transition for many who went to Israel from medieval poverty to a First World economy. Still, for the Ethiopians it is a huge improvement in the standard of living. Mengistu Kebede, who’d returned to Addis Ababa on vacation recently to visit family, gave us some perspective. It was a
difficult adjustment to life in Israel, he says, but well worth it.
MENGISTU KEBEDE: It’s significantly better. Everybody wears shoes, they get enough pay for work, their clothes there are nice. Everything is much better.
DE SAM LAZARO: As part of earlier groups who were airlifted amid Ethiopia’s famine and civil war in the 1980s and ’90s, Kebede received a relatively warm welcome under Israel’s law of return. Today, however, the issue of economic motivation has clouded the politics of migration.
ASSEFA: I understand that there’s a perception that people coming from poor countries, from Africa, are coming for the economic benefits. But the issue is it’s the national law of Israel as well as the religious law to allow all Jews to return to Israel. It’s what God promised. As far as we know, all who have applied are bona fide Jews, and while there are advantages, the true motivation is a religious one.
DE SAM LAZARO: Amid the social, political, and economic challenges involving Ethiopian migration, Israel’s government has restricted the number it will allow in. In 2010 the government, in a move that it said should absorb all remaining Jews in Ethiopia, authorized visas for 8,000 new migrants. They’ll be allowed in in phases through 2016. Most of these worshipers did not make the cut. Deliverance to the Promised Land for these people, whose numbers are estimated in the low thousands, could take years, if it happens at all.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In Uganda, Gays Face Growing Social, Legal Hostility
JUDY WOODRUFF: An African nation’s campaign against gays runs into a warning from the United States.
Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Uganda.
A version of this story also aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly”
JOSEPH TOLTON, pastor: David’s murder was meant to cause all of us who support human rights to live in fear!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: David Kato was memorialized recently on the first anniversary of his death, a service led by Pastor Joseph Tolton, a gay rights advocate visiting from New York.
Kato’s activism in a land where homosexuality is deeply taboo made him a target for a tabloid called “Rolling Stone.” The paper published the names of what it called the country’s “top homos.” Under the words “Hang Them” was Kato’s photograph. A few days later, he was beaten to death.
Advocates say it was only the most brutal incident in an increasingly hostile environment for gays, one that could soon be written into law.
JOSEPH TOLTON: We will not be crushed by the Bahati bill.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Bahati bill, named after its author, David Bahati in Uganda’s parliament, was introduced in 2009 and reintroduced earlier this year. It would add severe penalties — death in some cases — for homosexuality, which is already illegal under anti-sodomy laws passed during British colonial times.
FRANK MUGISHA, gay rights advocate: I could be put in jail for life for not doing anything, but for saying I am a homosexual and for being out.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Frank Mugisha is Uganda’s best known gay rights advocate. He took over the group led by David Kato. Mugisha blames American evangelical pastors, including Massachusetts-based Scott Lively, for helping stoke the intolerance.
SCOTT LIVELY, pastor: What has caused these people to end up in this condition that God condemns, that is hurting them and that we want to help them to overcome?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Videos posted on the Internet show Lively conducting seminars here decrying a global homosexual agenda, insisting that homosexuality is a learned behavior that can be unlearned, and that he’d helped many people do so.
Lively denies he ever called for violence, but in a deeply religious country, Mugisha says such messages affirm local clergy and policy-makers.
FRANK MUGISHA: You have a political leader saying we should never accept homosexuality, a political leader saying if the law is passed, I’ll go to – I’ll go and take a job in the prisons to hang the homosexuals myself.
So if it is a political leader, a member of parliament saying that, then how are the people who believe, who have voted them, who listen to them, how are they going to react?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Reaction on the streets was strongly in favor of the anti-gay legislation. Polls have shown that 95 percent of Ugandans favor criminalizing homosexuality. Even David Kato’s funeral was not free of anti-gay rhetoric from a pastor.
MAN: You should repent.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When first introduced, the bill did call for the death penalty in certain cases. It provoked an international outcry among donor nations. A large part of Uganda’s budget comes from foreign aid. The measure was shelved, until what some people here called a new provocation late last year.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told this gathering in Geneva that the U.S. was placing the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people at the heart of its human rights agenda, and tying it to aid decisions.
HILLARY CLINTON: The president has directed all US government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights.
JOSEPH SERWADDA, Pastor: This is going to be very tough on Africa, because most African nations consider gayism. . .
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Gayism?
JOSEPH SERWADDA: . . . gayism as a behavior, not as a culture, not as a faith, and definitely not as a way of life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Pastor Joseph Serwadda, who heads an association of Pentecostal and evangelical churches, says Western countries are imposing their values and agenda on sub-Saharan Africa. As proof, he noted that the head of mission at the U.S. Embassy here attended the funeral of gay activist David Kato.
JOSEPH SERWADDA: Many people, thousands of them, die of HIV/AIDS, of other illnesses and ailments. Many people die in road accidents, and we’ve never seen an ambassador show up at a grave site.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Could it be because — could it be because his picture was on the front page of a magazine that said, “Hang Them?”
JOSEPH SERWADDA: Could also be because America has an agenda for homosexuals in Uganda.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Like police and prosecutors in the Kato murder case, he says robbery or a soured business deal could well have been the motive, not homophobia.
Pastor Serwadda isn’t sure he’s ever met a gay person in Uganda and says it is proof that homosexuality was never an issue here until gays in the West began stirring things up, encouraging Ugandans to push for special rights and protections they don’t need.
JOSEPH SERWADDA: Nobody has gone to jail; nobody has been harassed; nobody has been ostracized because of their sexual orientation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Wow. That’s contrary to what we hear.
JOSEPH SERWADDA: You’ve just come in the country a couple of weeks ago. We live here. I’ve lived here for more than 50 years, so I know.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But you’ve never met a gay person.
JOSEPH SERWADDA: Only one, and I wasn’t sure he was.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But you know that they’re not harassed.
JOSEPH SERWADDA: They’re not.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says the Obama administration is pushing gay rights now to court the gay vote in the U.S. election.
We tried to talk to U.S. officials for this report, but our request to interview the ambassador or any other spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Uganda was turned down. It’s an indication of how delicate the issue of gay rights is in this country.
Meanwhile, the anti-homosexuality legislation is working its way through a lengthy hearing process. Among those paying close attention is the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights and Justice in Washington.
Last year, it awarded its annual prize to Frank Mugisha.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.: Robert Kennedy would have been amazed by your work, Frank.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s the first time the award has ever been given to a gay rights campaigner.
Mugisha says the prize and the notoriety are a mixed blessing. It bestows international legitimacy and may allow him access to policy-makers. Still, with emotions running high, Mugisha says he lives in almost constant fear for his physical safety.
FRANK MUGISHA: I’m not scared of the government. I keep saying that, because if the government really wants to harm me, they will do that. But I’m scared of the ordinary people.
Just recently, when someone wrote in a newspaper about me, and if you went and read, there were Facebook comments on that, and if you read the comments, there were people who were saying they could kill me if they saw me.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On Facebook?
FRANK MUGISHA: Yeah, on the Facebook comments on the monitor. And there were people who were saying all sorts of horrible things. So you just imagine. And I interact with people, you know, and you — people tell you horrible things right to your face.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So even as Mugisha hopes that international pressure can dissuade Uganda from passing its anti-homosexuality law, he must worry about a more immediate threat: random violence that has often accompanied public discussions about homosexuality.
JEFFREY BROWN: On our website, Fred describes how difficult it was to report this story. His blog is posted on our home page at NewsHour.PBS.org.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
For Cambodian Kids, Friends International Redefines Normal
GWEN IFILL: Next, helping homeless youth in Cambodia recover their childhoods and reach for a better future.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our story.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Each day, workers with a group called Friends International try to redefine normal for street kids across Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
In makeshift gatherings like this one, part kindergarten, part clinic, the children come to get cuts and scratches tended, to play board games, or, a rare luxury, to shampoo their hair. Normal for these children is a grinding work routine, scavenging in garbage dumps or, if they’re lucky, peddling trinkets to tourists in this city of two million.
SEBASTIEN MAROT, founder, Friends International: You have about an estimated 20,000 children living and working on the streets of Phnom Penh. That is actually a huge number for a city like Phnom Penh, which is relatively small.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sebastien Marot founded Friends International 18 years ago. It now serves 95 percent of this city’s homeless youth. A former French foreign service worker, Marot took a break to visit the region.
SEBASTIEN MAROT: I arrived in Cambodia first of April ’94, and found a situation that was very difficult to imagine when you see Cambodia today, no roads, no electricity, no running water. Everyone had guns and used them. It was — the Wild West was the best description possible, so not a place you want to stay. But what happened is that I met kids.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says he was moved by the plight of so many hungry children and decided to stay and find a way to get them into productive lives and off the street.
Those streets are being transformed today. The old temples and new high-rises are being spiffed up to attract foreign tourists and investors. But Phnom Penh has also lured thousands of children and their families from the impoverished rural areas of a country still recovering from the genocidal Khmer Rouge era between 1975 and ’79, a period in which an estimated two million people died.
