WOMEN CLAIMING MISCARRIAGE FACE MURDER CHARGES
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to El Salvador, home to some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world.
NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on what it means for women there when abortion is considered murder, without exception.
A version of this story originally aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Farm laborer Elias Cruz took the day off recently to visit his daughter’s pro bono attorney.
ELIAS CRUZ, agricultural laborer (through interpreter): She feels her case has been abandoned. They did not investigate as they should have to get concrete evidence.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nineteen-year-old Glenda Cruz was recently began a 10-year sentence for aggravated homicide after her pregnancy ended under suspicious circumstances. She said it was a miscarriage. Her father blames her abusive boyfriend, who then testified against her.
Controversial case opens up discussion of abortion in Chile
Lawyer Dennis Munoz Estanley plans to appeal.
DENNIS MUNOZ ESTANLEY, attorney (through interpreter): Glenda has never been alone. Maybe it’s because she is in prison that she thinks she is alone.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across town at the state’s medical legal department, which advised the prosecution, JOSE FORTIN MAGANA has no doubt this was a case of infanticide.
DR. JOSE FORTIN MAGANA, El Salvador (through interpreter): She is in prison because of an abortion. It’s absolutely false what she says. What happens is when someone murders someone else, he or she doesn’t turn up on the TV and say, I’m guilty of murder. Maybe there has been a mistake, but in most cases they are guilty.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Glenda Cruz’s one of several cases that have come under public scrutiny in the debate over one of the world’s most stringent abortion laws.
Since 1997, abortion has been illegal in El Salvador with no exceptions, which had once existed for cases such as rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life. Dozens of women have been prosecuted for illegal abortion, in some cases for aggravated homicide.
The change reflected a strong influence in this conservative, largely Catholic nation of the group Si ala Vida, or Yes to Life, and church leadership, with close allies in the National Republican Alliance, or ARENA, party, which rose to power after the civil war ended in 1992.
Miguel Angel Aquino is bishop of the city of San Miguel.
BISHOP MIGUEL MORAN AQUINO, Roman Catholic Bishop of San Miguel (through interpreter): We cannot accept any law that goes against life. It is not a question of faith and religion, but of humanity.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many doctors say the law has put them in a very difficult position. Obstetrician Jorge Cruz says they cannot intervene to preserve a woman’s health even if a pregnancy has no chance of coming to term.
JORGE CRUZ, obstetrician-gynecologist (through interpreter): The law does not permit us to terminate pregnancies that are unviable, such as ectopic pregnancies, as long as there is a fetal heartbeat. Often, there is a rupture and hemorrhage, and often women die from the shock.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He and colleagues feel that many doctors, particularly junior ones, are being intimidated into betraying patient confidentiality, for fear that they could be prosecuted as accessories.
JORGE CRUZ (through interpreter): In the public health system, patients coming in with an abortion, whether self-inflicted or septic, providers were told they had to report the patients for prosecution.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But medical legal officer Magana says the doctors’ fears are exaggerated.
JOSE FORTIN MAGANA (through interpreter): The statistics of the doctors in jail because of the crime of abortion is zero.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In truly dire circumstances, he says, doctors can save a woman’s life. He points to the cast last summer of a 22-year-old woman whose situation drew international attention and whose conclusions seemed to skirts the law.
Known only as Beatriz, she was suffering from the immune disease lupus syndrome kidney failure. She was pregnant with a severely deformed fetus that could not survive outside the womb. After deliberating for several weeks and at 26 weeks into the pregnancy, El Salvador’s supreme court denied a petition for an abortion, a decision that drew widespread protests. The court upheld the recommendation of Fortin Magana’s office.
Just one week after the court decision, doctors were then allowed to perform a Caesarean section, a process that in, Fortin Magana’s view, respected the infant’s right to life.
JOSE FORTIN MAGANA (through interpreter): The department of legal medicine said Beatriz wasn’t at imminent risk, and we were right, because time went on and she continued with her pregnancy. The baby was delivered. He lived for eight hours, and then he died.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the weeks-long ordeal harmed the mother’s health and caused Beatriz needless suffering, say these obstetricians, including Mirna De Rivas.
MIRNA DE RIVAS, obstetrician-gynecologist (through interpreter): One of the consequences of all of this is that consultations with women in these situations have gone way down, and that creates even more complicated cases.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For some women whose pregnancies fail, it’s been difficult to prove that they have not been responsible for miscarrying. About nine years ago, Cristina Quintanilla, 18 at the time, was close to term when she says she suffered a miscarriage.
CRISTINA QUINTANILLA, El Salvador (through interpreter): I sat on the toilet and I felt a strong pain. Next thing I know, I’m in the hospital.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Quintanilla’s mother called the police, a common practice in emergencies here because ambulances are unreliable, a call she fears was construed as a complaint.
CARMEN QUINTANILLA, mother (through interpreter): It was very depressing when I realized what I did. We were scared that she could die. The authorities misinterpreted it.
CRISTINA QUINTANILLA (through interpreter): I was dizzy because of the anesthesia and blood loss, and I saw a man wearing blue asking for my name. He said, “You’re under arrest for the murder of your child.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Quintanilla was sentenced to 30 years for aggravated homicide, even though she says the autopsy was ruled inconclusive. Her sentence was eventually commuted to time served, four hellish years, she says.
CRISTINA QUINTANILLA (through interpreter): I felt so terrible, because the prosecutor would keep pointing at me and saying, “She killed her baby, she killed her baby.”
If you go to prison for an abortion, they beat you up. And it’s not just me. There are other women in there.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Including Glenda Cruz. Lawyer Munoz represented both women and hopes he can get a similar commutation for Cruz.
DENNIS MUNOZ ESTANLEY (through interpreter): I don’t believe she is capable of what they’ve accused her. She’s not violent; she was raised with Christian morals.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We tried without success to talk to the prosecutors in the Cruz case. Defense attorney Munoz Estanley has managed to free eight women jailed in abortion cases.
DENNIS MUNOZ ESTANLEY (through interpreter): In most of these cases, these are poor women, women with not very much education. Sometimes, there are cases of women who are illiterate. It’s important to remember that before 1998, therapeutic abortions and abortions of deformed fetuses or for rape were allowed, and now it’s not the same political climate.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bishop Aquino said the conservative climate is a backlash against feminist groups that have tried to impose liberal social legislation that is counter to the culture here. The Beatriz case was the latest such interference, he says.
MIGUEL MORAN AQUINO (through interpreter): They want to promote therapeutic abortion. This would open the window to other kinds of abortions, then same-sex marriage and adopting children by homosexuals or lesbians.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recent polls show most Salvadorians oppose abortion, but support some exceptions. However, with elections looming next year, political analysts say it’s doubtful there will be any changes to the laws governing abortion any time soon.
Philippines disaster inspires ‘typhoon’ of aid activity
GWEN IFILL: Secretary of State John Kerry announced today the United States will provide $25 million in additional aid to help the Philippines recover from the devastating typhoon that struck that country last month.
Kerry visited hard-hit Tacloban, and also spoke of the need to act to prevent global warming and extreme weather.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro is in the Philippines and filed this report on the recovery effort.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tacloban, the typhoon zone’s main city, remains under a thick blanket of debris, rubble and downed trees. Many of the 1,800-plus people still listed as missing were trapped underneath.
The tally of bodies still being recovered is in the dozens each week. By now decomposed well beyond recognition, they are added to the confirmed death toll of more than 6,000. Five weeks after Haiyan, or Yolanda, as the Philippines named the epic typhoon, relief workers say there has been progress, even though it’s hard to see at first glance.
Elizabeth Tromans is with Catholic Relief Services.
ELIZABETH TROMANS, Catholic Relief Services: I can see a lot more roofs on buildings, I can see a lot more partially damaged walls that have been patched up with a tarp or with salvaged iron sheeting that used to be on top of roofs. You can hear the chain saws buzzing in the background. There’s lots of lumber being cut up, so it’s opening up even more areas. Just, it’s — it’s every day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Families like the Briones, Ronald, his wife, Magnolia, her mother and two teenage sons, have returned to the spot where once stood their modest two-story home. All but a twisted heap of electronic plastic and rebar was washed out to sea.
Washed ashore when they returned, one almost next door to them, were several cargo ships containing loads of cement. But the Briones family’s most basic needs, so desperately lacking in the early days, are now being met.
MAGNOLIA BRIONES, Typhoon Victim (through interpreter): We get rice, fish, some vegetables, noodles, and sardines.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The food comes not from a market, but from what seems like a typhoon of food aid.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in this temporary warehouse, there are some 200 volunteers from the community preparing care packages for an estimated 2.5 million to three million mouths that need to be fed every single day.
The volunteers are supervised by staff from the Philippine Department of Social Welfare. Soldiers help sort and pack other consignments in a nearby building. If there’s a go-to person here, it’s Oliver Bartolo. He’s not with any aid agency or the government, but on loan, as its contribution to the relief effort, from UPS, United Parcel Service.
Bartolo arrived a week after the disaster, tasked to bring coherence to the chaos, he says.
OLIVER BARTOLO, UPS: Most of the incoming relief goods, they were just unloaded in the warehouse, and just stacked And without any dates in it, no labeling, so That it would be hard for us to track down what has come first that needs to comes out first also.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You have a real hard time knowing what you have in this?
OLIVER BARTOLO: Right. Right. That’s correct. And it’s hard to coordinate.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bartolo has begun to do that now with a 10-member team, including people from other freight companies. They have brought equipment, trucks and forklifts, and, as Filipinos, critical expertise.
MAN: We have now got, it seems, a surplus of empty containers at the port.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On this day, an official with the U.N.’s World Food Program need empty freight containers cleared away at Tacloban’s small port. New shipments of the critical staple rice were due in soon, and Bartolo promised to speak to the official in charge.
OLIVER BARTOLO: I can speak to her, and probably we can find a place where we can put all those empty containers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With so little time and space and so much need, the Food Program’s Tommy Thompson says Bartolo’s team has shortened delivery times by days.
TOMMY THOMPSON, World Food Program: What they provide is, they provide us local expertise. And that’s the thing, because we’re really in a race against time. They can alert us to the way systems work in a country. So we now know how to import, how things should be labeled to come into countries so that they don’t get delayed by customs.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back at the warehouses, Bartolo’s big challenge is to ship things out without delay. He worries a lot of it is in danger of rotting in the heat and humidity.
OLIVER BARTOLO: Especially the rice. In the afternoon, there’s always a downpour. And we’re afraid that some of the roofings of the warehouse are not yet repaired, so there are leaks.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For now, relief officials say at least the most basic food need is being met. The ongoing challenge will be to keep replenishments moving in and out swiftly.
The next priority for many in the recovery effort is sanitation, everything from latrines to toiletry essentials.
ELIZABETH TROMANS: It’s intended to last one month for a family of five.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But Catholic Relief Services’ Elizabeth Tromans says people are beginning to look beyond their most basic daily needs.
ELIZABETH TROMANS: The thing that we’re hearing over and over and over again is shelter. Shelter is our priority. So many people lost their homes. And so CRS right now is — in the first month, we have been focusing on just emergency shelter. We have been giving a tarp, a strong, sturdy tarp along with some nails and some tools, so that people can erect something very, very simple to have a closed structure around them and their families.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Briones and neighbors who’ve lived in this informal waterfront shantytown for decades may never get beyond that makeshift housing.
The government has declared this low-lying land off-limits to housing in the future to protect people from storms. But Magnolia Briones is not sure where they could go. In this densely populated Visayan region, there’s little land to be had, and, as simple laborers, they couldn’t afford it anyway — not that staying here is worry-free, especially for their 14-year-old son, Ronald Jr., who has nightmares and sleeps clinging to his parents.
MAGNOLIA BRIONES (through interpreter): He’s scared of the big waves, worried that a boat will slam into us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s hard to imagine, but this family is still better off than tens of thousands who remain in evacuation centers, in tents, a handful even on the cement ships, now firmly beached, their hulls a mass of hardened concrete.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Returning dignity to those who were forgotten in life
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: The holidays are a time when families gather to celebrate and often remember loved ones no longer with us.
Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on one group trying to revive the legacy of relatives forgotten at a mental hospital in Minnesota after living at the margins of society.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One solitary cross is all that suggests that this is a cemetery, and perhaps that’s fitting. The several hundred people buried here spent most of their lives invisible to the outside world.
There are no headstones in this burial ground of a former Minnesota mental institution. The graves are marked not with names, just numbers. The relatives of Albertine Poitras had to go through historical archives to find her number.
WOMAN: That’s Albertine.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A few years ago, a disability rights group began working to change this. Their project is called Remembering With Dignity.
LEARN MORE: Advocating Change Together’s Remembering With Dignity program
WOMAN: We are here today to remember and honor Albertine — and I got to make sure I say her name right — Poitras.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recently, on a chilly Minnesota fall morning, they gathered at the cemetery to honor the long departed great-aunt Blair Poitras. He only learned that she existed a few years ago while doing a genealogy search.
Then he confirmed it with his 89-year-old aunt, who is Albertine’s niece.
BLAIR POITRAS, relative: You go through different emotions. You go, well, how come your family members didn’t tell you about this person? And just to be buried as a number…
OLIVE POITRAS KEELY, relative: I remember her. She lived with us out on the farm.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That memory is all this family has. There are no photographs of Albertine Poitras, born in 1898 with mental retardation. In 1932, as families struggled to survive the Depression, Albertine became a burden neither her aging parents nor her siblings could endure.
OLIVE POITRAS KEELY: We had hired men, too, and my mother always thought the hired men would take advantage of my aunt because she was feeble-minded.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At 34, Albertine Poitras was committed to the School for the Feeble Minded in Faribault, Minn.. She became a ward of the state.
The name of the Faribault facility has changed over the years, reflecting society’s evolving views of people with mental illness and retardation. In the late 1800s, this officially was the School for Deaf, dumb, blind, idiots and imbeciles. Feeble Minded came into use in the early 1900s, and, by the ’50, this was simply Faribault State Hospital.
Today, it’s a minimum security prison. Faribault was considered an innovation when it was founded, an attempt to educate the mentally disabled. But, in time, Remembering With Dignity’s Mary Kay Kennedy says that early mission was forgotten.
MARY KAY KENNEDY, Remembering With Dignity: The peak of the population at this site was in the 1950s, and it housed 3,355 people, which was about 45 percent over capacity, so there was no education. So it really turned into a facility that was taking care of the physical — basic physical needs of the people who lived here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For people who died here, funerals were basic, businesslike affairs. Blair Poitras says notice of Albertine’s death was sent not to the family first, but to the welfare department supervisor.
BLAIR POITRAS: “Dear Mr. Kaliher, this is to notify you that Albertine Poitras died at 8:25 p.m. on February 4, 1958, in the institutional hospital. Cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage 10 hours, arteriosclerosis 20 years, mentally deficient, idiot. Cause: undiagnosed”
MAN: They didn’t treat us people very nice. They didn’t treat us people with no kindness, no respect, or nothing in those days.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the cemetery, former residents reflected on their time in Faribault. Larry Lubbers spent 10 years here. He was moved to a group home as mental health care shifted away from large institutions. Dorothy Anderson was committed as an infant.
DOROTHY ANDERSON, relative: I didn’t know my mother or if she was married, or my grandma. And I didn’t have no pictures to remember them by.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This group successfully lobbied Minnesota’s legislature, which in 2010 officially apologized for the past treatment of state hospital patients.