It’s a difficult existence. The children are often forced to support the family, or at least fend for themselves. For many, it’s a losing struggle, says Marot.
SEBASTIEN MAROT: The biggest problem we’re facing now is actually the — the serious increase in drug use in this population, which is relatively new. It started in late ’90s. There was no drugs before. And, suddenly, it exploded, and now 80 percent of the kids are using, some glue-sniffing, a lot of amphetamine, and heroin is increasing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government, struggling to control the flow of drugs from neighboring countries, has responded with a crackdown on the street. The police are always on the lookout for young people like these, most engaged in petty crime and prostitution to support their drug habits.
SEBASTIEN MAROT: The government needs to show that there is no more street kid, that the cities are clean, so they do — they destroy our building work by trying to get quick fixes. And that’s putting kids in prison. That’s cleaning the streets and putting people away, out of the eye. But that’s not a solution.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Friends International, better known in the Khmer language as Mith Samlanh, is also on the lookout for these youth, but with a very different approach.
GIRL (through translator): Mith Samlanh comes here and they educate us about HIV and drugs and so on. We don’t have enough to eat or a place to stay, so we take risks. We could be arrested.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Along with offering clean needles, condoms and lessons on safe behavior, Friends International counselors encourage these youth to come to a drop-in center for a meal or a bath, and, when they are ready, detox, a place to live and an education.
Twenty-three-year-old Sothea has lived on the street on and off for seven years. He has struggled with drug addiction, but returned to Friends for his fourth attempt to get clean and acquire job skills.
MAN (through translator): When I first came here, I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t ready for the learning environment, so I quit and went back out on the street to make money. Now the most difficult part is to try and keep myself away from drugs, from my friends on the street.
But I try not to go. I can quit drugs. I can stay away from these friends. I don’t want to let my parents down again or my very good friends here at the program.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: If he finishes, he’ll have several options to develop marketable skills. Friends International offers training in everything from automotive mechanics to construction skills to hairdressing. Even after four attempts, Marot says there is a good chance he will eventually succeed.
SEBASTIEN MAROT: We haven’t found really any child that was a lost cause, if you want. We work very hard with many children for a long time to be able to — to get them to a level that was required, but we — were always reasonably successful.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Friends International started and runs three of Phnom Penh’s finest restaurants, training grounds for students and a source of income for its programs.
Seventeen-year-old Kunthea was recruited by Friends International on the street. She was selling flowers to support her family after her father died.
TEENAGER (through translator): My experience with Friends International has been great. Now I can read. And I love cooking the most.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But having Kunthea enter a training program meant she was no longer able to help support her family. She still lives at home with her mother and three siblings.
So an important part of the Friends International approach is to help not just the youth, but also their parents. It now employs Kunthea’s mother, Sok Chenda, to sew handicrafts that are sold in its boutique, another business that funds Friends International programs.
SOK CHENDA, mother of student (through translator): Friends International helped me a lot. Without them providing me training and vocational skills, I could not feed my four children.
People say, why do you put your kids in Friends International? They won’t make any money. Better to take your daughter to work in the garment industry, so she can make money.
But I don’t. My children will have a better further than me.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many graduates of Friends International have already gone on to a better future. In two years, Darun Rin says he picked up culinary and interpersonal skills and even a bit of English.
DARUN RIN, restaurant owner: They trained me how to — like to cook the food, to serve the food to customer, and how to talk friendly.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Darun Rin got a job as a chef for the Singaporean ambassador, then went on to open his own restaurant, and is thinking of more.
DARUN RIN: To have maybe one more or two more. So, see, my plan like that, but we don’t know yet. Let’s see.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For every success story, however, there are many young people still struggling. Marot says the best shot at success is to intervene as early as possible in children’s lives, to provide early childhood education before they can fall victim to drugs.
All this costs money. Restaurants and craft shops pay for about a third of Friends International’s $6.5 million annual budget globally. Marot says it will take years to become self-sufficient and, until then, programs like these will depend on donations. Those have been hurt by the global economic slowdown.
SEBASTIEN MAROT: The current crisis is such that many of our donors just are not renewing contracts, have reduced their amounts, have less proposals than before. Luckily, we have these profits from the businesses that allow to bridge some, but that goes only that far, because our sustainability is — is limited.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There are people watching who will say, you know, why doesn’t the national government help you?
SEBASTIEN MAROT: Yes. And that’s a very good question. In some countries, this is feasible. Say, for example, we should be able to access money from the Thai government, from Indonesian government. Cambodia, the budgets are not — they’re so donor-dependent themselves as a government.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the funding challenges, the program now operates in eight countries in Southeast Asia and Central America, serving some 60,000 young people. And Friends International was recently invited to start a program for the first time in the United States. It will be in Las Vegas.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Combating Hardship in Rural Thailand
JEFFREY BROWN: Next tonight, narrowing the gap between urban and rural dwellers that exists even in a relatively prosperous country such as Thailand.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on one social entrepreneur’s project in that Southeast Asian nation.
A version of this segment aired on the PBS program “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It looks more like a theme park than a school. And it’s not just its location in one of Thailand’s most impoverished regions that’s unusual. Buildings are made of bamboo, including a geodesic dome, just one way Mechai Viravaidya getting people to think differently.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA, Thailand: Well, just to show that you can do things people don’t normally think can be done, such as getting underprivileged kids to be at the top of the scale of many, many things, of being good, being decent.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Mechai Pattana School is the cornerstone of an idea to attack rural poverty and stereotypes and to instill a new kind of learning.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: This is our sex education wheel.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The “Wheel of Fortune” game teaches about various sexually transmitted diseases.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: Green is a safe color, of course. Aha! Oh, aha! HIV, oh boy, you just missed that. And they have a good laugh, and then because HIV is explained up there. . .
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mechai has long relied on good laughs to explain HIV and sex education in this conservative Southeast Asian nation.
Born to physician parents, his mother from Scotland, his father from a prominent Thai family, Mechai was trained as an economist. But he became a TV personality who spearheaded family planning campaigns in the ’70s and, two decades later, condom use to prevent HIV.
I first interviewed him in 1998.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: We said, look, one must not be embarrassed by the condom. It’s just from a rubber tree, like a tennis ball. If you’re embarrassed by a condom, you must be more embarrassed by the tennis ball. There’s more rubber in it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mechai is credited with bringing down Thailand’s soaring HIV infection rate and its high birth rate, work that won him numerous international awards, including the $1 million dollar Gates Foundation Prize for Global Health.
Dr. Malcolm Potts, former head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, says it changed the future of Thailand.
DR. MALCOLM POTTS, former head, International Planned Parenthood Federation: In 1960, Thailand and the Philippines had about the same population, about 60 million people, 50 million people. Today, the Philippines has 94 million people, and there’s a lot of poverty. Thailand has 1.8 children per family. It’s got about 68 million people, and it’s making progress.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Potts was an early collaborator with Mechai. He says population stability was an economic stepping stone.
DR. MALCOLM POTTS: I think it’s a seamless evolution. Mechai, at least in the past, used to talk about fertility-led development.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thailand, now considered a middle-income country, faces a different crisis that Mechai is attacking: a growing economic gap between its rural and urban areas that forces young people to leave the farms to find work.
On a beach resort once owned by Mechai’s family — it’s now run by a non-profit group he founded — is a garden of so-called intensive agriculture. He wants to develop appropriate sustainable technology to increase incomes in farm families.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: This is the new style condom. This is the poverty eradication condom.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The unusual metaphor aside, he says these recycled bags of potting soil can grow produce, in this case cantaloupes, with a minimum of water and space and maximum profit.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: You’d grow it four times a year, so that’s 34,000 baht. That’s just under a thousand dollars for this much space, nearly as good as marijuana. Might be even better. Don’t have to share with the police, either.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: All joking aside, he says other Thai staples, mushrooms, limes, poultry and hydroponic produce, can easily be grown in rural enterprises, like those he’s helped set up in Buriram Province, about four hours from Bangkok.
He’s worked here for two decades, introducing his crop ideas. Earlier in his career, he helped bring factories to the region. They now operate independently.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: You have a factory in the middle of nowhere here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This shoe factory was started with international grants. It now provides work for 140 to 200 people, producing mostly for the multinational Bata shoe company.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: We helped, from Canadian money again, to provide a loan for them to establish a factory building, and then helped to get Bata to come in, rented the machinery and then bought the machinery, and they’ve been on their own for about 15 years.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A short distance away are buildings once used to train people to raise livestock. Now they are factories, making brassieres in this building, ice skates in the next.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: How could you imagine an old chicken pen and an old pig pen making this stuff, or brassieres?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Was it really a tough sell at first?
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: Oh, yes, took seven visits. They did it out of pity at first. And then they realized that it worked. And when the first — when we bring someone new down, they can’t quite fathom it, how can it be done, because they have been so used to the perception that you do everything like this in Bangkok, in the city.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The factories provide livable, if not lucrative, wages and social benefits. But to truly transform rural communities, Mechai says will take new approaches to education.