MARY KAY KENNEDY: The apology extends to family. Professionals advised people to break ties with the family, and there were no other services, so if you had a child or someone with a severe disability it wasn’t like today, where you could get services in the community.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Others have a more nuanced view of how the treatment of mentally disabled people has shifted over the years. Jean Hockman’s sister Barbara Blaylock (ph) died here in 1958 at the age of five.
JEAN HOCKMAN, relative: I think when you look at the state of Minnesota and some of the needs of the homeless who are mentally ill, institutions might be a good thing for them. I don’t think everybody belongs in an institution. I think there’s a happy medium, and I don’t think society has found it yet.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s very little disagreement about adding names and gravestones to the numbers here.
HALLE O’FALVEY, Minnesota resident: The Jewish saying is that you die twice. You die once, when you do die, but the second time you die is when your name isn’t spoken anymore.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So far, the group has installed almost 7,000 personalized gravestones on the 13,000 numbered graves they’ve discovered across the state until now, with funding from Minnesota’s legislature.
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.
Building enterprises and self-esteem at the Philippines’ Enchanted Farm
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: In a country that’s rapidly urbanizing into ever more crowded cities, Tony Meloto is trying to get people to come-or come back-to the farm.
ANTONIO MELOTO: Well, we’re growing here rice, organic rice, and we have 30 different crops here.
DE SAM LAZARO: Three years ago, Meloto established an 85-acre campus about two hours from the capital, Manila. Called The Enchanted Farm, it’s a village of about 50 families relocated from urban slums, a farm and a place for research and innovation.
MELOTO: The vision is making this the Silicon Valley for agribusiness and social entrepreneurship.
DE SAM LAZARO: There’s lots of fertile land in the Philippines, Meloto says. It just doesn’t produce enough of the right crops and products, so rural people move to the city in search of a livelihood. Those who can leave the country; about ten percent of this nation of 100 million-doctors, nurses, welders and domestic workers-work abroad.
MELOTO: (to students) How many of you are planning to leave the country after you graduate?
DE SAM LAZARO: Meloto, an economist by training and one of the country’s best known anti-poverty activists, tries to persuade young visitors to the farm to stay.
MELOTO: (to students) It is possible to create another career or business path in this country, rather than be a domestic worker abroad, which is not bad because they are the heroes of the Philippines. But I think the next generation like yours will be wealth creators in the Philippines-job generators, not job seekers abroad.
DE SAM LAZARO: Meloto came from a lower-middle-class family, but with scholarships was a high academic achiever and went on to an international business career. But he felt keenly aware of those left behind.
MELOTO: I started to see that the basic problem was the disconnection of those privileged with the best education, with the best opportunities, from those who have no dignity, no justice, no hope. I felt that I had to go back to the Philippines, go to the poorest slum and try to discover myself. I was a missionary there.
DE SAM LAZARO: He began in the mid-90s with a lay Catholic organization trying to forge a sense of community in slums riddled by gang violence. A few years later, he moved away from the group’s spiritual approach to one of social justice.
MELOTO: I am a Catholic, and I practice it, but I want faith in action. So I want to build heaven on earth and not just think of heaven in the afterlife, but of really ending, of getting my people out of hell in this life.
DE SAM LAZARO: He rallied volunteers and founded Gawad Kalinga, which means “giving care.” Their first priority was to build decent housing.
MELOTO: I realized that I have to help transform the physical environment, because a human being who lives in an animal pen will think and behave like an animal, and when men are deprived of their dignity, then they are on a survival mode, and that’s when they get into gangs.
DE SAM LAZARO: Today, Gawad Kalinga has transformed the homes of 200,000 families, about a million people. Residents built and maintain them; they elect their community leaders. These enclaves stand out for their cleanliness and bright colors-located across the Philippines from Manila to Leythe province, in the path of the deadly recent typhoon Hayian. Gawad Kalinga communities located in the path of the recent super typhoon did sustain some damage. There are roofs that are blown off, but for the most part the structures are still standing. The typhoon killed more than 6,000 people, but not a single one of them was in a Gawad Kalinga community.
MELOTO: We coordinate with the local government units, and they point us to where the safe areas are.
DE SAM LAZARO: Safe because they’re on higher ground and on deeded land. Millions of people in informal settlements don’t have land title, so they are vulnerable to eviction. Gawad Kalinga has never paid to acquire land for its communities. Instead, the group convinces landowners to donate a part of their holdings, promising to work with the government to develop infrastructure, to everyone’s benefit.
MELOTO: When you have a community of this size, government will start building those public roads. When you have those public roads and electricity, then obviously the land will appreciate.
DE SAM LAZARO: That idea of shared prosperity is behind the farm project. Meloto wants people from privileged backgrounds to come here and develop socially minded businesses. Some of the earliest ones have actually been started by young Europeans-a toy maker working with local women and local materials, hoping to grow in a market where almost all toys are imported from China. Another enterprise is marketing a traditional lemongrass tea thought to prevent certain diseases.
VAIMITI RIGAL: Lemongrass is good for health, good for the blood system and also very tasty. And Tito Tony had the very good idea that this tea is very awesome, so why don’t we make it a worldwide product?
MELOTO: Lemongrass is antioxidant, and it is now selling about 50,000 bottles a month, and our target is a million bottles in a few years which will provide jobs to 1,000 people.
DE SAM LAZARO: Elsewhere, a laid-off garment worker and a former domestic worker, both refugees from Manila slums, are advised on how to combine their culinary skills with business savvy. They hope to install food stands like this one in shopping malls, selling sausages patties and sandwiches.
LOLITA BALDOZA: I am really grateful to live here. Before this, I lived in Manila close to the river, and it flooded any time it rained hard. I was living like a squatter.
This is my little store.
DE SAM LAZARO: Today, as she builds her food business, Baldoza sells convenience items from her home. Her husband, who works on the farm and cares for their two pigs and their twelve-year-old son enjoy a modest home, but it’s secure and dry.
BALDOZA: We can sleep well. My life here is very happy, comfortable.
DE SAM LAZARO: To sustain the farm, there’s a new conference center that will bring visitors, ideas, and revenue. The complex was built with donations from several large companies like Shell Oil, and the carmaker Hyundai. It’s not charity, Meloto says, just good marketing.
MELOTO: This will be the venue for the National Youth Congress. This is sponsored by the Philippine armed forces.
(talking to group) So, General, these are the new generation of Filipinos.
DE SAM LAZARO: As the conference began, Meloto introduced four young people who’ve come to work on the farm. All are top graduates of prestigious universities-usually a ticket to far more lucrative jobs abroad. Two of them actually returned from jobs overseas: market research in Singapore, investment banking in New York. Cherie Atilano passed up a Fulbright scholarship that would have taken her to Germany, driven by what she calls an urgent need to revitalize agriculture.
CHERIE ATILANO: There’s a lot of hungry people in the Philippines, but knowing that we also have 12 million hectares of underproductive land, I’m optimistic to really make the agriculture as a stable backbone of our economy.
MELOTO: The combination of the genius of the poor and the rich is quite explosive. This is a country that does not have any excuse to remain poor, and it is important for us now to raise a new generation of Filipinos who will have that kind of conviction.
DE SAM LAZARO: Gawad Kalinga’s goal is to bring five million families out of poverty by 2024.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Bulacan, the Philippines.
India marks three years without polio, but challenges still remain
HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s been three years since a case of polio has been reported in India, a milestone that means the country can be officially declared polio-free.
NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro updates a report he filed on how this 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.
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 interpreter): 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 interpreter): Have you lost your mind?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His co-star in the ad, Shahrukh Khan, is Muslim.
SHAHRUKH KHAN, actor (through interpreter): 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.
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 January 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.
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: 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.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Can garment factories pay a living wage and still compete?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: A small factory in the Caribbean is trying to buck the trend toward lower wages in the garment industry by making apparel for big athletic programs in the U.S.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story. It’s part of his ongoing series Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Football is a big money-maker for University of Notre Dame. The storied Fighting Irish name is a lucrative brand in the $4 billion-a-year business of licensed apparel.
In the campus bookstore, one display is trying to stand out in a crowded space.
JOE BOZICH, Founder and CEO, Knights Apparel: Every garment has a hangtag on it, has a picture of one of our employees. One of the hangtags says, “My son goes to school because of these clothes.” Another one might say, “I can afford food, clean water, and medicine for my children when they’re sick because of your purchase of these clothes.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Joe Bozich founded the Knights Apparel company in 2001 and built it into the largest maker of licensed college sportswear.
These shirts are made in a tiny corner of the Knights empire: a factory called Alta Gracia that pays people like Manuel Guzman a living wage. Unusual does not begin to describe the factory where Guzman works in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation of nearly 10 million, where unemployment exceeds 15 percent.
The factory atmosphere is relaxed. The music is loud.
MANUEL GUZMAN (through interpreter): There is no pressure here to produce all the time. People come here to train us. Lawyers have taught us our rights. Also, we have a union that protects us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Maritza Vargas is the union steward.
I asked her, are your wages sufficient?
MARITZA VARGAS (through interpreter): Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: “Yes,” she responded. They are based on the cost of living for a family of five, calculated by the country’s central bank and adjusted every year for inflation.
MARITZA VARGAS (through interpreter): For me, the most important thing is that my children have been able to go to school. I even have my oldest daughter in college.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Manuel Guzman and his wife, Digna Martinez, his job at Alta Gracia has meant a healthy diet.
DIGNA MARTINEZ (through interpreter): He was jobless for nine months, and we have four kids who don’t understand when you tell them there’s no milk, so it was difficult. This is such a blessing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Another blessing they count on in this home in place of a half-built shack that once was here.
Workers at the Alta Gracia factory earn about $3 an hour. It might not sound like much, but that’s three times the legal minimum wage in the Dominican Republic. And just for comparison, Bangladesh’s government just announced that it plans to raise the minimum wage for its garment workers from about 19 cents an hour to about 34 cents per hour.
All around the Alta Gracia factory are empty buildings, reminders of the daunting global competition. Thousands of jobs have moved to lower-cost countries. Alta Gracia is located in a building that once was a much larger garment factory that employs just 130 workers now, compared to more than 1,000 until 2007, when the building’s previous owner, a South Korea-based company, shut it down.
Alta Gracia itself is running at just 60 percent of capacity. In three years of operation, it has yet to turn a profit. That doesn’t surprise one expert who has studied the plant.
Georgetown University’s John Kline says there have been previous short-lived attempts at living-wage factories.
JOHN KLINE, Georgetown University: They were small. They didn’t have the ability to carry it forward for several years to give it a real test. Joe is big enough with Knights Apparel to back it for long enough to give it a real test.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Knights Apparel founder Joe Bozich says he is in it for the long haul. Garment industry wages and working conditions have come under critical scrutiny, especially after the recent series of deadly fires and accidents in Bangladesh. But Bozich created Alta Gracia much earlier, in 2010.
He says a setback in his own health made him especially sympathetic to the plight of garment workers.
JOE BOZICH: Can you imagine what it would be like to know every night that your kids are going to bed hungry? You can only afford one meal a day. I’ve had some experience that made me think about those things in my own life, including my own diagnosis with a disease called multiple sclerosis. And the good news for me was, though, I always had hope.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says there’s growing concern among consumers about conditions in garment factories, and that’s helping the market for ethically produced goods. Alta Gracia apparel is now displayed in more than 800 college bookstores. What we don’t know yet is how it will fare in this competitive space, says Georgetown’s Kline.
JOHN KLINE: A lot of brands are built on reputation by celebrity endorsements. What he’s trying to do is build a brand name that gives him pricing advantages on something else, on good worker conditions.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And do you have inkling yet about whether that has cachet?
JOHN KLINE: You certainly have a lot of studies that have been done of what people say: that they will pay more for products that they know are made under good labor conditions. I don’t know that there are convincing studies that people really follow through on this.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Our informal survey showed some of the challenges. These freshmen said they were sympathetic to the issue of fair trade and workers’ rights, but not particularly tuned in.
GRACE GUIBERT: It’s not something I’ve really thought about. I mean, I’m always aware that things are made in sweatshops and that it happens, but I never think about it when I’m buying.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For others, price is king.
If you saw two T-shirts that were identical, and one said it was made in a living-wage factory and one said nothing, would you pay more for the one that said living-wage factory?
BRI HOUSER: No, I’d probably buy the one that was cheaper.
DAVID SKOCZYN: Yes, probably the cheaper one.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bozich says he’s ready to compete on price, so Alta Gracia’s approach is to not raise its prices or ask for any charity from the consumer, even though higher wages raise its production costs by 20 to 30 percent.
Instead, Bozich is going after more volume sales. Alta Gracia won the bid last year, for example, for 150,000 football-themed shirts sold for a student fund-raiser that helps needy students at Notre Dame.
John Wetzel and Abby Dankoff say it’s a compatible fit.
ABBY DANKOFF: We definitely market the Alta Gracia aspect.
JOHN WETZEL: We do see a lot of people who hear about our cause and then just buy the shirt, and so then if they are able to hear about another cause on top of that, it makes their decision easier.
JOHN KLINE: I would think in the next year or two it will be proven or not proven in the collegiate sector. And I think Joe is already starting to test the waters outside the collegiate sector, and that will be a broader, tougher test.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bozich says high productivity at Alta Gracia and the promise of more business should allow the factory to soon break even.
JOE BOZICH: I think that’s going to transpire in 2014. Recently, the National Hockey League has just made the decision to license Alta Gracia. So we’ll now be able to produce all of the NHL teams in the Alta Gracia factory and bring that to market.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts say much will depend on consumers, whose behavior can be influenced by factors as varied as a team’s performance or even a news headline from Bangladesh.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
INDIA’S SACRED COWS
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: It may look like an unusual petting zoo but this is actually a place of reverence to many people in India.
This gowshala, or cow shelter, is one of three in India’s capital, Delhi. It serves as both barn and sanctuary for six thousand urban cows. Most are abandoned by their owners to fend for themselves in a mega city of 17 million.
BALJIT SINGH DAGAR (Shelter Board Chair): (through translator) In the Hindu religion, if you take care of cows, your family will prosper and you will have peace. Your children will have a good spiritual life. God will look after them.
DE SAM LAZARO: Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism. They’re the favorite animal of the deity Lord Krishna, and a symbol of wealth, strength and abundance. The cow’s spiritual significance is likely also tied to it’s very practical role in India since ancient times.
MADAN MOHAN VERMA (India Interfaith Foundation): Much of the traditions and rituals have grown out of utility. Although we are not aware of the scientific background of these matters or the correct mythology of certain traditions, but the truth of the matter is every ritual, every rite, every tradition had a strong scientific basis. It was based on moral law, natural law, cosmic law, divine law, moral traditions.
Madan Mohan Verma, India Interfaith Foundation
DE SAM LAZARO: Verma says the veneration of cows quite likely traces back millennia and to its utility-on farms, for transportation. Cow’s milk, butter, and yogurt are important sources of protein in a vegetarian diet, by which many Hindus abide. In rural areas, cow dung is used for fuel and even the urine is collected for use in traditional medicines.
The slaughter of cows is illegal in many parts of India and even McDonald’s, the world’s largest hamburger chain, doesn’t serve any beef in its India outlets.
But McDonald’s is part of India’s growing urban landscape. Delhi is a city that’s grown farther and father out into what was once rural land.
BALJIT SINGH DAGAR: (through translator) When they were on farms, these animals used to work, they pulled carts and plows. Now machines have come in and there’s much less use for them. Now people don’t have that much space for cows.
DE SAM LAZARO: An estimated 40,000 of the animals roam freely on the streets of Delhi. They are increasingly seen as a nuisance, clogging traffic and foraging through garbage heaps. And they’ve become a target for poachers.