And that’s where the bamboo school comes in. It is now 3 years old, serving grades seven through 10. Funds to build it came from profits from his resort, the Gates prize money, and corporate donations. Longer term, the school is developing its own vegetable farm, a key part of its business strategy.
So when this is up and running and flourishing, the cantaloupes and the limes will be paying the teacher salaries here?
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: Yes. Amongst other things, really, yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The motto here is, the more you give, the more you get. Aside from academics, every student and family face strict work requirements.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: The parents do community service, and the kids do community service, and for every lunch time or meal time you have to do one hour’s community service, so that payment is in providing help to other people, plus their school fees.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As part of their service, these students were preparing lesson plans to teach younger children in a nearby government school. It’s part of their training in leadership and critical thinking, and a departure from the rote learning standard in most Thai public schools.
RUTHAICHANOK JUNPENG, student (through translator): The teachers are here to teach us, but they’re also like friends, like an older friend that you can go to for advice, not just about what you’re learning.
PIMPAKAIN SIRI, student (through translator): My parents are rice farmers, and I expect my future to be quite different, because I want to become a doctor, and I believe I can do that. I’ve learned new ways to help my parents, who are used to doing agriculture the traditional ways. And I can help raise their income.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And because students at Mechai’s school regularly volunteer, they feel connected to their rural communities, says teacher Nantina Saninchai. She predicts two-thirds of them will create or find jobs here.
NANTINA SANINCHAI, teacher (through translator): So a number will stay here. They have computers, et cetera, similar to what they would in the city.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ideas from Mechai’s school are catching on with various backyard enterprises. On weekends in the village of Banong Takem, children collect litter in exchange for spending time online at a community center or in a toy and book library.
Parents prepare food and hand out treats. The village chief, Chamleung Panrin, says one reason this community thrives is that parents are around for their children.
CHAMLEUNG PANRIN, village chief (through translator): Eight years ago, migration was rampant. Everybody would leave, and you only had children being brought up by the grandparents. Now it has very greatly improved.
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: The only road out of poverty is through business enterprise, and this is what we’re doing. Teach them, train them, lend them the money, not give them the money, and the business skills, but probably very, very important to go with it too is community empowerment.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And you need to start it young?
MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA: Yes. Yes, start them young. When you start learning how to give when you’re young, when you get older it’s second nature. Just like stealing. Start young and you keep on stealing forever.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mechai says he won’t mind if more people steal this self-help model of building community and nation.
MARGARET WARNER: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Cambodia Garment Worker Justice
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Back in the 1990s, Cambodia, impoverished and rebuilding after its genocidal Khmer Rouge years, took steps to give its new garment industry a competitive leg up. It agreed to a system of fair labor standards with a minimum wage rule, a limit to working hours, unions to represent workers, and freedom of expression. All would be open to international inspection. Today, there are perhaps 400,000 garment workers in more than 300 factories in and near the capital, Phnom Penh. They are subcontractors to brand names and retailers in Europe and America.
Beginning from scratch less than two decades ago, Cambodia’s garment industry has grown into the largest export earner for this country. Three out of four dollars that come into Cambodia come from the garment factories.
The key question is how much all this has benefited workers, almost all of whom are female. Many factories have been plagued by labor unrest. Occasionally, it’s been violent. There have been frequent reports of faintings on factory floors. The unions cite unhealthy conditions and workers weak from malnourishment.
CHEA MONY (Trade Union Leader): Workers have very low salaries, only $61US per month. You cannot afford to live on that day to day. It’s legalized slavery.
DE SAM LAZARO: Chea introduced us to these workers. Like most of their colleagues, they are young, rural migrants living in tight, shared quarters, supporting extended families back home.
SOY NAKRY (Garment Worker): We have to pay for the room, electricity, water.
VONG SOPHAL (Garment Worker): In the evening, we just buy some fish and make some soup. Sometimes we have to keep part of it for breakfast.
DE SAM LAZARO: Chem Savet supports a farm family in a rural province 60 miles away, including her husband, her parents, and two-year-old daughter.
CHEM SAVET (Garment Worker): I can only see her once a month. When I go home she really misses me, so she hugs me, especially when I must leave one day later. One time she put some of her clothes in when I was packing. She wanted to come with me.
DE SAM LAZARO: The standard six-day, 48-hour week plus overtime leaves little time for travel to see family. Factory managers aren’t sympathetic during family emergencies, they complained, and many employees are on temporary instead of permanent employment contracts.
FEMALE GARMENT WORKER: Previously, we saw a lot of strikes, but those haven’t happened recently in our factory because there are a lot of newcomers.
DAVID SCHILLING (Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility): The minimum wage clearly is not sufficient for workers to meet their basic needs. We’re talking food. We’re talking clothing.
DE SAM LAZARO: David Schilling is with the New York-based Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. It’s a shareholder activist group that wants to add a moral voice in global economic matters.
SCHILLING: Whether you’re talking about all the Abrahamic traditions, the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, at the core is that concept of the human dignity of the person. So you’re taking that and then you’re moving into the realities.
DE SAM LAZARO: Ken Loo represents Cambodia’s garment factory owners. He sees a very different reality for workers.
KEN LOO (Cambodia Garment Manufacturing Association): They’re not whipped, you know. They’re not chained. They come to work willingly.
DE SAM LAZARO: He says most garment workers make more than the $61 minimum wage; closer to $90 dollars a month, he says, higher with overtime. That’s more than policemen, teachers, or most civil servants, he adds.
LOO: We have to put things in context. The per capita GDP of Cambodia for last year as announced by the World Bank was $908. The average common factory worker earns 40 percent more than national per capita GDP. If you use that as a gauge, I think any worker in America would be glad to get 40 percent more than national per capita GDP.
DE SAM LAZARO: Cambodia’s minister of commerce says factory owners have little wiggle room because they are no more than contract tailors.
CHAM PRASIDH (Cambodian Minister of Commerce): They do not own the fabric. They do not own the brand. They just import the fabric, cut, sew, pack, and then sell.
DE SAM LAZARO: Prasidh could impose higher wages in the factories, most of which are owned by investors from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Malaysia. But he says that would be suicidal.
PRASIDH: There is a lot of demonstration to ask for living condition, ask to increase the minimum wage, and what happen? The investor just packed their sewing machine, and they go home!
DE SAM LAZARO: Or they go to another country?
PRASIDH: They go to another country so we have to compare that, our price with Bangladesh. We have to compare our price with Pakistan or India, yeah, or even with China.
DE SAM LAZARO: San Francisco-based Gap is the largest buyer of garments made in Cambodia. It also buys from dozens of other developing nations. Spokeswoman Bobbi Silten says Gap, which owns the Old Navy and Banana Republic chains as well, has no plans to leave Cambodia.
BOBBI SILTEN (Gap Foundation): We have very longstanding relationships with many of the vendors in Cambodia. It’s been one of our top ten sourcing countries for the last ten years. So we are very committed to being there, and we think that the labor standards that they have put in place is one of the reasons why we continue to stay.
DE SAM LAZARO: Ken Loo says buyers may talk up the labor standards. But in 2008, when the global recession began, many, including Gap, cut back in Cambodia. At the same time, he says, Bangladesh-with lower pay and labor standards-saw no drop in business.
LOO: It just confirms our knowledge that, indeed, compliance of labor standards is the icing on the cake. Price is the cake.
PRASIDH: It is a race to the bottom, and Cambodia-to survive we have to create something special.
DE SAM LAZARO: Jill Tucker says Cambodia does have a special competitive advantage since buyers want to be associated with ethical labor standards. Tucker heads an agency supported by the UN and the US government that conducts factory inspections for compliance with the labor standards.
JILL TUCKER (Better Factories Initiative): In the olden days, by that I mean maybe ten years ago, it was more of a cat-and-mouse game than it is now, and the really smart producers, I think, realize that, you know, you need to treat your workers well to retain your workers, and that it’s just not worth it to not treat your workers well.
DE SAM LAZARO: She cites this factory, run by a Taiwan-based company, QMI, as a good example. There’s plenty of air and light and, managers say, good labor relations. All ten thousand of QMI’s workers are on permanent contracts, and wages here range from $90 to as much as $150 a month. That’s still below what unions say is adequate. But Tucker says demands for higher wages, however justified, are a tough sell given realities in the US, the biggest market.
TUCKER: I really wonder if American consumers are willing to pay significantly more for their apparel.
DE SAM LAZARO: Really?
TUCKER: Yeah. The cost of apparel has only dropped over the past decade. None of us are paying more for our garments than we were 10 years ago.
SILTEN: We do need to think about what consumers are willing to pay, where we can source these goods to achieve, you know, get the math to work for everyone. From a macro standpoint I think it’s a very complex issue.
DE SAM LAZARO: Gap’s Silten isn’t sure if consumers would pay more for ethically produced garments. The Interfaith Center’s Schilling says retailers like Gap, pressured by competitors and Wall Street investors, aren’t likely to ask them to do so. More likely, he says, campaigns by activist groups should bring a greater awareness of worker rights issues as they are now on environmental ones.