Baljit Singh Dagar
BALJIT SINGH DAGAR: (through translator) We live with people of another religion. Some people of that religion, and I do say some, because there are people in that religion that also honor and serve cows. But some people pick them up from the road…
DE SAM LAZARO: He was referring to “some people” among India’s Muslims. Muslims do consume beef, but sociologists say there’s growing beef consumption among Hindus as well in an increasingly globalized urban India. A single cow can fetch as much as 5,000 rupees, about 90 dollars, on the underground market, a big payday here. The cow shelters rely on the faithful to get to the animals first.
BALJIT SINGH DAGAR: (through translator) People call in to tell us there is a cow on the street or wandered into our home. We provide transportation to bring them in. Some people bring them in themselves and leave them here.
DE SAM LAZARO: The shelters are supported by public donations, which flowed in abundantly the day we visited from people who came in to pray and to feed the animals.
BALJIT SINGH DAGAR: (through translator) We don’t ask people to give money, as you saw today they just come in. When you add together all the money from those who give, all the way from 100 thousand rupees, to thousands, to small amounts, we get about 30 million rupees a year.
DE SAM LAZARO: That’s about half a million dollars to allow the animals to live out their natural lives in peace.
BALJIT SINGH DAGAR: (through translator) Cows have to die, but we don’t want them to die of hunger or thirst.
DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a far cry from the grassy rural range that is the more natural habitat. But these animals do have cooling fans and an abundant, if somewhat unusually varied diet, as throngs of devout people preserve or restore the historical reverence for India’s urban cow.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Delhi, India.
Designing cleaner stoves for home cooks in the developing world
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: In El Salvador, one group is trying to solve a major problem by tackling it on a small scale. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story. It’s part of his ongoing series Agents for Change.
JULIA ROBERTS: Did you know that one of the deadliest threats facing women and their families around the world today is right inside their own home?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Julia Roberts is a celebrity spokesperson for a renewed effort to provide cleaner stoves to the estimated three billion people worldwide who rely on open fire indoor cookstoves.
These stoves and the smoke they produce are blamed for two million deaths each year from lung cancer and burns. Their fires are a major souse of greenhouse gases, their fuel a major cause of deforestation.
There have been many efforts so far to provide improved stoves, but with only scattered small-scale success.
RADHA MUTHIAH, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: These are what, five or six of 65, 70 different stoves that are out there.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Radha Muthiah heads the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which was set up in 2010 to bring some coherence to the various efforts.
Working under the U.N. foundation and with a $100 million U.S. government grant, the agency is trying to find out what works and what doesn’t work to rate the various models for efficiency and to fund research into new ones.
RADHA MUTHIAH: The things that we learned from the past efforts are that in the assumption that, oh, if we provide a cleaner cookstove, that is far better than a three-stone fire, so, of course every household member would want that.
But cooking patterns are different. Cultural habits are different. And people everywhere are the same. We would like to have some say. We would like to have some choice.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One enterprise in Central America believes it offers the right choice. In rural El Salvador, Gustavo Pena is the chief traveling salesman for a cookstove made in his factory, one that he promises housewives can vastly improve their lives because it burns fuel more efficiently, meaning it needs less firewood and emits less smoke.
GUSTAVO PENA, stove factory owener (through interpreter): The stove uses very little firewood because the heat is concentrated in the chamber.
We normally raffle one stove. The idea is to leave the stove in the community, so that everyone can see it, how it performs, how it really saves wood.
This is going to be a fiberglass mold.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Pena is a native of central El Salvador who lived previously in the U.S. and Canada. He got started in the business when he met Nancy Hughes, the founder of StoveTeam International.
Hughes is a 70-year-old Oregon native who began visiting this region about 14 years ago as a volunteer.
NANCY HUGHES, founder, StoveTeam International: After I was widowed, I decided to reinvent my life, so I went on a medical mission to Guatemala.
And I did what they asked me to do, which was cook in the kitchen. And a young woman came into the kitchen whose hands had burned shut — been burned shut from falling in an open cooking fire.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Such experiences drove Hughes to look for ways to provide cleaner, safer stoves. A noted engineer and friend, Larry Winiarski, offered to design one, and with Pena ready to manufacture it, Hughes went to her local Rotary Club and asked them for startup funds.
NANCY HUGHES: I was standing around with these Rotarians and they said, you can start a factory in El Salvador. And I was like, I’m over 65. I’m not doing that. And so one of the people on the team said, listen, we have got a great stove. We have got a guy who wants to produce them. We can raise money, so let’s raise money and place an order for stoves with him, and let him go and let him own the factory, and we don’t have to do it.
That was very appealing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With similar Rotary Club funding, StoveTeam has since set up six factories across Central America and Mexico, each owned by a local entrepreneur. It’s a very different approach than most aid groups. They have often imported mass-produced stoves and given them out for free or at almost no cost to users.
One reason StoveTeam says it’s been successful is that its stoves are locally produced. And their design is informed by local food customs. The biggest problem, most women here probably could not afford to buy one.
GUSTAVO PENA: After a couple of weeks, we come back. We get a list of people that really want the stove. And then we contact some NGOs that can bring them over to the community, and they make an application to see if they apply to get a discount for the stove.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Discount, not giveaway. Pena says it costs about $40 to make one of these models. He sells them for $60. But aid groups subsidize most sales.
Patricia Savaleta works for the charitable arm of a nearby power utility. She agreed on this day to help with the purchase of 200 stoves, bringing their price down by about 50 percent.
PATRICIA SAVALETA, (through interpreter): We prefer to charge them something for the stove. People won’t appreciate them if they don’t pay for them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She and many other development experts say if people are going to pay for something, they need to be convinced it’s worth it. This may seem like common sense in a market-based system, but in the business of aid, historically, few donors have asked their recipients’ opinion, one reason experts say many aid projects fail.
RADHA MUTHIAH: It’s a big lesson. I think it’s a big lesson of, you know, really not just assuming that the users as beneficiaries, but users as consumers and active participants in the whole process. I think…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That you should talk to.
RADHA MUTHIAH: Absolutely.
RADHA MUTHIAH: So — and I think its a lesson broadly in development. It extends outside of the cookstove space as well. In the past, I think, in development, you have heard the term beneficiary being used a lot. And I think that speaks volumes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The lessons not learned in the past can be measured by how many people stopped using the stoves. A 2012 Harvard-MIT study followed 2,600 households in India that were provided improved stoves. It found that most people quickly reverted to their old methods. They weren’t able to start and use the improved stoves properly or maintain them. As a result, there was little benefit to human health or air quality.
StoveTeam wants to make sure the 40,000 stoves it has sold so far remain in use and in working order. It’s training teams to visit buyers regularly and survey the use of their stoves.
The plan is to fund these home visits through the sale of carbon credits. Since the stoves reduce emissions, Pena’s company gets credit that it can sell to manufacturers, most of them in Europe, who use them as offsets for their own pollution.
Firewood consumption before and after a stove is purchased are measured to determine the size of the credit.
NANCY HUGHES: We know through laboratory and field testing they save 50 percent of the wood that is being used normally in an open fire, and they reduce carbon emissions and particulate matter by 70 percent.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: While StoveTeam tries to protect a business model that promises to be sustainable, the Global Alliance say the overall effort will need to be vastly scaled up and made attractive to commercial investors. Its goal is to provide 100 million clean stoves by 2020.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Online, you can find examples of five different clean-burning stoves used around the world.
‘Long way to go’ in reform of Bangladesh’s garment industry since factory disaster
JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been almost a year since a Bangladesh factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 garment workers and injuring 2,500 others. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro returned to the country recently to see what’s been done to make factories safer and whether victims of the disaster have been compensated.
His report is a partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We first met Josna Akthar last June in a Dhaka hospital. She had been rescued after spending two days under the rubble of Rana Plaza.
Doctors said Akthar was lucky to survive the building collapse that claimed more than 1,100 lives and fortunate that her spine remained intact. That’s not the way she feels today.
JOSNA AKTHAR, (through interpreter): Sometimes, I wonder how I can continue this life. I cannot do anything. If I bend to pick up anything from the floor, it really hurts. Sometimes, I say it might be better to die.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The 19-year-old says she’s in almost constant pain, unable to sit or stand for more than a few minutes at a time. We had to interrupt our interview so she could stretch.
JOSNA AKTHAR (through interpreter): I had surgery on my spinal cord, and the doctors said not to do any hard work, because that could hurt my spinal cord. They said it could take a long time to heal.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, most days are spent in bed watching TV in the tiny one-room home she shares with her parents and two younger sisters. She was a breadwinner until last April. Now she frets being a burden. Her mother, Rahela Begum, also had to quit her garment factory job.
RAHELA BEGUM (through interpreter): I have to care for her, and there is no way that I can take a job outside of the house. Our big concern is how long she will be this way, about her future.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They are like millions of impoverished rural families who have moved to the capital city in recent years to work in the garment industry that’s second now only to China’s in size.
Josna’s father’s earnings as a rickshaw-puller, about $3 a day, are all this family has.
RAHELA BEGUM (through interpreter): When she was in the hospital, people took down her name, and I have heard of people getting compensation but no one has contacted us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When they learned of our visit, several neighbors gathered around, clutching pictures of relatives who died in the building collapse. Some said they had received just 1,300 U.S. dollars from a government fund. Some complained it had gone to the wrong family members.
There are no reliable records of who worked in the building or which companies had contracts and therefore might bear responsibility for compensating victims. Add red tape on top of that, and relief has been slow to reach victims and families, says labor organizer Roy Ramesh.
ROY RAMESH, Labor Organizer: It is the fault of the government, fault of the employers, fault of the buyers, and everyone. Nobody can deny the responsibility of that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: All but the workers, he says, have benefited from an opaque trade that relies on low wages and lax regulation.
After Rana Plaza, the image of many global apparel companies was threatened, says Scott Nova. He’s the Washington, D.C.-based Workers Rights Consortium.
SCOTT NOVA, Executive Director, Worker Rights Consortium: These are brands and retailers who work very hard to create as much distance as possible between the reality for the workers who make their products and the consumers who buy and wear those products. But an event like Rana Plaza closes that distance. It shows consumers the conditions under which their clothing is being made, and it creates, therefore, strong pressure on the brands and retailers to change their practices.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In general, he says European brands have acted more responsibly; 153 companies recently signed onto a legally binding multimillion-dollar worker safety accord to respect and bring all factories up to international building standards.
Most big American names didn’t join this group. A few did.
SCOTT NOVA: We have Fruit of the Loom. We have PVH, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and a number of others. We also have brands that are not U.S.-based, but household names in the U.S., like Adidas, like H&M. So some companies involved in the U.S. market are stepping up, but the Wal-Marts, The Gaps have not chosen to be part of this critical process of change, and that is extremely disturbing to watch.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some experts say liability concerns have kept the American companies from legally binding commitments, but Rabin Mesbah, local head of the U.S.-led group, says just because they didn’t sign doesn’t mean they have done nothing.
RABIN MESBAH, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety: First is a gentleman’s commitment.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A gentleman’s commitment?
RABIN MESBAH: Commitment and understanding and perception, not necessarily has to be legally binded.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says his so-called Alliance group has hired international and local engineers to do safety inspections at garment factories.
RABIN MESBAH: We are trying to engage the workers. We are establishing the outline to listen to their voice, so we will make it as safe as possible.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And the Alliance has collaborated with the European-led group on common safety concerns, jointly sponsoring a recent building safety expo, for example. It introduced owners of the 4,000-odd factories to things like fire doors and sprinklers, virtually unheard of in Bangladesh.
For their part, factory owners like Shabbir Mahmood complain that their international customers have talked about improving conditions, but haven’t been willing to pay for it.
SHABBIR MAHMOOD, Factor Owner (through interpreter): Whenever I ask the buyers to give a better price, the buyers say, we will go somewhere else.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Besides building improvements, factory owner group Atiqul Islam says wages were recently increased. The legal minimum offered workers has gone up from about $38 a month to about $70 a month.
ATIQUL ISLAM, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporters Association: What are saying to them, that we have increased our salary, as you know that, last December, new salary structure has been declared by our government. So, the buyers, still they are not paying the…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The buyers are not paying you more, even though you raised the wages?
ATIQUL ISLAM: Absolutely.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Workers’ representatives complain that wages, even with the recent increases approved by the government, are still well below what’s considered livable in Bangladesh.
Labor organizer Ramesh says there is a long way to go on other rights workers are supposed to enjoy.
ROY RAMESH: The international buyers should use their business influence, so that the workers are enjoying the freedom of association, collective bargaining. And government is reluctant to implement the existing laws.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Government is greatly influenced by the garment industry, he says. Many members of parliament also own garment factories.
For his part, the country’s commerce minister says he’s proud of the industry’s accomplishments. In two decades, it’s brought four million workers out of dire poverty, says Tolfeo Ahmad. And the Rana Plaza tragedy will make the multibillion-dollar ready-made garment business more transparent and prosperous, he says.
MAN: Today, $21.5, and in 2021, it will be $50 billion.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: More immediately, government and officials insist that families affected by the Rana Plaza tragedy will soon begin receiving compensation.
The British retailer Primark announced a $9 million fund to help some 500 families of workers who produced its garments in the building.
For her part, Josna Akthar hopes someday to return to a job that helped support her family, one that allowed a rural Bangla teenager to fantasize about the world beyond.
JOSNA AKTHAR (through interpreter): I wanted to meet people who wear the clothes made by workers like us. So, for fun, when we were making shirts, I put my mobile number in the pocket of the shirts. I knew that the people who wear these shirts could not speak Bangla, so I write in English, “If you like the shirt, call me.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Did she ever get a call?
She got three calls, she says, limited by the language barrier to no more than a brief greeting. That was before her cell phone was lost in the collapse of Rana Plaza.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Late last month, three major U.S. retailers said they would provide compensation to victims of the building collapse. Wal-Mart contributed $1 million, and Children’s Place and Gap gave half-a-million dollars each.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Making small improvements in the lives of India’s vulnerable domestic workers
GWEN IFILL: Now to the plight of one of the world’s most vulnerable populations: domestic workers.
Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from India, part of our series Agents for Change.
A version of Fred’s story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Punita Taneja has a staff of four domestic workers, all living in quarters behind her large New Delhi home. She also has a gardener and a night watchman.
PUNITA TANEJA, India (through interpreter): They have specific tasks which have been allocated to them, and specific times also.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The workers, migrants from more impoverished parts of India, told us they were grateful for a safe home, food, and a compassionate employer, a Delhi socialite who owns a software firm with her husband.
WOMAN (through interpreter): I am from Calcutta and came here because my husband was not earning much, and things were very tough. I don’t even have an education.
WOMAN (through interpreter): Madam has trained me, and now I know how to cook.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It might seem like an Indian “Downton Abbey,” the epic TV series of benevolent rich employer and household help. But in India, you don’t need to be rich. Nearly everyone, from the lowest rungs of the middle class on up, employs domestics, but many employers are not like — many mistreat their domestic help, employing them in virtual slavery.
India has strong trade unions. It has laws that protect the rights of workers. But domestic work isn’t covered by them. In fact, in all but a few places, employers aren’t required to pay their domestic workers the legal minimum wage.
One of the Indian capital’s best known lobbyists for domestic workers is a Belgian nun. Jeanne Devos founded the National Domestic Workers Movement 34 years ago. It tries to organize among this vast informal work force, by some estimates as high as 40 million, mostly women. Many were trafficked into the work as children.