SCHILLING: There’s more and more advertising around, you know, sort of ecologically sound products. I think more and more that’s going to happen within the social space as well.
DE SAM LAZARO: That would bring greater awareness of the plight of workers in Cambodia and more urgently other nations that don’t subscribe to fair labor standards, and Schilling says it could not happen fast enough.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro.
Niger Leads West Africa in Addressing Drought and Famine
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: a looming famine in West Africa and one country’s move to address chronic food shortages.
Our story is part of the Food for 9 Billion series, a multimedia project that explores the challenges of feeding a growing world in a time of social and environmental change. It’s a NewsHour partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Homelands Productions, and American Public Media’s Marketplace.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Niger, one of eight drought-stricken countries where relief officials say millions of people are at risk of starvation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At 8:00 a.m. each day, the weigh-in begins at the health center near Madarounfa, a town near Niger’s remote southern border with Nigeria.
Babies are weighed and the girth of their arms also measured, a color-coded proxy for malnutrition and famine. There was still an occasional green, or normal, on this day. Children in the yellow zone were more common, but in a few weeks, many more will fall, like Amina, into the red.
Tests followed to assess her condition before Amina was transferred to the emergency feeding center a few miles away. It is near capacity, and the medical supervisor expects they will begin pitching expansion tents much earlier this year.
DR. HASSAN AOUADE, Niger (through translator): In May, our admissions were up more than 10 percent from 2011, and that usually means our June and July will be really bad.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hunger is widespread in this region and famine frequent. But that very routineness is helping relief workers anticipate and contain the damage this year far better than the last crisis, in 2010, says the U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams.
BISA WILLIAMS, United States Ambassador to Niger: This is not like the situation in 2010. I think we are better prepared, and I think it is because the government of President Issoufou really did alert the community very early. They sounded the alarm as far back as October, September of last year.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Williams says unlike earlier governments, which denied or downplayed famines, President Mahamadou Issoufou, elected early in 2011, has declared food security a top priority.
MAHAMADOU ISSOUFOU, President of Niger (through translator): I remember the first big drought in 1973-’74. Then again, in 1984, we had another one. Since then, the time between droughts has been getting shorter, and I believe this is attributable to climate change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Niger is a landlocked former French colony. The Sahara Desert lies in the north and has steadily crept into the semi-arid south, where most food is grown. Adding to this desertification, farmers for decades cleared fields of trees and saplings. They saw no benefit to them and, in any event, under colonial law, trees were state property, seen as a timber resource.
Drought and rapid population growth added to the cutting. By 1975, images from U.S. Geological Survey satellites showed a virtual desert.
President Issoufou said Niger must address desertification if it is to get beyond the chronic food emergencies.
MAHAMADOU ISSOUFOU (through translator): That’s why we have created the 3N initiative, Nigerians helping Nigerians. It’s a structural response to the food crises that are consistently linked with our recurrent droughts. We are convinced that drought does not need to mean famine.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A key part of the 3N program is to expand a greening initiative that was actually begun more than two decades ago. This year across Niger, people have been given temporary jobs to tide them through the so-called hunger season, the lean period until the harvest arrives in normal years in September. A major goal of such public works projects is to reverse desertification.
ABDOULAYE SALEY, Farmer (through translator): They give us food to dig these holes. We get four kilos of maize and six kilos of beans. This land is very dry, and they told us it will have trees. We can have better crops and fodder for our animals.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The shallow half-moon shaped depressions they’re digging trap rainwater and tree seeds blown across the land or dropped by animals. It’s hard to imagine anything sprouting from such barren conditions. But that’s exactly what’s happened in a wide swath of southern Niger, naturally, says Chris Reij, a Dutch scientist who has worked in this region since the 1970s.
CHRIS REIJ, Dutch Scientist: If you look around you, not a single tree that you see here has been planted. It’s all coming from seed stock in the soil, or it’s coming from trees that were cut in the past. And the root system is still alive. And, given a chance to emerge, it will grow, or it comes from the seeds that you find in the manure that the livestock is depositing here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says the trees have kept desert sandstorms at bay and restored land to productivity, even though its not that visible early in the rainy season.
So this is a crop. It doesn’t look like much, because it looks like it’s coming out of a desert.
CHRIS REIJ: This is millet, which is one of the main crops here. And it has just been sown probably two weeks ago. But in three months’ time, it will be about one and a half to two meters high, and this whole field will be lush green.
MAN: The leaves on the soil will protect the crop from drought. It will hold the moisture in the soil.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chris Reij and a colleague, Tony Rinaudo, began championing agroforestry in the ’80s, specifically, a model for protecting trees on farmland they first observed on a farm in Burkina Faso, Niger’s neighbor to the west. Their work was picked up, among others, by the aid group World Vision, which produced this video.
Farmers like Sakina Mati were employed to spread the word on the benefits and the new law which gives farmers ownership of trees.
SAKINA MATI, Farmer (through translator): We began using this technique in 2006, and it has worked well for us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One of the key goals was to dispel a commonly held notion that the payback is years away, says Chris Reij.
CHRIS REIJ: Even in the first year, you need to start pruning, so that the tree develops a trunk and starts developing a canopy. So, even in the first year, you already have some benefits by leaves and some twigs the women can use as firewood in the kitchen. And by year two or three, certain trees will be taller than you and me.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Trees that are pruned grow sturdier trunks, yielding abundant firewood, the main cooking fuel.
The leaves form livestock fodder and trap moisture in the soil. Improved soil fertility can mean better harvests. And already a few villages have surpluses. The surpluses have been gathered into a grain bank in Dan Saga and many other villages in this region.
In Dan Saga, drought took a severe toll on the harvest last year. But people here said that hasn’t translated to famine.
WOMAN (through translator): The grain bank is helping us a lot. It is keeping our children fed until the harvest comes in.
MAN (through translator): If we didn’t have the grain bank, most of the men wouldn’t be farming. They’d have to leave to find work to buy food.
MAN (through translator): Another benefit of the cereal bank is that it helps keep the price of grain down.
CHRIS REIJ: In a sea of difficulty, we find here examples where a surplus, a grain surplus, has been produced in the drought year 2011.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Throughout southern Niger, Reij says re-greening has increased food production by about 500,000 tons per year, enough to feed two-and-a-half million people.
The challenge is to scale it up for a population of 16 million and that sea of difficulty. It will require education, everything from farming know-how to account-keeping at the grain bank and access to family planning. Literacy is just 30 percent, and the average woman bears seven children, a rate that will triple the number of mouths to feed by 2050.
And the gains have yet to reach vast numbers of people, especially children like Amina with immediate, pressing needs. U.S. Ambassador Williams is optimistic Niger can make progress over the long term, also that a catastrophe can be avoided from this year’s famine. But she says it won’t be easy.
BISA WILLIAMS: There are at least 15 percent of children under 2 that are really, really hungry. So you are right. There is no magic bullet. It’s not — this is not something that has a quick fix to it. Development by its nature is a long-term process.
Everyone knows that this can’t be resolved by the internationals. They are going to have to be embraced and be local. And I think that is what we are seeing in Niger.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, President Issoufou says he’s acutely aware of Niger’s chronic neediness and of so-called donor fatigue.
MAHAMADOU ISSOUFOU (through translator): I understand why donors would be tired of supporting our population. We ourselves are tired of needing the help, of not being able to feed our own people. For us in Niger, it’s a matter of shame not to be able to feed our children. That’s why we say, please, don’t give us fish to eat. Teach us to fish for ourselves.
That’s why we need to escape from emergency aid. We need to help our population produce and provide for itself.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Niger does have a reason for hope. Remember the 1975 satellite picture? This is a more recent one from 2005. Chris Reij says Niger has grown 200 million trees over the past two decades, the only country in Africa to have actually added forest cover to its land in this period.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A version of Fred’s story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.” His reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Online, Fred filed a blog about his reporting trip to Niger. In it, he examines what makes this famine different from previous hunger crises. That’s on the Rundown page on our website.
Microlending Makes Jump to Developed World
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s action by the Federal Reserve, as we said earlier, is aimed at making it easier for businesses to borrow and then spend money.
Our next story is about another effort to help business owners, in this case, low-income American entrepreneurs who are just getting started.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on bringing an approach that’s worked well in developing countries to the U.S.
A version of this story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The billboards and signs in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, N.Y., reflect dozens of languages, cultures, and nationalities. It’s an immigrant community of rich diversity, but also plenty of poverty. And there’s a store for that, too: an American version of Bangladesh’s famous Grameen Bank.
No fancy lobby here — there aren’t even enough chairs. But from this and five other cramped quarters in Queens and as far away as Oakland, Calif., Grameen America disburses dozens of micro business loans each day — most for around $1,500, all of them to women, who studies show are more likely to repay loans and to spend money on their children’s welfare.
It is the brainchild of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, whose Grameen Bank has helped millions of women entrepreneurs in his native Bangladesh. He wanted to test the concept in a developed country.