SISTER JEANNE DEVOS, National Domestic Workers Movement: That’s a whole network of money, racket. It’s amazing. It’s one of the biggest incomes for most people. Just go to the villages, get them poor children, sell them back in the city.
LEEZA JOSEPH, India (through interpreter): Domestic workers are very invisible. They are not recognized as workers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Leeza Joseph heads the movement’s Delhi office.
NISHA RAO, (through interpreter): Everyone here is a domestic worker.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In this Delhi slum, we met Nisha Rao. She’s 35, and already she’s worked a quarter-century as a domestic — she’s hardly an exception.
NISHA RAO (through interpreter): This grandma, she’s is the oldest one in the neighborhood. Even at her age, she still works in two homes, doesn’t even get a day off in a month. This is a young girl.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Radhika is 12 and still attends school. She’s a sixth grader. But each weekday after school and on weekends, she works in a home caring for a 6-year-old child.
How much does she get paid?
NISHA RAO (through interpreter): Five hundred rupees.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s about nine dollars a month. Many domestic are trafficked as children or coerced by dire family finances or circumstances. Nisha Rao was orphaned at 10.
NISHA RAO (through interpreter): I wanted to go to school, but that was not an option. With no education, domestic work was the only option. My aunt found me a family.
LEEZA JOSEPH (through interpreter): We’re always divided by caste, but we are all equal.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Extreme poverty complicated by age-old caste divisions underlie many problems faced by domestic, Joseph says.
LEEZA JOSEPH (through interpreter): You don’t get respect. You have to eat off separate plates, drink from separate glasses.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Joseph says the largest societal indifference was evident in the diplomatic row that followed the arrest in New York last December of an Indian diplomat.
WOMAN: Officials are angry, not just at Khobragade’s arrest.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Devyani Khobragade was charged with visa fraud for failing to pay her domestic worker, who was also from India, far less than the American minimum wage and then lying about it.
In Delhi’s official circles, there was widespread condemnation of the diplomat’s treatment. It provoked tit-for-tat responses.
WOMAN: Security barricades being removed from the U.S. embassy in Delhi.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In spite of wall-to-wall coverage of the incident in India, Joseph says the charges against the diplomat got, at best, dismissive mention.
LEEZA JOSEPH: It was like, why the U.S. government is making a big issue about just not paying to a domestic worker? Because, in India, many do not pay, so for Indians, it was not a big issue.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How well a minimum wage of any law could be enforced is a big question. Devos’ group did manage to get domestics included in a bill that protects workers from sexual harassment. But there was strong resistance at first, she says.
SISTER JEANNE DEVOS: The rationale of the ministry of women and children was clearly the home is a home and no workplace. Finally, we came to know from people in the ministry that it was because it’s the biggest group behind closed doors, and we won’t be able to handle it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The enforcement would be too difficult?
SISTER JEANNE DEVOS: Too difficult.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But slowly, she says, things are beginning to change, especially in the rapidly modernizing big cities.
SISTER JEANNE DEVOS: For instance, now in a city like Bombay, and you will have the same in Delhi, we have areas where there is such a demand for domestic workers, where people pay double the minimum wage. If there is a shortage of that particular group of workers, the salaries go up.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And for some, it’s a business opportunity. This company, named B-ABLE was started two years ago by a California native whose spouse was a British diplomat in Delhi.
SHAWN RUNACRES, B-ABLE: It was a very pure business model, helping workers find people and helping people find workers, then helping them to skill up. It’s helping them to join the organized world, rather than keeping them in the darkness.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The company vets and places workers in homes. Employers also send their domestic staff to gain skills. Cooking is particularly popular. Instructors themselves are former domestic worker, most from Delhi’s coveted diplomatic corps.
LALITA SUBRAMANI, B-ABLE: Since I’ve been working as a domestic worker for the Canadians, of course it did help me develop my interpersonal skills, like conversation skill or how to deal with people. So, yes, it definitely helped.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Among workers applying, there’s still a strong preference for foreign households.
ASHA KUMAR, B-ABLE (through interpreter): Maybe because they have to do this work themselves in their own countries, they respect this work. They don’t look at the girl who comes into their home as a slave or servant. But in the past three years, I have been placing people in Indian households. Things are changing — slowly, but they are changing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Punita Taneja is a client who likes to think herself part of the shifting social mind-set.
PUNITA TANEJA: The biggest mass that we have is the uneducated mass which comes from the villages, and they are also seeking to improve their own future. So I feel if we who have been blessed with all this start reaching out, somewhere we will start making a difference.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But she admits it’s a small start to formalize a mostly underground industry that thrives on an abundant supply of impoverished women. For now, activists must count their victories one at a time — and perhaps in a generation.
NISHA RAO (through interpreter): From morning to night, everything I do is for my daughter, because all of the problems I’ve had in my life have been because I didn’t have an education. I want my daughter to study.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She can’t see the stigma ever going away, she says, and she is determined she won’t see her daughter ever become a domestic worker.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Healing wounds of Rwanda’s genocide by reconciling survivor and perpetrator
GWEN IFILL: This month marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days in 1994, a murderous ethnic killing spree took the lives of nearly one million people there. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the efforts under way even now to reconcile the rival parties.
Fred’s report is part of our series Agents for Change. A version of this story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every Sunday, Claude Musayimana picks up his neighbor Celestin Buhanda on their way to church. You’d never tell from the warm traditional greeting that Musayimana murdered several members of Buhanda’s family.
It’s a friendship as unthinkable as the homicidal orgy in which Hutus like Musayimana killed nearly a million of the minority Tutsi like Buhanda, as well as some moderate Hutus.
CLAUDE MUSAYIMANA (through interpreter): Growing up, I remember my grandmother would tell me how bad they were. In 1994, when we started killing people, the local leaders were supporting us. I did it freely. There was no blame, no consequences.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Official broadcasts incited Hutus to kill Tutsis after an airplane carrying the country’s Hutu president was shot down, escalating a simmering civil war fought along ethnic lines.
The tension dates back decades, aggravated first by Belgian colonial rulers who favored the minority Tutsi. That created an elite and bred resentment among the 85 percent Hutu majority in Rwanda. In ethnic flare-ups, churches had served as safe havens. Not in 1994. They became killing chambers, in some cases with the complicity of their pastors.
CELESTIN BUHANDA (through interpreter): I fled to the church in Ntarama. The only reason I survived is that it was so crowded we decided to allow only women and children to shelter inside the church.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: All 5,000 women and children in the church were killed with guns or grenades.
CELESTIN BUHANDA (through interpreter): We were eight siblings; in all, six of them were killed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He survived a weeks-long flight and encounters with Hutu mobs who left him with blows to the head, a severed Achilles’ tendon and left him for dead.
CELESTIN BUHANDA (through interpreter): The killings continued until the RPF arrived.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The RPF, or Rwandan Patriotic Front, an army led by exiles from neighboring Uganda, took over the country. It drove genocide leaders and millions of Hutus into neighboring Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thousands of most Hutus were killed in reprisals.
RPF leader Paul Kagame consolidated power, became Rwanda’s president in 2000, and has since won two elections.
CLAUDE MUSAYIMANA (through interpreter): After the RPF came to power, I fled to the south. I felt guilty about the innocent people I’d killed. I decided to come forward and tell the truth. I was arrested and put in prison.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Musayimana spent 10 years in prison. Like him, many perpetrators are now out and returning to their communities — an integration that would be difficult in any circumstance in this crowded country, 12 million people squeezed into a land the size of Maryland.
Rwanda’s churches, so many of them complicit in the genocide, so many of them the very site where massacres occurred, are being asked to play a key role in the reconciliation that will be essential to rebuilding this country.
Claude Musayimana and Celestin Buhanda met in one of many small groups set up by the Christian charity World Vision. It organized regular meetings that brought genocide survivors face to face with perpetrators.
CLAUDE MUSAYIMANA (through interpreter): The workshops were very important. For many years, I kept wondering what I could do to be free, to be accepted back in the village. This was an opportunity.
CLAUDE MUSAYIMANA (through interpreter): It wasn’t easy. We yelled at them at first, and that allowed us to feel relief, and we were able to find space in our hearts to forgive.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, the former workshop groups serve as clubs, organizing projects to build homes for genocide survivors or on projects like this tree nursery, trying to move forward as one community despite ever-present reminders and pain.
Alice Mukarurinda lost not only her infant daughter, but also her right hand. She bears a deep facial scar, among other injuries. She met her assailant, Emmanuel Ndayisaba, six years ago in this group.
ALICE MUKARURINDA (through interpreter): All those years, I looked at all Hutus as the ones that did this to me. I prayed to God that if I could meet the one person, I would shift the blame from all Hutus to him.
EMMANUEL NDAYISABA (through interpreter): I saw visions of the people I killed for many years. It was painful. I was a Christian, an Adventist. I was in the choir. All that guilt made me sick.
ALICE MUKARURINDA (through interpreter): When I first saw him, I was so traumatized. I had to be taken to the hospital for 10 days. It was not easy. But then later, I managed to forgive him. I believe it was God’s power.
EMMANUEL NDAYISABA (through interpreter): We have built 118 houses so far. That’s one of the things we do to pay back what we did, the genocide. I spent eight years in prison, came out, and did two years of community work. But it never feels like enough.
ALICE MUKARURINDA (through interpreter): The fact that we are given the time to speak out about our feelings made us feel much better. We had kept all the sorrows and pain in our heart. It was so painful.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It helped that her attacker was literally working for forgiveness, building houses for people who were harmed in the genocide.
JOSEPHINE MUNYELI, World Vision: I see real reconciliation is taking place, and it’s not fake. It’s genuine. Well, you cannot fake reconciliation. You can’t.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: World Vision’s Josephine Munyeli says so far her group alone has brought rapprochement between more than a thousand pairs of genocide survivors and perpetrators. But there’s no escaping it will be a long journey.
JOSEPHINE MUNYELI: The challenge is the magnitude of the genocide. It was very deep. It was awful. It was very bad, and they — and you cannot exhaust it. You heal, but when — another day, you remember another story.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rebecca Besant has been working to make sure reconciliation keeps moving forward among younger Rwandans. She heads the Rwanda office of a group called Search for Common Ground.
REBECCA BESANT, Search for Common Ground: The fact that you know your neighbor killed your entire family and now you’re still in the house next to them and have to see them every day, a lot of people have sort of decided, I don’t have a choice. And either I can let my rage absolutely consume me, or I can accept the fact that I’m not going anywhere, and he’s not going anywhere, and we have to make this work.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her agency uses a reality TV show to encourage entrepreneurs, trains journalists in a country where media were used to incite the genocide, and works in schools.
Many of today’s youth were orphaned by the genocide. Others have parents in prison. Through drama skits, this troupe encourages students to come together as Rwandans first.
REBECCA BESANT: One of the things that we’re really trying to encourage for Rwanda in the future is how to talk about things before it explodes. If you’re a young person and you’ve got a problem in your classroom, how do you express what that problem is? And you talk about it in a frank and open way. And I think that continues to be one of the challenges.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One thing that she and others say is helping Rwanda heal is that the economy and access to services like health care have improved markedly in recent years.
GWEN IFILL: In our second report tomorrow, Fred looks at those improvements.
His reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Rwanda rebuilds after genocide with focus on community health care
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: part two of our look at Rwanda 20 years after the genocide that left almost one million people dead.
Since 1994, Rwanda has made progress in reducing extreme poverty. Health care has gotten special attention, with the help of a Boston-based organization.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has that story, part of his Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bosco Ntawugiruwe is a farmer who barely scraps by. He didn’t finish high school, but he is also a foot soldier in a public health army that’s delivering results as impressive as the view on his way to work in Rwanda’s remote volcanic highlands.
BOSCO NTAWUGIRUWE (through interpreter): Have you been taking your meds?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Each day, he checks to make sure patients take their medicines for HIV, for tuberculosis, or checks on the recovery of a malnourished child.
BOSCO NTAWUGIRUWE (through interpreter): She’s looking good.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Average life expectancy has more than doubled in the past 20 years. It’s now 62; 99 percent of Rwandans have access to safe drinking water.
And although this nation of 12 million remains poor, more than one million Rwandans have been brought out of poverty in recent years by one of Africa’s most robust economies.
The transformation is striking for those with memories of the massacre of nearly one million people 20 years ago. After the genocide, this tiny, crowded country, one of the world’s poorest, was written off, including in one prominent medical journal, says Health Minister Dr. Agnes Binagwaho.
DR. AGNES BINAGWAHO, Minister of Health, Rwanda: Just after the genocide, there was an article published in The Lancet saying Rwanda is a land of desolation; don’t invest there.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rwanda’s post-genocide government had little credibility early on, drawn mostly from an army of exiled rebels. It’s leader, Paul Kagame, consolidated power to become president and has been called everything from a benevolent to a ruthless dictator for cracking down on freedom of expression.
He’s been accused of interference and plunder in his mineral-rich, but troubled neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where many of the genocide-era regime fled after they were defeated.
But there’s no question Rwanda has changed, something that’s attracted initially reticent aid groups. One of them is Boston-based Partners in Health.
Dr. Peter Drobac heads its Rwanda office.
DR. PETER DROBAC, Partners in Health: One of the things that I see Rwanda having done very effectively is really take ownership for its own development activities. What happens all too often in — in poor countries is that the agenda is driven by the donors or by the development agencies.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite meager resources, he says, Rwanda has built a new health care system. Rwanda has a severe shortage of doctors. There’s just one for every 100,000 people. The comparable figure in the U.S. is 273. So there’s a concerted effort to train other providers, nurses, and especially community health workers, who are volunteers. They go into their neighborhoods to look for early signs of disease and illness.
Bosco Ntawugiruwe is one of 45,000 health workers. Elected by their communities, they receive six weeks of training in basic preventive health and periodic refresher courses.
BOSCO NTAWUGIRUWE (through interpreter): I always wanted to be a teacher, so this is very fulfilling. I have skills now and I am giving back to the community.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When 1-year-old Francine began showing signs of illness, her mother first sought out her community health worker for advice.
WOMAN (through interpreter): It wasn’t hard to find Bosco. He advised me to grow a kitchen garden to grow more fruits and vegetables.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He also took mother and child to the regional health center, where Francine was treated for malnutrition, one of many conditions that can be diagnosed and treated before they escalate, says Health Minister Binagwaho.
DR. AGNES BINAGWAHO: They can treat 80 percent of the burden of diseases at community level, especially for woman and children under 5, meaning cough and fever. They give antibiotic. Malaria, they do the diagnostic, and they do the treatment.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As a result, the number of children dying before age 5 has dropped to a quarter of what it was in the year 2000. The number of mothers who die in childbirth is down 66 percent since 1990, in part because 99 percent of pregnant women receive at least one prenatal care visit.
DR. AGNES BINAGWAHO: We should demystify care-providing, provide — the way we provide care.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Demystify care, basically?
DR. AGNES BINAGWAHO: Yes, demystify. Yes, demystify. And we should — we should implore the community to be in charge.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Patients who need more attention go to regional health clinics staffed by nurses and, when needed, to hospital.
The focus has been on the poorest and most isolated regions, unlike most countries, whose best facilities are in cities. Rwanda’s most modern hospital was built in Butaro, in the mountainous north, mostly with funds from Partners in Health.
Emmanuel Kamanzi is a manager with the group.
EMMANUEL KAMANZI, Partners in Health: While we were building, people couldn’t believe this was their hospital. They are like, this is a resort coming up for the experts, for muzungu.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For white people, for the tourists.
EMMANUEL KAMANZI: For white people, for tourists.