With foundation grants and borrowing commercially under a federal community reinvestment law, Grameen America began in 2008, to wary customer reception, says CEO Stephen Vogel.
STEPHEN VOGEL, Grameen America: They were afraid that what we were offering — a low-cost loan, no collateral, no credit scores, no history necessarily of being in business, and we would give them a loan — they were afraid that there would be something that was going to come back in the end.
It would be, we’ll raise the interest rates, we would do something. But we didn’t.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But word spread quickly, he says. Already, many borrowers, like Maria del Socorro, have paid off first and second Grameen loans.
Del Socorro, a Colombia native who had only had housekeeping jobs before, opened her decorations business. She’s fulfilling a lifelong goal to turn her crafting skills into a business. Business is good and growing, she says.
MARIA DEL SOCORRO, small business owner (through translator): It’s good. I do all kinds of events, like birthdays, first communions, weddings. All the foam work you see is done by hand. I do all of this by hand.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She is among 11,000 women who have received loans from Grameen America, says operation chief Shah Newaz.
When you were starting out in Bangladesh working for Grameen, did you ever dream that you’d be working with poor people in the United States of America?
SHAH NEWAZ, Grameen America: No.
SHAH NEWAZ: It is the world’s biggest — richest country of the world. And the formula we developed, that is the poorest country of the world.
STEPHEN VOGEL: The United States is a country that everyone thinks has money, doesn’t have any poor people. We have 40 — more than 45 million people living in poverty in the United States.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And he says it takes much more than financing to help them break out of it: business counseling, keeping the books, paying bills, even opening savings accounts, which is required of borrowers.
Even that is often not enough. Joe Selvaggio, a former Catholic priest who’s worked for decades with poor people, says many would-be entrepreneurs fail because their finances are precarious.
JOE SELVAGGIO, MicroGrants: The car got impounded or they got sick or their kids got sick or their landlord. One time, we gave a check to somebody, and they ate up almost the whole $1,000 with bank overdraft charges.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Selvaggio runs MicroGrants, a Minnesota nonprofit that works alongside those who provide microloans. But he says new entrepreneurs often need something more to get them over the hump.
So he gives them grants of $1,000. Several MicroGrants clients are in Midtown Global Market, located in a long-shuttered Sears Roebuck store in a recovering Minneapolis neighborhood.
JOE SELVAGGIO: A lot of those places already had a $5,000 loan for inventory, but they can’t — they don’t want any more loans. They can’t make the cash flow, so $1,000 injection of cash is really helpful.
LAURA SANCHEZ, borrower: We used the money for — like, to fix the store, displays or, like, decorations for the store.
TRUNG PHAM, borrower: What we used the MicroGrants dollars for at the time for more signage.
MARTIN AKINSEYE, borrower: I used it to purchase about 30 handmade Senegalese drums, which we use to offer free drum lessons every Sunday.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Salvador de Montesinos works as a masseur and part-time cook to make ends meet. His $1,000 grant brought him closer to the goal of earning a living as an artist. He was able to buy a machine to make prints, which are much easier to sell than his very high-priced originals.
SALVADOR DE MONTESINOS, Borrower: This is $140. And this is $70,000.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tell me that again?
SALVADOR DE MONTESINOS: One hundred and forty dollars, and $70,000.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some day, he hopes to live off sales of originals.
So you’ve sold three originals so far?
SALVADOR DE MONTESINOS: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Over how many years?
SALVADOR DE MONTESINOS: In all my life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Well, surprise, he sells about 10 times that number of the cheaper prints per year.
One MicroGrants client who’s closer to her lifelong goals is Shantae Holmes. She opened a laundromat in Minneapolis’s economically depressed North Side two years ago, a community she’s deeply committed to.
SHANTAE HOLMES, borrower: I wanted a business that served a need, not a want. I didn’t want to compete with the cell phone places. I didn’t want to compete with the red hair and fake hair and all of that stuff. There is enough of that. I didn’t want the bargain clothing or gym shoes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her business began with small loans, but the real source of stability and profit come from a six-figure U.S. Army contract to service a Minnesota-based unit, also help from Jamara Cheek, who is with nonprofit that helps minority entrepreneurs.
JAMARA CHEEK, Metropolitan Economic Development Association: She had no experience with government contracting. People are overwhelmed and daunted by government rules and regulations.
And we literally held her hand and coached her through that process. It took four months after submitting an offer of her services to the government for her to hear back from them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, the huge volume of new business required a commercial truck she could not afford. The $1,000 down payment assistance from MicroGrants salvaged her major contract, she says.
SHANTAE HOLMES: It takes money to make money, so, therefore, it was like, oh, I need some help to be able to get my bills at a zero balance. And Joe came in and made it easy for me.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Joe Selvaggio, Holmes is a star client — a 41-year-old mother of three who was able to turn around an earlier life of chemical dependency and cancer.
So far, Selvaggio has disbursed more than $2 million in $1,000 grants. He gets funds from foundations and many wealthy Minnesotans he got to know from his days as a priest.
JOE SELVAGGIO: These are entrepreneurs that have made money, you know, on their own,
And they appreciate the, you know, principles of responsibility, accountability, production, getting, you know, business principles of delivering a quality product on time at a reasonable price.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Grameen America’s CEO, Vogel, himself a successful entrepreneur who also founded a private equity firm, says it’s critical that small enterprises be nurtured among low-income Americans. It’s not just the best bet for people in poverty, he says; it’s often the only option.
STEPHEN VOGEL: They can’t get a job. Jobs are very tight. Overtime is very tight. Many of our borrowers do have jobs. They have part-time jobs, and they’re using these business opportunities to increase their income.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With its careful oversight and counseling, he says Grameen America’s loan repayment rate has been 99-plus percent — far better than anything seen in big commercial banks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: It’s lush, verdant fields are a food basket for the Philippines. But Mindanao is also a tense, highly militarized place. Tens of thousands of people across this Indiana-sized island have been forced to flee their homes for squalid camps.
On paper, there’s a ceasefire in the long-running insurgency in this most Muslim region of the Philippines, a predominantly Christian nation.
Nonviolent Peaceforce Monitor: “Died on the spot, the girl…”
DE SAM LAZARO: However, the threat of sporadic fighting is never far away. Two days before we got here, this six-year-old child was caught in a cross fire….
DE SAM LAZARO: Taking notes on incidents and conditions in the camps are unarmed observers-foreign and local-with a group called Nonviolent Peaceforce.
Monitor: How many families are still in Luanan?
Translator: There are still 104 families staying here. We go to our farms during the day but come back here at night.
DE SAM LAZARO: The presence of these monitors and their constant interaction deep inside communities is credited with helping prevent flareups, lower the number of skirmishes, and preserve the precarious ceasefire. They are praised both by the Philippine army, which patrols some areas of the island, and the main rebel group that covers the rest: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Front’s roots lie in a movement by ethnic Moros who are Muslim. It initially sought independence but over the years has moderated the demand to greater autonomy from Manila.
(to MILF member): Do you consider yourself Filipino?
RASHID LADIASAN (Secretary, MILF): No. No. By citizenship, yes; by nationality, no. I am a Moro by nationality.
DE SAM LAZARO: Mindanao has known conflict for centuries, beginning with resistance to the Spanish colonists and more recently, resistance to the incorporation of this island into the Philippine republic. That happened in 1946. And since then migrants from other islands have come here and today those mostly Christian settlers outnumber the mostly Muslim original islanders by better than two to one.
Journalist Glenda Gloria, who wrote a book about the Mindanao conflict, says its as much about economic inequality as religion. She says much today’s problems trace back to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1965 to 1986.
GLENDA GLORIA (Author of Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao): The Marcos government instituted a lot of government policies that oppressed the minority Muslims, that took them away from the economic and political pie, and after that the abusive military really violated human rights just to run after these rebels who wanted to separate from the republic at that point.
DE SAM LAZARO: That sowed the seeds for radicalization among some rebel fighters, she says. By the 1990s, a regional Al Qaeda affiliate called Abu Sayyef began to thrive.
(to Philippine officers): Is Abu Sayyef growing?
Philippine Officers: As far as we are concerned, it’s not growing. They are still confined. Just one of the successes of our government security forces in that portion of Mindanao.
DE SAM LAZARO: Philippine officials say they’ve largely defeated Abu Sayyef as a military threat, helped by US advisors who remain in the region. And recent governments have made progress toward a peace treaty, offering greater autonomy and control over the island’s resources to the Moro people. And officially there’s a ceasefire. However, between splinter rebel factions and clashes among rival warlords the ground reality is still unsettled.
NP Monitors: The military has set up a camp. Does that still not give you enough confidence to be staying there at night?
DE SAM LAZARO: Back at the displaced persons camp, community leader Abdul Manan Ali said armed groups continue to pose a threat.
ABDUL MANON ALI: I think families are still insecure about the situation…
DE SAM LAZARO: A few minutes later, the monitors were relaying the citizens’ concerns to the Philippine military, which is in charge of security in this region.