But we were like, look, this is your hospital; this is what you deserve.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government runs this hospital with some operating money and expertise from Partners in Health. The goal is to build local capacity in the public sector, a lesson the group’s Dr. Drobac says it learned in Haiti, where it began working 27 years ago.
DR. PETER DROBAC: After the earthquake, for example, when billions of dollars were pledged for reconstruction for Haiti, almost none of that money went into the public sector. And it was because of impressions that the public sector is weak, is corrupt, is disorganized, is ineffective, but what happens is, you really get a self — self-fulfilling prophecy.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rwanda’s public sector has won high marks for being largely free of corruption. It’s perhaps the only nation, Drobac says, where U.S. government aid for HIV/AIDS drugs goes directly to the government, because it is trusted.
DR. PETER DROBAC: Where, rather than all of the aid going through nongovernmental subcontractors, non-profits and for-profits that take 30, 40, 50 percent of the overhead and then implement programs, the money’s going directly to the government.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Butaro hospital is also part of an effort to look beyond infectious diseases, which have long dominated public health efforts in poor countries, to noncommunicable diseases.
DR. MPUNGA THARCISSE: Hypertension, cardiac failure, also diabetes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hypertension, cardiac failure, also diabetes.
DR. MPUNGA THARCISSE: Diabetes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Medical director Dr. Mpunga Tharcisse says, in its first year of operation, the hospital has treated more than 1,500 cancer patients.
This is the cancer ward?
DR. MPUNGA THARCISSE: This is the cancer ward.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So this is the only place in Rwanda where patients without means, poor people, can actually get treatment for cancer? Is that fair to say?
DR. MPUNGA THARCISSE: Yes, that’s — that’s true.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the first time, patients in a public hospital are able to receive chemotherapy. For now, the expensive drugs are paid for by Partners in Health. It means a new lease on life for patients like 4-year-old Yvette, being treated for kidney cancer, and for Bernadette, a 35-year-old mother of four who underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer.
WOMAN (through interpreter): It was very difficult then they first told me it was cancer, because, in my mind, cancer meant death. But the doctors were by my side. They kept telling me, things will be OK. I thought I was going to die after the operation. I had bad reaction to the medicine. I had pains in my chest. But now I’m living a new life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The new life for cancer patients here might be a metaphor for post-genocide Rwanda, resurgent after a near-death experience with a long journey ahead.
NURSES LURED BY PROMISE OF EMPLOYMENT
GWEN IFILL: We turn now to the business of finding and hiring foreign nurses for the American health care system. The demand is great but, for some, so are also the risks.
NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from the Philippines.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every few minutes at this Manila nursing school, a mannequin is born. Students are trained on a range of childbirth scenarios, simulated on robotic patients. But real life, whether in operating rooms or the job market these days, will be far trickier.
Nursing has long been a highly sought-after profession in the Philippines, mainly because it is seen as a ticket to a well-paid job outside the country.
WOMAN: My aunt abroad, she was the one who is sending me to college. She is in Hong Kong.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, she encouraged you to become a nurse. Why?
WOMAN: Because, according from her, being a nurse in overseas is a lot of salary. They earn so much money.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: If you were to work overseas, what would be your first choice?
WOMAN: Anywhere in the United States, sir.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She wants to follow a path that has brought tens of thousands of nurses from the Philippines, India and elsewhere to the U.S. over recent decades.
George Washington University Professor Patricia Pittman says they have filled critical, recurring nurse shortages.
PATRICIA PITTMAN, The George Washington University: The last major shortage of U.S. nurses was between 2000 and 2008. At the peak of that shortage, we were recruiting about 20,000 nurses a year.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The recession that hit in 2008 brought many part-time and retired American nurses back into the job market. That left their Filipino counterparts vying for fewer jobs and vulnerable to unscrupulous, even fraudulent recruiters.
ANDREA SANTOS, Nurse: I was a nurse in the Philippines, and I was just barely making it. I was making around $100 a month.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Five years ago, Andrea Santos was scouring the Internet, looking to better her career prospects. She began communicating online with a Denver-based recruiter. He offered her a job and the sponsorship she required to apply for a work visa.
ANDREA SANTOS: So, I was surprised and very thankful.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Single at the time, Santos left her infant daughter behind with her family. She also borrowed $6,500 from them, a mortgage-size sum in the Philippines, to pay her way to America,
ANDREA SANTOS: He actually told me, OK, he will give the money back to me. So that made me interested.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What made you believe him?
ANDREA SANTOS: Desperation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Once in Denver, her nightmare began to unfold. Not only did her recruiter, a man named Kizzy Kalu, not refund her expenses. He began to take 40 percent of her salary. If she dared question, Santos says, Kalu responded with threats and intimidation, since her visa depended upon employment by him.
ANDREA SANTOS: It’s more of a psychological threat for me that, if I don’t do as he say, then I will face deportation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kalu began using Santos’ image on his Web site as a success story to attract more recruits.
PENELOPE PILPA, Nurse: I was able to see her on the Internet, yes. I was like, if she can do it, maybe I can also do it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For later like Penelope Pilpa, Kalu raised his price, extracting up-front fees of up to $10,000. He promised her a university teaching job. Turns out, the university didn’t even exist.
PENELOPE PILPA: Kizzy was always threatening us to, if you go out of this contract, we’re going to deport you back to the Philippines.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Eventually, the law caught up with Kizzy Kalu, himself an immigrant from Nigeria. Late last year, he was convicted of human trafficking and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
VICKY NAVARRO, Philippine Nurses Assoc. of America: You’re age 20, 25, and you are in a foreign country. You are truly dependent on the individual that has recruited you here. And not having a lot of knowledge, or having done legwork in what it entails to have a contract, then they are really so vulnerable.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Vicky Navarro is with the Philippine Nurses Association of America.
VICKY NAVARRO: These nurses are now here dependent on the agency to provide them with the work, to provide them with a place to live even, and so – and the visa issue as well. They are real literally held hostage because of the visa.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Visas tie nurses to their employers. Historically, these were large hospitals and health care systems, but with growing government backlogs in processing visas, providers began turning more and more to staffing agencies, like the one Kalu pretended to run.
PATRICIA PITTMAN: Because the recruitment takes a fairly long time several years, it’s hard for them to predict what they will need when visas come through, whereas as a staffing agency in theory can move people around according to what the demand is. So, they have less risk.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Even when the recruiter isn’t a trafficker, the deals still can work to the nurses’ disadvantage. Contracts often bind nurses to their agency for up to four years, with penalties reaching $60,000 if they quit earlier. Many contracts have other daunting provisions.
PATRICIA PITTMAN: Recruiters basically verbally and in the contract prevent the candidate from – from showing the contract to anyone else. There is a waiver in some contracts that they have to sign that they will not seek legal recourse.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These provisions are never required of Canadian or European nurses who come to work in the U.S. In recent years, some hospital groups, Philippine and Indian nursing associations and unions have drawn up a code of conduct to prohibit such practices, but only a few staffing agencies have signed on.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, a large industry, some 300 nursing schools that mainly target the American market, is waiting for a pickup in hiring.
How many of you will take the nursing board exam that would qualify you to work in the United States? Give me a show of hands.
The life they dream of may well resemble what Andrea Santos now enjoys. As victims in a trafficking case, she and others who were scammed by Kalu were allowed to find new employers and permanent residence in the U.S. She now works for a Los Angeles nursing care service, is reunited with daughter Alyssa, and married to Iraq war veteran Sean Santos.
Penelope Pilpa also has a good job in a hospital.
PENELOPE PILPA: There’s a lot of opportunities, but you just need to be very careful, especially with a contract, because anywhere in the world, there’s always bogus or there’s always people who want to – to make money out of you. And they could be legal or they could be illegal.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Both legal and illegal could increase significantly, starting in about a year. An improving economy and an aging American population will increase the need for nurses, as, quite possibly, will changes brought by the Affordable Care Act.
Experts say the U.S. could begin to see pre-recession level shortages as early as 2018.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN VIETNAM
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: The communist party flag still flies high in Vietnam. But on the ground consumerism and capitalism are thriving-at least in cities like Saigon and the capital, Hanoi, which have grown rapidly.
FLORIAN FORSTER (United Nations Organization for Migration): You see an enormous amount of mobility within the country, rural, urban migration happening at a large scale.
DE SAM LAZARO: However, Forster says the strong economic growth of recent years has not been enough to absorb millions of young entrants to the job market in this nation of 90 million.
FORSTER: We have currently about 400,000 Vietnamese migrant workers being deployed abroad at any time, with 80,000 leaving every year, and whenever you have migration, which is a positive driver and a positive force, then you have also the exploitation and abuse coming with it. And that leads to trafficking.
DE SAM LAZARO: The heart of both the sex and labor trafficking problem-and much of Vietnam’s poverty-lies in the rural hinterland, still home to two-thirds of the population. This is Vietnam’s back door-the rugged, mountainous, remote region along the northern border with China. It’s a porous border through which thousands of Vietnamese women, children, and some men are trafficked each year. Exact numbers are hard to pin down, and that’s just one of the challenges in getting a handle on this complex problem. China is a giant magnet. Its wages are higher, and it is a transit point to other countries. China is also an involuntary destination for many young Vietnamese women. China’s one-child policy-combined with a cultural preference for male children-has created a shortage of brides. California-based Diep Vuong, originally from Vietnam, founded the Pacific Links Foundation, which helps victims who’ve managed to escape.
DIEP VUONG (Co-Founder and Board President, Pacific Links Foundation): The girls that we see they are given a choice: Do you want to marry somebody or do you want work in the brothels? And one of the girls told us she said, you know, they told us if we work in brothels we’ll be staying near the border, and so some girls say I’d rather stay here because it’s closer to Vietnam and that may be able to run back.
DE SAM LAZARO: Vuong brought me to visit 23-year-old Lan, who was able to run back.
LAN: I don’t know where I was taken, we were in the car ride for a day, and they wouldn’t let me out of the car, then I realized that I’d been tricked.
DE SAM LAZARO: Hers is a classic story of how traffickers prey on desperately poor people. Lan was working on a road-building crew. It’s back-breaking work in hot stifling weather, and it’s to her work-site that the recruiter came with a better offer: to harvest cinnamon for higher wages. She and two others took the bait, but Lan was the only one who managed to return to her village. The other two have not been heard from since. Lan said she was held in a home across the border in China before being taken to a place she thought was Beijing, where she encountered the police.
LAN: When we got to Beijing, there were a lot of policemen around, so I ran to them and asked them to help me. They showed me a computer screen, and I was able to convey to them that I was from Vietnam.
DE SAM LAZARO: But after clarifying a few questions, Vuong determined Lan wasn’t describing Beijing, but rather, an airport. She’d never seen one before.
VUONG: You see airport pictures all the time, the Malaysian Airlines, and all that, and then you come across people who are actually at the airport and don’t even know that they’ve been at the airport.
DE SAM LAZARO: Lan was fortunate in one critical way: her family welcomed her back. She’s since married and has a one-year-old son. Often victims must deal with stigma, shame, and rejection from their families.
HUE: My mother doesn’t care to see me anymore. In my village, there were some young women who had returned from China, and I remember looking down on them, and that’s how I thought people were looking at me.
DE SAM LAZARO: Hue and Phuong-we were asked to shield the identities of trafficking victims-were vulnerable to peer pressure, and seemingly compelling requests for help.
HUE: There was this boy, he lived below us, and he told me that his brother had a bad accident in China. And he asked me if I wanted to go with him to take care of his brother.
PHUONG: My cousin told me he was dumped by his girlfriend and really depressed, and asked if I would go and hang out with him.
DE SAM LAZARO: But their friends lied to them. Each teenager was handed over to members of shadowy trafficking networks.
HUE: We were told that if we didn’t agree to be wives, we would be sold into brothels.
DE SAM LAZARO: Phuong agreed. Hue did not and was sold to a brothel, where she was held for several days but not yet put to work.
HUE: They were waiting to find a client for me. Luckily there was a police raid, and because we didn’t have papers the police took us away.
DE SAM LAZARO: Each tells harrowing escape stories, how chance encounters with police officials and kind strangers helped get them home. In many cases, Vuong says victims become traffickers.
VUONG: The Ministry of Public Security had said that-they-of all the people they arrested as trafficker, 60 percent of them had been trafficking victims themselves.
DE SAM LAZARO: Vuong described one encounter she had with a 17-year-old who was severely beaten in captivity and released on condition that she recruit more young women, which she agreed to do.
VUONG: And she said, well, I told them, you know, they will work at this restaurant and so she didn’t say that they would have to serve as prostitutes.
DE SAM LAZARO: So why would she feel compelled to feed this trade then, if she was by now free?
VUONG: I think, well, I think that, I don’t know, do you ask of the abused woman who’s abused by her husband why she goes back to her husband, or why she let her husband beat up on their children knowing that the harm she suffered is terrible enough?
DE SAM LAZARO: For young women unable to return to their families, Vuong’s group provides safe haven. They learn basic life skills like cooking and can complete their schooling. About 4,000 young women have received scholarships with money Vuong raises through private donations. That enables them to go to school and where possible train for job skills. One partner is another nonprofit called Know One Teach One or KOTO. Its restaurants and culinary schools in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi train disadvantaged youth.
DE SAM LAZARO: For her part, fifty-year-old Diep Vuong, who fled Vietnam after the war, plans to keep pushing to strengthen this country’s anti-trafficking laws.
VUONG: I became a boat person when I was 16, and I spent three days at sea and I arrived in Singapore realizing for the first time that I am stateless, and all the vulnerabilities that I saw during those times, I don’t want to see it on anyone. Being a Buddhist, in some ways-not very devout. I feel that, you know, there are times to do things, and clearly there was a time for me to study, there was a time for me to take the crossing of the sea to understand how vulnerable people are, and so there’s a time to do something and just do it.
DE SAM LAZARO: In 2013, Vietnam arrested nearly 700 alleged traffickers and identified some 900 rescued victims. Most experts agree there are deficiencies in both anti-trafficking laws and their enforcement and that those numbers represent a small fraction-Vuong says a tenth, perhaps, of the true figures.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Hanoi.
BREATH OF LIFE
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: bringing new technology to save infant lives in Vietnam.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Hanoi. This story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” part of his series Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s not unusual to see two, three, even four newborns crammed into the same crib at this busy hospital in Hanoi. They’re the luckier ones. For those with lungs infected or not fully developed because they were premature, the struggle – quite literally for air – is that much harder. Still, the prognosis for such fragile infants is far better today than it was about a decade ago, says the unit’s supervising doctor, Ngoc Diep Pham.
NGOC DIEP PHAM, Doctor (through translator): Before 2000, the mortality rate of the neonatal intensive care unit was fifteen percent. Last year it was less than two percent.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Antibiotics have helped as has staff training but a big reason she says is that in recent years they’ve been able to install reliable locally made equipment to help babies breathe called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP.
DR. PHAM DO NGOC DIEP (through interpreter): Normally, CPAP machines from America would cost us a lot of money, $2,500.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only did they have to rely on imported equipment – bought or donated – but it also broke down.
Right outside the neonatal intensive care unit of this Hanoi hospital, is some sophisticated equipment that lies unused and discarded. It’s imported, its high tech and sophisticated but it’s completely unsuited for settings in which the electricity may not be reliably available and where spare parts aren’t available.
DR. PHAM DO NGOC DIEP (through interpreter): For the amount that it costs to buy one machine from America we can buy two, maybe three CPAP machines that are made here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The cheaper, more usable machines are now made in Vietnam, tailored to local conditions. Unlike in the West, hospitals here don’t have oxygen or compressed air piped in, for example, so these machines have a portable pump.