LT. COL. BENJAMIN HAO (Philippine Army): Some of the members of community are suggesting to bring my platoons nearer. I have no problem with that. The problem is bringing military into the community might cause another problem, so we have to study this some more.
DE SAM LAZARO: Among the many shortages, trust is a major one, and that’s a void that both sides agree the foreign civilians are filling.
LADIASAN: Only unarmed civilian protection monitors would be effective, because our people have been traumatized. If they only see government and MILF working for civilian protection, there is no impartiality.
MAJ. CARLOS SOL (Philippine Army): Since they are foreigners the perception could be they are neutral compared to local organizations that are involved in the peace process.
DE SAM LAZARO: Regardless of their faith.
MAJ. SOL: Regardless of their faith. I think the Nonviolent Peaceforce is a mixture of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims.
DE SAM LAZARO: The group is now based in Belgium but was started in Minneapolis. Co-founder Mel Duncan, who was in Mindanao during our visit, says his earliest inkling that the concept might work came in the eighties. He was living in Nicaragua where he’d gone as a peace activist during the civil war there.
MEL DUNCAN (Founder, Nonviolent Peaceforce): What we found over a seven-year period was none of those villages were ever attacked when there was an international presence. This was at a period of a war where 50,000 people were being killed.
DE SAM LAZARO: Refining and putting the idea into practice took years of studying of similar attempts, he says, including an ill-fated one during Bosnia’s civil war.
DUNCAN: In the mid-90s, there was an effort fnear Sada in Sarajevo where people primarily from Europe had been recruited, many of them not trained, and they came into a situation where they in fact drew artillery into the areas where they were trying to protect and they made a lot of problems in terms of having to be taken out.
DE SAM LAZARO: In contrast, monitors hired by Nonviolent Peaceforce are full time and salaried-about $1500 per month. They come to stay, hire local staffers and work with local civic groups. Raghu Menon, trained as a lawyer in India, says it makes a big difference.
RAGHU MENON (Monitor): As you will see, there are no fences, no guards outside our office in spite of the fact that Pikit, where we are based, is considered a dangerous place by most Filipinos. But because we are living in the community, which supports our work, which understands our work, I think we draw a lot of our security from that.
DE SAM LAZARO: Long before they deploy, the group spends months studying the conflict, meeting the key players, and forging partnerships with citizen groups.
DUNCAN: We have to engage with local partners who can understand things in ways that internationals will never be able. War is complicated, and so is peace. And we’re always learning at this and that’s-we have to remain humble and this is not a tool that fits every situation and that will rid the world of war.
DE SAM LAZARO: The group’s first deployment was in Sri Lanka during its civil war, where Duncan says it was particularly effective in rescuing child soldiers. Besides Mindanao, monitors now serve in South Sudan and Georgia. And he hopes they can serve in more conflict zones soon.
DUNCAN: We certainly could provide effective protection in Myanmar. In Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps in Syria as the conflict unfolds.
DE SAM LAZARO: Nonviolent Peaceforce’s annual budget of $7.5 million comes from the UN and governments from several developed nations, though not the U.S.-Duncan says “not yet”-and among its merits could be the price tag. Duncan says an unarmed civilian costs about half what the UN pays to deploy a typical armed blue-helmeted soldier.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro on the Philippine island of Mindanao.
This Irish-Catholic priest rescues women and children from the sex trade.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: Angeles City is one of the Asia’s most notorious sex districts. Even on a rainy evening, dozens of young women were outside their establishments on the look out for customers.
FATHER SHAY CULLEN: Don’t touch me, ma’am.
DE SAM LAZARO: Shay Cullen cuts a promising customer profile around here, and on this night he was frequently accosted. In fact, the 74-year-old Ireland-born Dominican Catholic priest has campaigned for four decades to clean up this district.
The boom in commercial sex here dates back to the Vietnam War, when the U.S. military greatly expanded its Philippine bases nearby. Today, Father Shay, as he’s called around here, says 12,000 women work this strip.
(speaking to Fr. Cullen): Where do they come from primarily?
CULLEN: The majority in this area are coming from North America, Australia is quite big, Koreans, there’s special clubs here for the Koreans, but also from Europe, we have Germans, Swedes.
DE SAM LAZARO: Over the years, Father Cullens’s People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development-or PREDA Foundation-has sheltered and rehabilitated thousands of young women rescued from the sex trade.
CULLEN: Many of the girls are underage and young and available. On these clubs and bars, this is only the outer, the more legitimate looking trafficking of human beings, no, but the trafficking of minors, younger girls is secret, and it operates on a different system. It’s all done by cell phone, without any direct contact between the supplier, the trafficker, and the customer. They have go-betweens.
DE SAM LAZARO: Their stories have common threads: physical or sexual abuse in childhood and families in various forms of dysfunction and separation. In all cases, abject poverty underlies their child labor and prostitution.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: They told me that I was only to work there as a housemaid or house helper but after 4 days of being there they brought me to a bar to work there as a guest relation officer.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: I left our house because I had a misunderstanding with my grandmother. My parents are not here. My father is in Saudi Arabia and I don’t know where my mother is.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: I was inside the room of Alex and he had instructed me to remove my clothes. So we were naked when the NBI arrived in the house.
DE SAM LAZARO: Many of the young women and girls brought here were rescued by NBI, the National Bureau of Investigation, usually responding to reports and pressure from PREDA and other advocacy groups that look out for potential trafficking victims.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: I didn’t want to leave because I needed the help of the pimp. I could not survive without it.
DE SAM LAZARO: Father Cullen says the goal of counseling here is to allow these children to be children. Many have come from jails where they were sentenced for petty crimes. Many are reconciled, if not comfortable, with a life of prostitution before they come to PREDA.
CULLEN: So the first thing, the service, is the sense of welcome, acceptance, relief and protection. You’re safe at last. No one can touch you again. They meet friends who suffered the same, so it’s not only me, and the essence of our program, of course, is giving affirmation. They’ve been told they’re nothing, they’re worthless, they’re only good for prostitution.
MARLENE RICHTER: This is the hotline…
DE SAM LAZARO: The PREDA Foundation runs a hotline to rescue women and girls from prostitution. They can call in or, as many now prefer, send a text message.
RICHTER: December 2011, I received 756 texts.
DE SAM LAZARO: The hotline is never far from Marlene Richter, one of 19 counselors and facilitators who work here. She coordinates rescues with law enforcement, a job the 31-year-old may be singularly well-qualified for. When she was 13, Richter and an even younger child prostitute were rescued.
RICHTER: I have two abusers, one from Germany, one from Netherlands. That’s the time that our abuser fly back to Germany and Father Shay helped us in pursuing our legal case in Germany.
CULLEN: I alerted our contacts, ECPAT in Germany, which is a campaign to end child prostitution and pornography. And in a week or so we’re on a plane, Marlene gets up and gave her testimony and everything and that’s it. Then he was-within a week he’s convicted and sentenced.
DE SAM LAZARO: It was a rare triumph. Most cases proceed far more slowly and must be pursued in a Philippine legal system riddled with corruption.
GERONIMO SY (Prosecutor, Department of Justice): Who polices the policemen? Who prosecutes the prosecutor? Who judges the judge? Who polices a corrupt media, you know, when everybody’s in cahoots, especially these are well entrenched interests? So that’s a major challenge.
Geronimo Sy, Prosecutor, Department of Justice
DE SAM LAZARO: The two-year-old administration of President Benigno Aquino has tried to crack down. Trafficking is now a non-bailable offense, for example. But Fr. Cullen fears that could actually increase corruption.
CULLEN: If you make the penalty so huge that the bribe has to be so huge and they pay it because of the penalty would be in prison.
DE SAM LAZARO: That’s so ironic, that the harder you penalize somebody the higher the stakes are for people to make money on the deal.
CULLEN: Exactly, and therefore the temptation of the judges and the prosecutors is just, you know, fantastic.
DE SAM LAZARO: The U.S. State Department, which monitors trafficking worldwide, has the Philippines on a watch list. But it does praise a stepped-up government commitment, noting there were a record 27 convictions in 2011. But Father Cullen says the influential church leaders in this predominantly Catholic nation have not been sufficiently committed.
CULLEN: There have been statements made from time to time, but in practice as regards challenging the sex industry and the tourist industry, they have not taken a stand against this as they have with, say, taken a stand against contraception, for which they are very outspoken at the moment.
DE SAM LAZARO: Father Shay Cullen, ordained in 1969, describes himself as a product of the historic Second Vatican Council that exhorted Catholics to be outspoken on poverty and social justice issues. He arrived in the Philippines in 1972.
CULLEN: You couldn’t miss it coming here and seeing it on the streets and all around, so it made a strong, no, challenge, no to me, personally to, you know, get out of the rectory and into the streets more or less.
DE SAM LAZARO: He actively campaigned to close the U.S. naval base in Subic Bay, arguing that it wasn’t in the Philippines’ best interest. The base was closed in 1992. And he sued the U.S. government to help the support of thousands of children born to Filipina women and U.S. servicemen fathers, with whom they have no relationship. But to make a dent in the entrenched sex industry, he wants to attack the underlying poverty. As long as it persists, he says, people will be vulnerable to traffickers. His foundation has various enterprises, selling these soap stones to a boutique chain in America, for example, and local crafts and dried mangoes grown by local farmers.
CULLEN: We really want to go into all these villages, give seminars, training and then buy their products and give them fair trade prices, really good money, so they can use that money to send their kids to school.
DE SAM LAZARO: The PREDA Foundation sends the children under its care to school, training and, in cases like Marlene Richter, college. She’s now happily married-ironically-to a German tourist and has a baby boy, living happily ever after, she says.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Olangapo City in the Philippines.
In the Philippines, a Fight to End Human Trafficking and Offer Refuge
GWEN IFILL: Next, we begin a series we’re calling Agents for Change, a look at people around the world working to improve the lives of others.
In our first story, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro travels to the Philippines. That’s where one group is trying to rescue girls who, lacking jobs and income, become prime targets for human trafficking.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: About 11 million Filipinos — that’s more than 10 percent of this country’s entire population — works overseas, everything from doctors and nurses, many in the United States, to substantial numbers of female domestic workers who go to other parts of Asia, and especially to the Persian Gulf and Arab countries.
They go because jobs are in short supply, and those that are available pay very little. A house maid in Hong Kong or Dubai earns more than a college graduate here — 15 percent of this country’s gross domestic product comes from money sent home by overseas Filipinos. But there is a dark downside that makes these migrants vulnerable.
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA, Visayan Forum Foundation: The Philippines, as a migrant country, becomes really very vulnerable to the human trafficking.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cecilia Oebanda, who founded Visayan Forum foundation, the country’s largest anti-trafficking group, says it often begins in areas like this Manila slum.
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: This area has become really a fertile ground for traffickers to lure these young girls into human trafficking. They promise good jobs. They capitalize on the hope and aspirations of these people, these poor people. And, sometimes, they even give advanced payment. They give — they put some resources…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Up front.
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: Up front.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Oebanda grew up in poverty and worked as a child. Later, she joined the resistance to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and was imprisoned. For several years now, her group has rescued and provided refuge to trafficking victims of all ages and circumstances, from prostitution to other forms of forced labor.
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: Some of them were arrested from brothels. A lot of these girls are actually under threat…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Under threat?
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: Yes, under threat from the traffickers. A lot of them were — families are harassed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This is one of Visayan Forum’s seven facilities across the Philippines, supported by various international government and foundation donors.
The young women, some as young as 8, are given extensive psychotherapy, reunited with family when possible, or given job training. Paradoxically, many Filipinos use their job training as a ticket out of the country, the only way many see to a better life.
JAIBA AMIN, Philippines (through translator): My family doesn’t have anything here in the Philippines. My mother doesn’t have a job. My father doesn’t have one. We are six siblings in the family.
JENELYN ANOG, Philippines (through translator): I want to send my siblings to school, and I wanted to help my mother, because she is the only one taking care of us now, because my father is dead.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These women just returned from Syria, their work cut short not just by the political situation there, but also by abuse.
JAIBA AMIN (through translator): I was physically abused, and they didn’t pay me. I wasn’t paid for one year and six months.
JENELYN ANOG (through translator): I was there for two years and one month, but then the situation in Syria became worse, and I was also afraid for my own safety, given the situation. They were not paying me, so I decided to escape.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Agnes Jamarin nearly died fleeing employers who were angered because the child she was caring for was bruised in a playground accident, she says.
AGNES JAMARIN, Philippines (through translator): There was a fire escape, so I used it to escape from my employer’s house. And I went down to the third floor, and accidentally fell from there to the ground floor.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She has a broken jaw.
Stories of abuse and unpaid wages are so widespread that the Philippine government has even considered barring its citizens from working as domestics in some countries. To prevent more women from falling prey, Visayan Forum works with the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct undercover stings that have been encouraged by the government of President Benigno Aquino, which has pledged to crack down on these illicit recruiters.
On this sting, the alleged trafficker was to be given the equivalent of $1,500 in up-front fees, all in marked bills. Pictures were enclosed of young women applying supposedly for waitressing jobs in the touristy PacificIsland nation of Palau.
MAN: We learned that some of those who eventually went there, instead of being waitresses, were turned into — they were forced to sit with costumers, have a drink with them, then sometimes forced to go out with them for sexual…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They were prosecuted, in other words.
MAN: In other words, they were prostituted.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Are you excited? Are you nervous?
WOMAN: It’s fine, because it is my first time to do this.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Michelle Ramos (ph), a Visayan Forum social worker, was one of the three women posing as job applicants. The two others were detectives.
MAN: So we are expecting minimal resistance in the target area.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, Cecilia, the police have asked you to just wait here?
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They’re doing what now?
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: We’re doing actually the checking right now.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They’re casing the area to make sure…
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: They’re touring the areas to check if it is secure or not.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thirty minutes later, there was word from the undercover decoys.
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: As of now, I just received a text message that they are filing of — you know, the forms.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They’re signing the forms?
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: Yes, the forms are ready, and the next stage is just pay the money. And that is our cue.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Another text followed. The suspect had accepted payment, actual proof that a crime had been committed.
Oebanda and counselors followed on the heels of the law enforcement officers. Detectives collected evidence and questioned the alleged trafficker.
Oebanda sat with a handful of stunned young women who had been held here, expecting to soon leave for Palau.
CECILIA FLORES-OEBANDA: Yes. So, they are arranging their things and they’re going with us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The job of Visayan counselors now is to tell victims that help is available and that they in fact have been victimized.
At headquarters, the alleged trafficker and a partner were booked. It quickly became clear from dossiers of dozens, perhaps hundreds of job applicants that this was a big catch.
MAN: Jordan. Palau. Palau again. Palau.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Trafficking is a non-bailable offense that carries a life sentence. Whether it is a deterrent, though, is an open question in a justice system that experts say is plagued by corruption.
Geronimo Sy is a prosecutor in the Department of Justice.
GERONIMO SY, Prosecutor: Who polices the policeman? Who prosecutes the prosecutor? Who judges the judge? Who polices a corrupt media when everybody is in cahoots, especially if these are well-entrenched interests? So that is a major challenge.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: President Aquino has launched an anti-corruption drive, firing or arresting some high-level officials, and he has instructed Justice Department officials like Sy to upgrade arcane laws to be more effective against organized crime.
Since we returned from the Philippines, though, Oebanda has come under suspension. The U.S. Agency for International Development, a major donor, filed a complaint against Visayan Forum, alleging improprieties in a financial audit.
Oebanda complained she has not seen the audit, but vigorously any wrongdoing. And as the case proceeds to court, she has vowed to continue the work of her agency, which serves thousands of trafficking victims.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ironically, some of them, like Jenelyn Anog, just back from Syria, see no other option than to take their chances.
JENELYN ANOG (through translator): I just want to start a new life. I will not give up. I still want to go abroad because I really want to help my mother and help my siblings to finish their education.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And for the foreseeable future, both her family and her government will continue to depend on the money she and millions of overseas Filipinos send home.
GWEN IFILL: As you can see, we blurred some of the faces in that story to protect the identities of some of the people involved.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Have questions about human trafficking abroad and here at home? Fred and a lawyer who works to defend victims will take your questions online.
We’re also launching a new series featuring young entrepreneurs creating jobs and improving lives in their communities. See a list of 10 Agents for Change and add your suggestions for our next profiles. That’s all on our website.
Agents for Change Profile: Illac Diaz’s Lightbulb Moment
No transcript available.
RACING TO STOP A THREAT TO THE WORLD’S WHEAT CROP
GWEN IFILL: Next tonight, fighting off a deadly threat to the world’s wheat crop.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our report.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When the price of bread and other food staples goes up in the developing world, riots often result. What would happen if the majority of the world’s wheat crop was wiped out by disease is unfathomable.
PETER NJAO, plant pathologist: This is a susceptible variety. And, actually, the disease is eating the whole plant.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Scientists Peter Njao and Ruth Wanyera say a fungal disease thought long under control called wheat rust is back and could destroy 80 percent of all known wheat varieties if it isn’t stopped in its tracks.
So, here in Kenya’s Rift Valley, they are testing wheat varieties from around the world to find the most resistant strains.
RUTH WANYERA, plant pathologist: Stem rust supposed to get disease the low-, mid-altitude areas. But for Ug99, we are getting it in the areas about 3,000 meters above sea level.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The wheat stem rust was first discovered several hundred miles west of here in Uganda in 1999, hence the name Ug99. It blew very quickly into the farmlands here in Kenya’s Rift Valley, and thereafter east, across the Red Sea into Yemen and as far east today as Iran.
The big fear is that, under the right climate conditions, a dry spell and winds, stem rust will spread further east into the populous Asian subcontinent and later to China. In Kenya, wheat rust has been devastating for the subsistence farmers who use a few of their acres to grow the crop and earn some extra income.
Samuel Langat got half his normal crop.