NGA TRANG: This is an aquarium pump.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: An aquarium pump?
NGA TRANG: Yes. This is the diaphragm … it has rubber inside, no oil, so the air is very clean.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nga Trang says the filter was added for especially dusty conditions. Trang and her husband started this company called MTTS with a few engineer friends eleven years ago. Their big break came with a partnership with the California-based East Meets West Foundation, which invests in so called appropriate technology. Spokeswoman Allison Zimmerman says this machine was a promising idea because it was home grown.
ALLISON ZIMMERMAN, East Meets West Foundation: What needed to happen was an engineering company that was willing to work with hospitals, with doctors and nurses to identify what they needed, as opposed to developing a solution outside, whether it’s in a Western country or whether it’s in a lab somewhere. It took a special type of company that’s willing to create a medical device that is affordable and that doesn’t require consumables and consumables are very expensive.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The big consumable for CPAP machines is tubing – discarded after each patient in the west. Here tubes are disinfected and reused here for as long as a year – for savings in the thousands of dollars. That lower price point has brought the equipment into smaller rural hospitals like this one. Dr. Ngo Minh Chuong says his neonatal unit can now save babies like this one as tiny as 1.6 pounds.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What would happen before you had this equipment here, would that baby not have survived?
DR. NGO MINH CHUONG (through interpreter): We would have to transfer to a higher-level hospital in 100 percent of these cases.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That meant a two-hour road journey to Hanoi. It was unaffordable for many families in this impoverished region who had to foot the bill And, to an already overcrowded Hanoi hospital – if they got there at all.
DR. NGO MINH CHUONG (through interpreter): If the road is bumpy it can cause the baby to choke. Or if the ambulance is stuck in a traffic jam it can also lengthen the transfer time, which can also lead to death.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Here too, the mortality rate has come down – by two-thirds since 2009. Life for doctors and patients is far better. Ten-month-old Bao Nam is as healthy as he is fidgety in his mother’s arms – it’s hard to imagine he weighed less than two pounds at birth.
MOTHER (through interpreter): I was very anxious.
FATHER (through interpreter): Like anyone else whose baby is not well, we were very worried. At one point I thought I was going to break down. For the first week we couldn’t see the baby at all.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In addition to CPAP, the joint enterprise also makes infant warmers and a portable phototherapy device explained here in training sessions by the partnership’s medical director, Dr. Tranen Chien.
MAN (through interpreter): Make sure there is as much skin exposed as possible.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: About sixty percent of all babies are born with jaundice, which can lead to severe brain damage. It’s now easily treated with ultraviolet light; in the past babies were exposed to the sun – something that frequently had its own complications, like sunburn. The Vietnam-made so called Firefly not only provides phototherapy indoors but by the mother’s bedside.
ALLISON ZIMMERMAN: It’s great if you can keep them with their mother and their mother can breast feed, the mother can do kangaroo care when the baby’s not in the phototherapy machine, so it’s designed, so it’s small for that reason. When you have lots of babies lined up in a crib with a phototherapy over it, then that increases risk of infection. By putting just one baby in the Firefly, it decreases risk of infection.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A third party in the venture is the private charity Design That Matters, which also focuses on appropriate technology. In this Hanoi lab, engineers like Mathew Blyde are tweaking the circuit boards of the infant warming device.
MATHEW BLYDE: We’re just trying to improve the reliability a little bit so we’ve added some extra circuitry to make it more well protected, particularly in environments where the electricity supply might not be so reliable or might have spikes and dips.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You want it to be able to withstand spikes in electric power?
MATHEW BLYDE: Exactly.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Besides working to improve their reliability, the partners’ big goal is to make this enterprise financially sustainable. The devices are now being exported to neighboring countries in Asia, with plans to expand to West Africa and, they hope, to Europe, which could significantly boost revenues.
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Consumerism stirs age-old beauty biases to rural Bangladesh
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: bringing cosmetics, consumerism, and a little controversy to women in rural Bangladesh.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has this report as part of his series Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the conservative rural areas of Bangladesh, Shireen Akhtar is a pioneer. Traditionally, women here don’t stray far from home unless accompanied by their husbands. An actual paying job outside the home was unheard of until recently.
WOMAN (through interpreter): I will take the shampoo and soap.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Shireen Akhtar and about 7,000 other women are part of an unusual idea to fight poverty: selling products in a new consumer culture among some of the world’s poorest people.
WOMAN (through interpreter): Our husbands are not always around, so it is difficult to go to the market.
WOMAN (through interpreter): It’s much easier to way. We can get our daily necessities, like soap and shampoo here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a partnership between JITA, a social business set up by the charity CARE, and some large multinational and national companies.
Most commercial products don’t reach rural communities. They’re too isolated or poor to be part of the normal distribution and sales network. Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch multinational that sells everything from Dove soap to Lipton tea, claims two billion people use its products every day, but the company struggles to reach people in these remote parts of South Asia, says spokesman Sheikh Mainul Islam
SHEIKH MAINUL ISLAM, Unilever: There is a metric, exclusivity and profitably. So, there are a number areas, geographies (INAUDIBLE) It’s very difficult to access. Through this, partnering with this particular organization, we can reach to our rural houses directly.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: While saleswomen go village to village or door to door, outreach workers trained by CARE, better known for family planning or immunization, now also promote disposable razors and feminine pads.
JITA’s CEO, Saif Rashid, admits it was a major shift in mind-set for the development agency.
SAIF RASHID, CEO, JITA: We tried to solve the problem by ourselves. Sometimes, we included government, but never private sector. We never talked about private sector. We see them as an evil to the society.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Evil?
SAIF RASHID: Evil to the society.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But he says the thinking has shifted to promoting entrepreneurship. What if they could create an Avon Lady-type force targeting other consumers in their homes, women often prevented from going to market themselves because of cultural prohibitions?
The saleswomen would earn money and the buyers would have access to soap and other hygienic products. But just what products should be sold alongside necessities like soap has been controversial.
WOMAN (through interpreter): Thank you all for coming to this training today. I know you have all traveled a long way to get here.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The saleswomen here are being briefed and trained in on a new product they will soon be able to add to their basket, a prepaid cell phone card. In that basket, one of the hottest sellers so far has been Fair & Lovely. That’s a skin whitening cream. It’s widely advertised across this region and very profitable for the Unilever corporation.
FIRDOUS AZIM, BRAC University: Beauty is created with fair skin, and this has had a terrible impact on young girls.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Professor Firdous Azim writes about women’s issues. She and others have protested the sale of skin lighteners, saying it reinforces age-old biases.
FIRDOUS AZIM: I am a teacher and so I that know girls really suffer if they are dark. Traditionally, they suffered because they weren’t considered very eligible in the marriage market. Today, they’re not considered beautiful. And people do all kinds of things to their skin to become fairer. To push this and for a development organization to endorse this is something that I would be very critical of.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s also the concern about the spread of consumerism.
SAIF ISLAM, CARE International: The profit motive and the social motive need to walk hand in hand together.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Saif Islam is with CARE and help set up the JITA program. In all cases, he says JITA must walk a fine line between protecting the interests of the women they women they want to help and paternalism.
SAIF ISLAM: Who are we to judge? It is up to the discretion of the girl who thinks that using Fair & Lovely is giving her this aspiration, the self-confidence. Then it — I don’t see as to why we should throw it away immediately.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One thing seems certain: The product, long and widely advertised, is very popular.
How many of this group use Fair & Lovely?
WOMAN (through interpreter): All of us.
WOMAN (through interpreter): I use it to make my skin fairer and for pimples.
WOMAN (through interpreter): I have used it for years to treat pimples and also to remove dark spots.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For their part, cosmetic companies say they’re only meeting consumer demand. When I asked Unilever’s Islam if his company creates that demand with its ads, he said the question was above his pay grade. He said only that Fair & Lovely works.
SHEIKH MAINUL ISLAM: It really creates fairness.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It creates fairness? OK.
SHEIKH MAINUL ISLAM: Of course.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, it does what it promises to do?
SHEIKH MAINUL ISLAM: Yes, of course.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The JITA program has three categories of product, undesirable. The women don’t carry cigarettes, for example. There are the desirable, seeds for planting, solar lamps, or health and hygiene items, which they’re now promoting among adolescent girls in school.
In the middle are items called acceptable. That’s where Fair & Lovely fits.
SAIF RASHID: The woman cannot have enough outcome without selling fast-moving consumer goods.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fast-moving consumer goods, and especially the skin cream, have the highest profit margins, though JITA’s Rashid says there are plans to make a change by next year.
SAIF RASHID: We’re looking to develop alternatives, which can be really — which will not promote fairness, but which will promote the need of the customer in terms of her skin care.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, by 2015, you will have replaced Fair & Lovely with an alternative product…
SAIF RASHID: Alternative product, yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … that will hopefully not diminish the women’s income?
SAIF RASHID: Income.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But retaining women has been a challenge: About one in five drops out; they don’t feel cut out for sales or migrate to urban areas in search of more income.
The sales jobs pay anywhere from $12.50 for those starting out to $46 a month for experienced sellers, not much even by Bangladesh’s low wage standards.
But JITA says these sales jobs are part time aimed at married women they and provide critical supplemental income. They say it can mean a better diet or children’s education, for example.
SHIREEN AKHTAR, Saleswoman (through interpreter): I’m poor. I have not been able to dream a lot.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For her part, Shireen Akhtar, whose husband works in Bangladesh’s capital as a laborer, says her job has brought improvements, a larger home, a tube well that has brings safe water into it, and a chance to dream for her 11-year-old son.
SHIREEN AKHTAR (through interpreter): I want him to grow from a boy into an important man. After seventh grade, I want him to go to cadet school. After that, he will be able to do anything he wants.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: JITA officials say the program is expected to grow to 12,000 women by 2015. It’s one of several attempts to attack poverty entrenched in some of the most difficult-to-reach and remote areas, and a trial run they hope for more alliances that link aid charities with consumer-oriented businesses.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Treating mental illness with medicine and religion in India
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: bridging the gap between science and spirituality to treat mental illness in India.
Fred de Sam Lazaro has this report, part of our Agents for Change series. It also aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This tomb of an Islamic figure revered here in western India — martyred 500 years ago — has long been a pilgrimage destination.
Thousands of faithful — not just Muslims, but also Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and others from across India — come here each day to pray for a blessing or a miracle: couples unable to conceive, people suffering from various maladies. It’s also the closest thing for many Indians to a mental health facility.
It is a taboo subject, the stigma especially hard on families of people with mental illness, treated as a curse, a demonic possession or karma for misdeeds in a past life.
Sayyad Varis Ali is a trustee of this shrine.
SAYYAD VARIS ALI, (through interpreter): The people who come here with mental illness, they have tried everything else and they have not gotten any relief. And finally this is the place that they come to, they come here to pray.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At this shrine, dozens of faith healers called kadims (ph) recite prayers while patients perform rituals: breathing in smoke from incense burned at the tomb, walking around this dome seven times.
The numbers in India are simply staggering. There are thought to be about 100 million people with common mental disorders and up to 20 million with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. For all of them, there are just 5,000 psychiatrists in this country.
So faith healers from across India’s diverse religious mosaic have long filled the gap, says Milesh Hamlai, a well-known mental health advocate.
MILESH HAMLAI, Mental Health Advocate: Access to care is not there, lack of professionals, lack of medication, lack of awareness, lack of knowledge so all this leads to only one thing that you go to the easiest and the most available source of help. I come from an urban India, so in spite of that my family took my brother first to such kind of places.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Hamlai, who comes from an educated middle class background, became an advocate after his brother came down with schizophrenia several years ago. He discovered there are some resources, provided by regional government hospitals. But they aren’t well known or utilized in a historically inefficient system.
So Hamlai brought state mental health officials led by Dr. Ajay Chauhan to the shrine.
DR. AJAY CHAUHAN, (through interpreter): When I came here, there were 40 to 50 faith healers standing in the door to keep us from entering. They thought doctors were coming to put them out of business. It was a very sensitive time, especially since this is a Muslim holy place, and there are several thousand jobs at stake.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Eventually, perhaps with the implied threat of legal action, they were able to enter, but Dr. Chauhan says they reassured the shrine’s leaders they had no intention of shutting it down. He says conditions they saw, though, were appalling.
DR. AJAY CHAUHAN (through translator): There were forty, fifty people chained up to a post, often because they’ve had violent episodes, some were abandoned by their families. Conditions were also very unhygienic and completely inhumane.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Things have improved markedly. India’s supreme court outlawed mechanical restraints. Chains are used now, but only symbolically, and not as restraints.
And under a partnership brokered by Hamlai, the shrine allowed psychiatrists to set up clinics inside and just outside the premises. They also began to train faith healers to look for telltale signs of common mental illness.
Kadims like Syedumia Mehmood Ali see such symptoms, like those of 23 year old Javed, through a very different therapeutic lens.
SYEDUMIA MEHMOOD ALI, India (through interpreter): Somebody has performed black magic on him. I can tell from the way he is, sulking and down.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But after a session of ritual and prayer, Ali brought his patient to see his psychiatrist tag team partner Dr. Yathin Bhushan.
DR. YATHIN BHUSHAN (through interpreter): He says he’s been having physical problems, so I thought I would bring him to see you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Javed complained of leg pain, but as the conversation went on, there was a longer litany.
JAVED (through interpreter): I don’t sleep because Vikas comes.
DR. YATHIN BHUSHAN (through interpreter): Who is Vikas?
JAVED (through interpreter): A man. He says, come with me every day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: After clarifying with his parents that there was no real threat to Javed, Dr. Bhushan renewed a prescription for the anti-schizophrenia drugs. Javed’s mother, Saira Banu, said his condition had improved after he began taking them.
SAIRA BANU, (through interpreter): He sleeps now. He never used to sleep through the night. Before, he used to hit us but now he’s stopped doing that.
DR. YATHIN BHUSHAN (through interpreter): I’m going to give you 15 days’ medicine. See me again after 15 days or if you have any problems. And also do what the kadim says.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Psychiatrist Bhushan is careful to acknowledge his faith-based partner. Pills, for example, are routinely blessed over the shrine’s inner sanctum. Dr. Bhushan says this reaching out is it’s mostly but not always reciprocated.
DR. YATHIN BHUSHAN (through interpreter): Some kadims tell patients that the medicines are not needed, or that they can stop taking them.
SAIRA BANU (through interpreter): We’ve spent a lot of money, and to no benefit.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Javed’s parents — laborers from a city about two hours away — struggled for five years with their son’s illness for before finally getting results.
SAIRA BANU (through interpreter): So everyone was telling us to go to the Mira Datar Dargah, where they could treat this problem of black, magic so we came here. Then they told us that they had this medicine program as well.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: I asked, is it the medicine or the prayer that’s working?
SAIRA BANU (through interpreter): Both are working.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Milesh Hamlai is not surprised by that kind of response. He says there can be therapeutic value in pilgrimage to the shrine.
MILESH HAMLAI, Mental Health Advocate: It’s a place to pray, it’s a holy place, they are finding some kind of solace. At least that is trying to bring them back to normalcy and in that if we are able to provide them with medical interventions and proper care, counseling, listening. I’m sure they really feel very good that there is some place where they can go off-load themselves.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So far Hamlai’s group, called The Altruist, has managed to bring some 16,000 patients to the program called Dawa-Dua — medicine and prayer. It’s a tiny number amid vast need, but some experts say a promising prototype to expand psychiatric services without disrupting or antagonizing age-old belief systems.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
One family’s quest to unite orphaned Chinese girls with a happy home
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, one woman’s efforts to transform the way orphans are cared for in China.
“NewsHour” correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports as part of his Agents for Change series. A version of Fred’s story aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
And a warning: This piece contains some disturbing images.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the Bowen family, this was a huge day.
MAN: She got the international baccalaureate diploma, and then she got the biliteracy medal, as opposed to bilingual. It’s like she can read and write and talk.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That 18-year-old Maya Bowen can talk, let alone graduate with honors, seems both natural and unlikely, given her early childhood in a distant orphanage. Richard and Jenny Bowen adopted her when she was two.
Jenny Bowen, Half the Sky Foundation: No one had ever talked to her and, you know, language develops when people talk to you. That’s how you learn to speak, so she had no language at all.
WOMAN: OK. Daddy is going to take pictures of you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jenny Bowen recently published a book called “Wish You Happy Forever,” chronicling how Maya and later Anya came to be part of the family. The California couple were already in their 50s, with grown children, but they were moved by reports of child neglect on a vast scale in China.
WOMAN: Here, we found toddlers tied to bamboo seats, with their legs splayed over makeshift potties.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This 1995 film, shot undercover, called “The Dying Rooms” showed orphanages filled with girls, abandoned in a country that had begun restricting families to one child in a culture that traditionally favored boy children.
JENNY BOWEN: We thought the thing we could do was save one life. So that’s what we did. We went to China to save a life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But she found it impossible to ignore the conditions Maya would escape, but where millions of others still languished — in the custody of indifferent or untrained workers, invisible in a nation focused on industrializing its way out of Third World poverty.
Sixteen years later, Jenny Bowen heads a group called the Half the Sky Foundation that’s helping transform the way orphans are cared for across China, with the blessings of and often in partnership with the government.
The name derives from a Chinese proverb that says women hold up half the sky. The group has so far trained 12,000 teachers and nannies in 27 provinces. We visited in the northeastern city of Shenyang.
JENNY BOWEN: All these children are abandoned. Many of them are abandoned because they have what are called special needs.
Before Half the Sky, children are tied to their chairs. They were lying in bed. You could see the tragedy. You walk into a room, and you were just confronted with the tragedy. Here, it’s invisible. These children are going on with their lives. They’re being treated like their lives matter. And they know it. They know they’re loved, and so they thrive.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says children need a sense of being part of a family, in whatever shape family takes.
JENNY BOWEN: It doesn’t mean that they have to be back with their birth families or permanently adopted or anything. They just need to have the love that a family gives naturally to a child, and, to me, it was like a no-brainer.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It was not a no-brainer to get her ideas across in an opaque state-run welfare system. What’s more, the publicity about orphanage conditions was deeply insulting to a government highly sensitive about China’s image.
Zhang Zhirong works for Half the Sky’s China offices.
ZHANG ZHIRONG, Half the Sky Foundation: China always want to tell the world she is the best, everything perfect. We are serving the people. We are helping the people. That’s China politically. But, as you know, China is such a big country. At that time, it was difficult to let people, especially foreigners, to come in to see some of the problems, to see some of the dark side.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Zhang was a key early ally, an English professor and official interpreter well-versed in the culture and politics of the bureaucracy. She was convinced of Bowen’s sincerity.
ZHANG ZHIRONG: I really feel she had the heart. She wanted to help. No other intentions.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Did it help that she had Chinese daughters as well?
ZHANG ZHIRONG: That’s also — we would tell — she always says, “I’m half-Chinese. My daughters are all Chinese.”
JENNY BOWEN: I know that resonated. Certainly, the international criticism let them know that something had to be done. I probably was the least threatening of the options out there.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bowen began by seeking guidance from child development experts. She raised funds in Hollywood, where she was a screenwriter and filmmaker, and from American couples who’d adopted Chinese daughters. She organized volunteer trips to train caregivers and spruce up the environment in which orphans spent their days.
Children who once sat impassively are now in busy preschools. Walls that had generic cartoon images now display the children’s own artwork and pictures.
JENNY BOWEN: Children in institutions, in traditional institutions, they move in packs. They all eat at the same time, they all sleep at the same time, they all pee at the same time, and they don’t separate themselves from each other.
So we use a lot of mirrors, we use things like this, where they can identify themselves and their friends, and it’s a way for them to start knowing who they are, and that’s the beginning of developing intellectual curiosity and opinions.
I can tell you already have opinions, right?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Teacher Lin Lin says Half the Sky’s approach, called responsive care, is tailored to children’s individual learning interests — a far cry from the previous rote learning.
LIN LIN, Schoolteacher, Half the Sky Foundation (through interpreter): Kids were asked to recite a lot of things, old poems and literature, which they did not understand, they weren’t interested in. Now we’re doing things that are interesting to them. Gradually, you build a trust with these children, and they begin to consider you as part of their family.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s a key goal: to make such caregivers part of the child’s understanding of family. But Half the Sky is also building so-called family villages, a more traditional setting.
Couples, most with grown children, like Liu Peng Ying and her husband, Chen Yung Chang (ph), are given housing and a small stipend to raise their young orphaned charges. It’s an easy sell in a country where large families used to be the tradition.
LIU PENG YING, China (through interpreter): These are like my own children, like my grandchildren. My husband likes children even more than I do. That’s why we decided to apply for this program.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In today’s wealthier, more urbanized China, Bowen says fewer healthy female babies are abandoned. About three quarters of a million children are in state custody.
They are more likely to be from impoverished rural areas and more likely to have congenital or medical conditions their families cannot afford to treat.
JENNY BOWEN: So, in this room, we find children who have pretty severe special needs.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For them, Half the Sky runs a care center in Beijing, with corporate foundation and government support. It provides care for children as they await or recover from surgery or as, in the sad case of 4-year-old Pin Pin, chemotherapy
JENNY BOWEN: She has cancer in both of her eyes?
WOMAN: Yes, and eight times chemo.
JENNY BOWEN: Eight times chemo.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the weeks or months Pin Pin will spend here, a teacher will help her adjust to the loss of her sight.
JENNY BOWEN: You need to have a teacher, because you have a lot of things you have to learn. We don’t just worry about your eyes. We have to worry about your brain, huh? Yes.
MAN: Maya Bowen!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Maya Bowen plans to become an elementary teacher. She and Anya, a high school junior, have gone from being thankful to impressed.
MAYA BOWEN: I did a paper and we could — at school, and it was a research paper, and we could do it on anything, so I chose my mom, because I thought that would be an easy topic. But then, when I started researching and learning everything she did, I was like, wow, like, this goes way farther than I thought. She has, like, a much bigger influence than I ever thought.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Jenny Bowen is now 68 and CEO of a now $7 million-a-year enterprise that she hopes to expand beyond China to neighboring countries in Asia. She has no plans to retire.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Food truck church brings faith and calzones to those in need
Nine out of 10 Americans say they believe in God and two out of three say religion is an important part of their daily lives. However, this does not translate into regular attendance in a house of worship, where surveys have concluded that perhaps a third of Americans actually show up once a week.
There are probably several reasons for this discordance but for the demographic the Rev. Margaret Kelly is trying to serve in St. Paul, Minnesota, the reason is pretty obvious: They are simply too poor.
“If you have someone with limited access to money, church is the last thing that you can expect someone to use that limited resource” for, she says.
Earlier this year, Kelly, 33, began taking the church to the street in a food truck, expanding the notion of congregation, communion and charity in the Lutheran tradition in which she was raised, ordained and still serves. Every Thursday, Kelly and a group of volunteers gather in the solidly brick and mortar basement of St. Paul’s Gustavus Adolphus Church to roll out hundreds of meat- and cheese-filled calzones, to be loaded and baked in her food truck and distributed along with bottled water at their weekly noon time service.
“We’re doing our charity rather than simply handing it out,” Kelly says of the volunteers’ effort to prepare the meals. “We’re cooking ourselves and building a community.”
A loyal group is waiting as the truck arrives in front of a dollar store on Payne Avenue, in the city’s struggling east side neighborhood. For many, Kelly says, this will be their healthiest meal of the week. The lack of access to freshly cooked food is a major problem among the poor, she says, aggravating common conditions like diabetes, obesity and some mental illness. The calzones aren’t exactly health food, Kelly admits, but at least they’re made from scratch and minimally processed compared to the store-bought frozen staples for many who live on the margins.
For congregants at this gathering, there’s clearly more hunger in body than soul. Of the dozens of people who pick up their meal, only a handful sticks around for the service that follows. Some street preachers will often hand out freebies only after their services but Kelly finds that approach disrespectful and distasteful.
“People are hungry and I’m not trying to hold people hostage with the Bible,” she says. “God speaks for God’s self and I am simply here to share that message.”
In her ministry, Kelly sees a church shifting to become relevant to more people’s lives. Amid all the world’s chaos, the wars and epidemics, she draws comfort from the shifts she’s seen in her mainline Lutheran denomination, whose 105- congregation Twin Cities synod supports her. She cites a growing partnership her ministry has with a suburban congregation as one example of this shift.
“Less than 10 years ago they might never have given this church money, because of who I am, because I married a woman,” she says. “So I see those things, and I think God’s pretty good, because these are relationships I never would have expected. And I don’t mean that to sound trite, because those are just small relationships in the world. But it gives me hope that we can move to places where we are not beheading journalists, where we are not shooting young men, where we are not doing these things, because we are attempting to build relationships across socio-economic divides.”
NIGERIA KEEPS EBOLA AT BAY
GWEN IFILL: The World Health Organization reported today that the Ebola virus has now killed more than 2,800 people in West Africa. The majority of deaths have been in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
But the deadly illness has been relatively contained in nearby, and much larger, Nigeria, which counts 21 cases and only nine deaths.
Tonight, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro takes a look at how Nigeria has controlled Ebola’s spread.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not much moves in a hurry in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, also Africa’s most populous city.
And basic services, like roads and covered sewers, have yet to reach slums like Otumara. But the Ebola message has, what it is, where to report it, how to prevent it.
MAN: You need to wash your hands. It’s very, very important for you.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nigeria’s Ebola response has been comprehensive in communities and the media. There’s temperature screening at all the country’s entry and exit points – fever is an early warning sign – and extensive surveillance by public health workers. It’s driven by sound epidemiology and, the American consul in Lagos, Jeffrey Hawkins, says, fear.
JEFFREY HAWKINS, U.S. Consul General: One thing that people really don’t want to hear is Ebola and Lagos in the same sentence. This is a city of 20 million people, and a major urban outbreak here could have been apocalyptic. But the response was quick.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One early leader of that response was Babatunde Fashola, governor of Lagos state, which includes the city.
GOV. BABATUNDE FASHOLA, Lagos State: On this kind of job, fear is always healthy. If you lose fear, something is wrong.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nigeria’s response began soon after the first confirmed Ebola case in late July. A Liberian-American traveler fell ill at the airport at Lagos. His circle of contacts was limited to the health workers who cared for him, and then there were their contacts. One of them carried the infection to the southern city of Port Harcourt, causing a second outbreak.
DR. FAISAL SHUAIB: Within a question of just a few days, we had as many as 500 contacts that were being traced, just to cast a wide net and ensure that anybody that has potentially had any contact with a case is under our purview, taking temperatures, asking them if they have any symptoms.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr Faisal Shuaib of Nigeria’s Health Ministry heads the Ebola command center. The response team includes several international agencies that have been in Nigeria for years fighting other diseases, like malaria, HIV and polio.
They quickly redeployed. Dr. Nancy Knight, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the CDC had earlier trained many field epidemiologists here.
DR. NANCY KNIGHT, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: One of the things that has really helped keep the fear in check and to keep it from turning into widespread panic has been the number of boots on the ground. We have had, between Lagos and Port Harcourt, more than 1,000 people that have been working on containing the epidemic.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite Nigeria’s many problems, sectarian violence, Boko Haram insurgents kidnapping schoolgirls, the country has a more developed public health system than its smaller neighbors reeling from Ebola. Having international experts on hand also helped reassure key political leaders like Lagos’ governor.
GOV. BABATUNDE FASHOLA: That helped a lot to make decisions and to communicate with all of the stakeholders, religious leaders, primary health care workers, school teachers to reassure them that we could turn this around.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The aid group Doctors Without Borders has trained health workers on handling patients, on using the airtight personal protective equipment. The group has built isolation centers in Lagos and Port Harcourt that would handle a fresh outbreak. For now, there’s just one suspected case left.
There’s no panic, but there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding Ebola in Nigeria. As outsiders, as a camera crew, we were not allowed to go near the contact tracers. These are public health workers who fan out each day to keep tabs on people who had any contact with someone infected with Ebola.
Dennis Akagha knows firsthand about stigma.
DENNIS AKAGHA: I lost my job while I was taking care of Justina.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And he lost Justina, his fiancee who was two months’ pregnant. On her first day on a new job, the 32-year-old nurse’s first patient just happened to be that first Ebola case, the Liberian-American. Akagha too became infected, but he pulled through. Survivors of Ebola become immune and are no longer contagious. But that hasn’t helped Dennis Akagha.
DENNIS AKAGHA: Ebola is not a death sentence. I wouldn’t have lost my job if they had been informed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Early detection has helped the survival rate in Nigeria. Fewer than half the cases have resulted in death. But the stigma only worsens the public health threat, says Dr. Ndadilnasiya Waziri, who heads the contact tracing effort.
DR. NDADILNASIYA WAZIRI: A lot of contacts that were (INAUDIBLE) couldn’t even come out to get food in their communities because they were being stigmatized. So, that’s a big worry because that will make people to hide.
WOMAN: Washing of our hands regularly is one of the best ways to avoid and prevent all of these diseases flying around, like Ebola.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nigeria’s influential film industry, popularly called Nollywood, has stepped in to help.
TUNDE KELANI, MOVIE Director: This is like – like UFO, you know, suddenly descended on Nigeria, you know, and we had to do something about it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tunde Kelani, a top director, says Nollywood’s leading lights came together in record time, responding, he says, to the biggest existential threat anyone here has felt.
TUNDE KELANI: I think they responded very well, because we put together a list of about 18 of these celebrities.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Now he’s thinking, why not expand the idea beyond this Lens on Ebola effort?
TUNDE KELANI: For instance, we can do lens on polio. We can do lens on malaria.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the distressed Otumara neighborhood, Alaja Jatto is also thinking beyond Ebola.
MAN: Well, she says she has something to tell the government, that they don’t have piped water, that their roads are bad, and that they need development.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Whether the government delivers on those improvements is unclear. But the Ebola campaign will continue and on high alert. That’s even though the number of contacts being tracked is now down to about 300. Each day, more people cross the critical 21 days since their exposure to the virus, the window in which symptoms can occur.
Ironically, this success is a worry. Dr. Faisal Shuaib fears Nigeria could attract Ebola patients from nearby countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
DR. FAISAL SHUAIB: We have had record levels of people surviving Ebola virus disease. And they might start feeling, well, maybe this is the place to come.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The U.N. has called Ebola a threat to global security. And many people here say Nigeria, the regional economic hub, a nation of 170 million, will remain the most vulnerable frontier.
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS
DR JOANNE LIU (Medicins Sans Frontiers): Medicins Sans Frontiers has been ringing alarm bells for months, but the response has been too late, too little. It is your historic responsibility to act now.