And you got about 12 bags per acre this year?
SAMUEL LANGAT, farmer: Yeah.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You used to get double that before?
SAMUEL LANGAT: Yeah.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And even that required costly chemical spraying that further cut into any profit.
SAMUEL LANGAT: I sprayed twice, but some people actually went even up to four times. So, it depends on actually the kind of money you have.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bruce Nightingale plants 1,000 acres on his large farm operation, one that dates back to British colonial days. He’s managed to preserve a crop, but only after repeated spraying with chemical fungicides.
BRUCE NIGHTINGALE, farmer: Without the fungicide, there will be no wheat in this country and most other countries. It’s as simple as that. Okay? We have to use the fungicide to get a crop of wheat. Our fear is that the rusts will build up resistance to the sprays faster that we can have new sprays for them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thousands of miles away in Minnesota, Brian Steffenson and colleagues are trying to find a solution. They can only work from November to April because if any fungus spores did manage to escape from the tightly secured lab, they could never survive a Minnesota winter.
MAN: So most of these are susceptible.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Creating resistant wheat varieties is a tedious genetic form of Russian roulette, crossbreeding different varieties in hopes of hitting the right combination of genes and traits.
BRIAN STEFFENSON, professor, University of Minnesota: You’re going to introduce the desired resistance gene, but you’re also going to introduce some other deleterious genes that may reduce the yield, they may reduce the bread-making quality and other aspects as well.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: New technology, including more direct gene transfers, so-called genetic modification, can speed the process, but he says it will still take six years or more to create a new resistant strain of wheat. And new strains have to be found for all the different kinds of wheat that go into making everything from pasta to crackers.
BRIAN STEFFENSON: This plant is quite susceptible to stem rust.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Wheat rust was thought to be under control in the 1950s, but, instead, it was quietly mutating to cause the new threat.
In his search for new resistant genes, Steffenson has gone back to the very beginning of wheat, scouring the Near East region called the Fertile Crescent, where wheat was first domesticated.
BRIAN STEFFENSON: There’s been a tremendous amount of diversity that’s left behind after man first domesticated our crops. We’re identifying resistance genes that are effective against Ug99, but are not putting them in singly into wheat cultivars, but rather putting them in as a pyramid of genes, multiple genes at one time, so that this will hopefully keep the pathogen off balance, it will not be able to overcome all of those resistance genes, and it will lead to more durable control of the stem rust.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in Kenya, Peter Njao says about 10 percent of the experimental new varieties are showing good resistance to stem rust. But that’s just the first step.
PETER NJAO: There is still a number of stages to go. You need, after that, to do adaptation trials, seed multiplication and seed distribution to the farmers. Each one of that requires time. And that is what we are fighting with.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The small farmers won’t be able to hang on that long.
BRUCE NIGHTINGALE: We desperately want seed from this because it’s new variety.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bruce Nightingale has been trying a new variety developed by the Kenya Institute derived from a Brazilian species. He’s cautious, but hopeful.
BRUCE NIGHTINGALE: It’s too soon to say, but, visually, they look very promising. And in the trials that we have seen, they looked to be more resistant against fungal infections, although not entirely resistant.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You still need to spray them.
BRUCE NIGHTINGALE: We have to spray them, and we still are very, very dependent on the plant breeders to try and genetically produce something that is resistant to that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Scientists here say it may take until 2016 before they could send resistant wheat strains to meet most farmers’ needs. As they race to genetically outfox stem rust, it will be a game of hoping, praying and spraying.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Twin Cities Dance Company Celebrates Diversity, Relevancy, Accessibility
JEFFREY BROWN: Next: a story of the arts and community.
It’s about a group in Minnesota that aims to take dance to new places. Its name is TU Dance.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro tells its story.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: TU Dance’s location, a rusty but recovering urban neighborhood, fits with its founders’ goal to put a new face on dance.
For Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands, it’s been an unusual journey to get to this corner of Saint Paul.
Each rose to prominence in the ’90s, seeming to reach the pinnacle of storybook careers with New York’s Alvin Ailey Dance company.
Uri Sands grew up break dancing on Miami’s streets, took ballet as an elective in public school, and at 20 was invited to join Ailey’s troupe.
Toni Pierce grew up in Minnesota, where her mother enrolled her in dance school at 6, was eventually hired by Ailey, moved to Europe, was married for a time and had a son, then returned again to Ailey.
BEN JOHNSON,NorthropDanceCenter, University of Minnesota: I remember seeing Toni and Uri both as dancers. And they are two of the nation’s best dancers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ben Johnson, director of NorthropDanceCenter at the University of Minnesota, says the pair stands out for their wide repertoire. Johnson specifically recalls Toni Pierce-Sands performing a piece called “Cry” by Alvin Ailey, one of the 20th century’s giants of modern dance.
BEN JOHNSON: He created this piece to celebrate all mothers and women around the world. And only a very elite few dancers are allowed to perform this particular solo.
And that’s the piece that I first saw Toni Pierce perform. And Uri in the same way, I remember exactly the first time I ever saw him perform, again with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He’s considered one of the most exquisite movers and one of the most beautiful dancers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Toni Pierce returned home from New York again in 1999 for what she intended to be a short visit.
TONI PIERCE-SANDS, TU Dance: My family was helping take care of my son at the time. So I came back to Minnesota with all intentions to rebound with my family and then go back to New York, where Uri then shows up at the door and says, let’s stay in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It may have seemed counterintuitive at first, but the Twin Cities, known for a thriving art scene and enjoying a renaissance in dance, offered new opportunities to carve out a niche.
URI SANDS, TU Dance: There had been a lot of work already done in the dance world, as well as room and space to welcome in new ideas and new visions for dance here in the Twin Cities.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 2004, the couple began TU Dance, named after Toni and Uri’s first initials. The company has regularly sold out larger and larger venues. What makes them stand apart is how many styles they incorporate into their programs.
BEN JOHNSON: What I have noticed over the past five years as a company is the evolution of the range of their work and how and they’re one of the few companies that within their own work spans so many different kinds of styles, from classical ballet to modern dance to contemporary performance to urban dance.
URI SANDS: One thing that is important for the diversity of the work that we do is for the dancers that work with the company to actually bring their experiences, their own personal experiences, because it’s all of these different components that ultimately help us create this sort of unique synergy, the uniqueness of the work that defines TU Dance.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Uri Sands choreographs most of the company’s works. His first evening-long piece was called “Sense(ability),” an exploration of all five senses and the elements. He described it to the local PBS program “Minnesota Original.”
URI SANDS: For instance, there’s air and touch, there’s water taste, fire sight, earth and smell, sound, ether. Toni and Marciano are doing a duet. And that’s air and touch.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For those of the 11-member company, like David Rue and Eva Mohn, working here is a departure in both style and mind-set. They say TU Dance is not about competition, not just geared to a glorious performance.
EVA MOHN, dancer: For me, performance is such a small part of why I dance, and actually probably the least significant.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Really?
EVA MOHN: Yes. And I feel — I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago.
DAVID RUE, dancer: I love the process of creating and the process of rehearsing work, the process of taking class, and then the performance is just another part of that process, instead of this MountOlympus that we’re all trying to climb up to.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: TU Dance’s founders say they want to give opportunities to a wider diversity of students.
TONI PIERCE-SANDS: My sister and I danced at Minnesota Dance Theatre, and at that point, we were kind of the only two young dancers of color.
And after leaving and coming back, I — so much had grown here in the Twin Cities and in Saint Paul in terms of dance and the community and the dancers, but there was something that didn’t change, which was dancers of color.
URI SANDS: However, it doesn’t mean that we’re trying to do some social service or make sure that like everybody can just kind of like dance and we’re going to — excuse the phrase — kind of like dumb it down. That’s not what we’re doing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To give them that access, TU Dance works closely with local schools. Those who are invited, like 17-year-old Dominick Dates, face a mixture of grueling practice and tolerance, technical proficiency and individuality.
DOMINICK DATES, dance student: They teach you what they want you to do, but you do it how you want to do it. So, you can make whatever they teach you yours.
TONI PIERCE-SANDS: Yes, you got to put your own flavor.
DOMINICK DATES: Yes, your own flavor.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: High school senior Immanuelle Thomas joined TU Dance from another dance school.
IMMANUELLE THOMAS, student: I come to TU and my teachers, I’m like, oh, wow, she has curves like me. Somebody in the company, she has a curve where I have a curve, and their skin is like mine. And I really understood, like, if they can make it, then there’s no excuse for me.
TONI PIERCE-SANDS: The idea is that, as performers, as artists, as students, that we are representing our audience, our community, the people, the watchers. And, my gosh, it’s just — it’s deep, but it’s kind of simple for us, you know?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Less simple is raising the money to run a nonprofit dance company and school, to offer scholarships so students can study there for years. TU Dance’s annual budget is just $450,000.
Still, Toni Pierce-Sands at 50 and Uri Sands at 38 say they are looking forward to the legacy phase of their careers, sharing and giving back to an art form that transformed their lives.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.