DE SAM LAZARO: Her group has a two-fold mission: medical care and, as they put it, bearing witness: to speak out when people are denied human rights, including medical care. It goes back to MSF’s founding in 1971 by a group of French Red Cross volunteers working amid grave violence in Nigeria’s civil war. Sociologist Renee Fox writes of their anguish in a book about MSF.
PROFESSOR RENEE FOX (University of Pennsylvania): They pledged their commitment to not speak of what they saw in the field, very much in keeping with the professional confidentiality that physicians keep vis-à-vis their individual patients. And when they saw these abuses taking place, this young small group of French physicians and medical journalists came together with the conviction that there was something wrong with not speaking out. And Doctors Without Borders, Médecins Sans Frontières, was born out of that.
DE SAM LAZARO: Four decades later it has evolved into a highly decentralized, self-described movement. It has chapters in 24 mostly wealthy countries, and some 25,000 people deployed around the world. Ninety percent are hired locally. And contrary to the name, the majority are not doctors and nurses. They are construction and maintenance workers, experts in logistics in water and sanitation if needed. The teams move swiftly into disaster zones, as we saw in this 2008 report from the hurricane-ravaged Haitian city of Gonaives:
De Sam Lazaro (2008): This warehouse was spared by the hurricanes, and it is quickly being converted into an 80-bed hospital. The construction workers aren’t finished yet, but the hospital work is already in full swing since it’s the only hospital in Gonaives, a city of more than 200,000 people.
DE SAM LAZARO: One reason it can move quickly is the group’s prolific fundraising, globally 1.3 billion dollars a year. Critically, it has few strings attached.
FOX: Ninety percent of their finances come from people like you and me who make modest contributions or more than modest contributions to MSF.
SOPHIE DELAUNAY (Executive Director, MSF USA): We don’t need to wait for funding from a government to be able to react to a crisis.
DE SAM LAZARO: MSF’s Sophie Delaunay adds they don’t accept money from governments with a stake in or heavy influence over events.DWB-post02
DELAUNAY: For example, we would not take funding from the US government in Afghanistan. We would not take funding from the French government in Chad for our programs in Chad .
DE SAM LAZARO: MSF’s reputation drew Dr. Benjamin Levy to sign on for a six-month stint.
BENJAMIN LEVY, M.D.: It is almost like relearning medicine.
DE SAM LAZARO: We met Levy in a field hospital in Ethiopia near its border with Somalia, from where tens of thousands of refugees were fleeing famine and civil war.
LEVY: It was something that I had wanted to do for a long time, a place where sort of the idealism of medicine came to practice, and I think that was always a beacon to me as a place where I could do my training, learn my craft, and then go and use it in a way that made me feel like it had all meant something.
DE SAM LAZARO: Levy, who now works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, remembers a culture of debate.
LEVY: I was able to voice my concerns and my opinions when it came to our medical activities. There was healthy debate as to what diseases we could treat, what diseases we didn’t have the capacity to treat, and where to take the programs that we were running as the emergency ended.
DE SAM LAZARO: MSF says such openness encourages innovation. For example, until the early 2000s malnutrition was treated in hospitals, which took weeks. MSF field workers urged a switch to a fortified peanut butter that had showed early promise. It’s now the standard for most malnourished children-cheaper, portable, and given at home.
DELAUNAY: It always comes from the tenacity, the determination of some individuals who are not satisfied with the status quo.
MEGAN KLINGLER: Not only do they care about me, and they care about the community, but the people respect them.
DE SAM LAZARO: Megan Klinger, a 34-year-old nurse from Montana, works in an Ebola care facility in Nigeria. She says that respect from local people is a key reason she chose MSF over other nongovernment organizations.
KLINGLER: I’ve been to countries that don’t allow that many ngos, but MSF is usually always one of the ones that is allowed through. They’re very well known.
DE SAM LAZARO: Getting well-known is a key security strategy MSF uses in war zones, where it works in advance to gain acceptance and assurances from all sides of the conflict.
DELAUNAY: You’re going to treat their brothers, their cousin, their family, etc, it’s a very good protection, actually. The second criteria that we use is we want to be able to have an evacuation route. The third criteria is are we able to put in place the best possible security measures, or safety measure in the case of Ebola?
KLINGLER: I was in Abkhazia, which is a breakaway republic in Georgia. I was there during the 2008 conflict. During the conflict I know my mom was very concerned and called all the state congressmen to try to get me evacuated out. But I actually-the embassy called, and I said I feel better here with MSF than you guys evacuating me out at this point. I felt very secure with the evacuation plan we had if needed, and I chose to stay.
DE SAM LAZARO: MSF did evacuate out of Somalia, following the months-long kidnapping of two staff members. The group closed a hospital earlier this year in Syria after five staffers were kidnapped. There are no MSF facilities currently in areas controlled by the group that calls itself Islamic State. In other places like Burma, Sri Lanka, and Yemen MSF decided to stay on, agreeing to not criticize government policies it acknowledged were repressive.
The mission of bearing witness has had to be tempered by real-life considerations, says author Fox.
FOX: Would witnessing do harm to the people they want to help? What about the many people indigenous to the country who are working with them? When they were young, they thought witnessing was an unmitigated virtue. As they matured they came to see how complex the ramifications of witnessing might be.
DE SAM LAZARO: Bearing witness means being politically pragmatic she says, without being political.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro.
Facing environmental crisis, can Buddhist values offer non-religious China a greener path?
JUDY WOODRUFF: In a surprise announcement during the president’s visit to Beijing a few weeks ago, the U.S. and China reached a major climate deal. Remarkably, the atheist country, which is also the world’s number one polluter, has recently embraced Buddhism to help persuade its citizens to care about the environment.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro that story. A version of his report appeared previously on “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” and was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Face to Face Media.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Liu Jianqiang, lifelong atheist and investigative environmental journalist, is becoming a Buddhist. His first expose was on illegal dam construction on the upper Yangtze River.
Over the last 10 years, it’s led to national attention, a job firing and now burnout.
LIU JIANQIANG, Journalist (through interpreter): As an environmentalist, every day what we see is polluted air, polluted rivers, and the slaughter of wild animals. This kind of negative energy attacks us every day. Where do we draw our strength from?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He’s one of millions of Chinese returning to Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian temples that have at times in the past been condemned by the government.
A little more than four decades ago, during China’s Cultural Revolution, many Buddhist temples like this one in central Beijing were destroyed or defaced. Today, these temples are alive with worshipers. By some accounts, one out of every five Chinese call themselves Buddhists.
Some scholars say this search for faith is linked to China’s massive environmental problems.
MARTIN PALMER, Alliance of Religions and Conservation: In a world in which capitalism and socialism and consumerism have created a kind of industrial behemoth that is just thundering ahead, that is draining life out of the villages. That is polluting the soil and the water and the air, you have a heartless world.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Martin Palmer, shown in a Chinese TV broadcast here, is based in the U.K., but has been working in China nearly 20 years, urging religious groups to respond to this crisis and to encourage conservation.
In 2006, he realized this message was also being heard by the Communist Party.
MARTIN PALMER: I was called in for a meeting in 2006 with the minister for the environment and the minister for religion, and they were very frank.
They said the single-child policy has created the most selfish generation in China’s history, because each child has been brought up as the center of attention for the family. Nothing is too much to give to them. And these two Communist Party officials said we want the religions to help us bring compassion back.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But what is it that finally persuades an individual like Liu Jianqiang to cross the gap from atheism to Buddhism, in his case the smaller Tibetan branch, which has about five million adherents?
Shi Lihong is a journalist and filmmaker. She’s known Liu for more than 10 years, but she was still surprised by his decision.
SHI LIHONG, Filmmaker: When I heard that Jianqiang was converted I was really shocked. You know, our generation was raised as atheists through childhood.
We were taught that religious beliefs are superstitious. So it’s very hard for me to believe in any religion. I feel there is a huge gap. I was very curious.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To satisfy her curiosity, she took a film crew to the highlands of western China, an area adjoining the autonomous region more commonly known outside China as Tibet. It’s rich in biodiversity that conservation groups say is greatly imperiled.
This is also home to the headwaters of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, quite literally a lifeline to hundreds of millions of people downstream. A prominent person in her documentary is a monk named Tashi Sange. He explains how conservation and respect for all living things has long been an intrinsic part of life here.
TASHI SANGE, Tibetan Monk (through interpreter): Mama and papa told me in secret that this is a sacred lake. But they said, don’t ever talk about it openly, because we couldn’t talk about gods. They do not exist in the Communist Party’s eyes; they are superstitions. If anyone talked about a god they would be beaten, so we wouldn’t dare to say it.
JEFFREY BROWN: But through thick and thin in a country that’s seen so much political upheaval and social change, those fundamental values have endured, he says.
TASHI SANGE (through interpreter): No matter if you are a newborn or an 80-year-old, you are all protectors. You are all responsible. And you have the responsibility. All life should be protected.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in China’s capital, Liu Jianqiang, guided by the Tibetan monk Qiamei Rinpoche, says his spiritual journey has changed the way he sees the world and his whole approach to writing.
LIU JIANQIANG (through interpreter): Before, I only wrote from a legal point of view. It’s wrong, this is a national park, and how can you destroy it? Now when I write, in my mind what I thought is that they are fishes, they are millions of lives. I can clearly see my change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: China’s omnipresent and officially atheist Communist Party appears to be actively supporting traditional culture as a way to lead people back toward a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Party official Dai Binnguo addressed this recent gathering.
DAI BINNGUO, Chinese Politician (through interpreter): Traditional Chinese culture promotes harmony between man and nature and encourages limited consumption and a simple way of life. We support this. We don’t oppose taking from nature. We do oppose overexploitation. We want gold mountain, but we also want clear water and green mountain.
Traditional Chinese culture promotes harmony between man and nature in a simple way of life. We support this. We don’t oppose taking from nature. We oppose overexploitation. We want gold mountain but we also want clear water and green mountain.
MARTIN PALMER: My sense is that the partnership between religion and government around environment is only going to get stronger and stronger.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A partnership he hopes will help lower the heavy environmental price China is paying for its economic progress of recent decades.
For the “NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Beijing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.
Mexico City faces growing water crisis
GWEN IFILL: Violent protests continued in Mexico today. Demonstrators clashed with police in Acapulco, as anger mounted over the disappearance of 43 students.
Late last week, three men detained in the case admitted to setting fire to the victims. Government investigators said they found dozens of charred bodies. They are still working on confirming the identities.
Many throughout the country have been critical Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response.
Tonight, we take a look at another less attention-getting, but still severe, issue facing Mexico, the water shortage in its capital city.
“NewsHour” special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this report, part of our series Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Every day, long lines of water tankers fill up at pumping stations, 4,000 gallons on each truck, enough for two homes for about a week.
It’s not an emergency or drought. This is normal practice in Mexico City. With a population of 22 million, it’s like filling a swimming pool with a teacup.
Environment scientist Juan Jose Santibanez did the math for one large neighborhood.
JUAN JOSE SANTIBANEZ, Environment Scientist (through interpreter): In Iztapalapa, there are 1,000 trucks distributing water to two million people, which is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of those people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s expensive, inefficient and customers like Sylvestre Fernandez, a struggling cab driver, are not satisfied.
SYLVESTRE FERNANDEZ (through interpreter): Sometimes, it takes or up to five days after we request it. And sometimes we can’t buy other things, like diapers for the baby, because we have to pay for water.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The alternative, really the only choice for many of the poorest is self-service from a municipal tap.
Amelia Segura Trudges down and then back up a steep mountain, jerricans on the back of three donkeys, which her husband, Andulico Bonilla, helps unload.
ANDULICO BONILLA (through interpreter): It’s really hard. It takes 20 minutes to go down the hill, and then we have to walk back up. We collect enough for about three days when it rains. When it’s dry, we need more.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The city struggles to meet the pressing demand. Water is pumped up from aquifers and also piped in from a neighboring province. Its purified in plants like this, but here there’s also a shortage of trust. Mexicans consume more bottled water than any other nation.
One reason is that less 10 percent of the metro area’s sewage is treated. The rest flows in open canals, often washed up with rains that flood this bowl-shaped city, overwhelming many homes in poor neighborhoods.
These pictures are from a film documentary called “H2Omx.” The director, Jose Cohen, said he wanted to inject a sense of urgency about this growing crisis.
JOSE COHEN, Documentary director: We found out that it’s an extremely serious health emergency, and there is a lot of social injustice going on.
JUAN JOSE SANTIBANEZ (through interpreter): There is a very high probability that, by 2020, there will be a mini-revolution, at least in Mexico City.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: No one disagrees the dwindling supply and growing population are leading to a severe crisis. Yet there seems to be little momentum to do something about it. For one thing, where to start?
Work crews are shutting off the water supply to this neighborhood so they can plug a leak a few hundred yards down the street. The problem is not that there are a few big leaks, but rather thousands of small ones across miles and miles of underground piping. Mexico City loses 1,000 liters of water per second through this system.
JOSE COHEN: Forty percent of the water that is available to the valley is lost to leaks.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Almost half of it.
JOSE COHEN: Almost half of it. And 60 percent of the water that we use comes from the aquifer, the one that is drying.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only do people not get water. Extracting it from aquifers below is causing the ground to sink.
You see evidence of it in buildings that are tilting precariously, as this one is doing in the basilica of Guadalupe Complex, one of Mexico City’s most historic landmarks. Geologists say this city has sunk more than 40 feet in the last half-century.
Enrique Lomnitz moved back to his native Mexico from the U.S. five years ago, anxious to put his industrial design degree from MIT to work.
ENRIQUE LOMNITZ, Engineer/Entrepreneur: Everywhere I went, people were talking about water, about how they used to have more water, how they used to have higher-quality water, how water was getting more expensive. I started thinking about, well, to me, it was a very obvious question. Why aren’t people using rainwater?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So Lomnitz started a social enterprise that installs rainwater collection and storage systems in businesses and homes.
ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: This part of the city gets very high rainfall. It gets up to 1,500 millimeters. So a house like the one we’re in right now, for example, has 240 meters of roof, which is about enough for two low-income families to go all year.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In five years, Lomnitz’s group has installed 1,500 such systems, not many, he admits, but there are big obstacles. Homeowners simply can’t or won’t pay the $1,000 cost. As for the government helping out?
ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: I have had people ask me for bribes, for example. They could put up a couple hundred thousand rainwater harvesting systems in their municipality, and they will basically say, you — this project will go to you, but, you know, what’s going to come to me?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Another complication, politicians are limited to just one term.
ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: So, as soon as people take office, they’re actually looking for a future somewhere else. I think if all of the buildings were harvesting rainwater, I think we’d be talking about at least something like 30 percent of the city’s water needs could be coming from rainwater harvesting.
ENRIQUE LOMNITZ: But Ramon Aguirre, who heads the city’s water department, thinks that number is much lower, since rainfall varies widely across the city.
RAMON AGUIRRE, Director, Mexico City Water Department (through translator): It is less than 10 percent, and that is being generous. To build infrastructure to capture the water, store the water, purify the water, it’s just not financially viable.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His department has developed a comprehensive repair plan.
RAMON AGUIRRE (through interpreter): We’re talking about collecting rainwater, fixing the leaks in the whole system, increasing the use of recycled water, which can be used for bathing and recharging the aquifers and generally lowering consumption of water.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The problem? A price tag that is four times the amount of money he gets in his department.
RAMON AGUIRRE (through interpreter): Water is a basic service, and it’s very politicized. We have one of the lowest rates in the country, when we should have some of the highest, but they are politically set. To compensate for that very low rates, we need very big subsidies from the government, which we don’t get.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, for the foreseeable future, he expects to worry more about containing social unrest, dispatching more tanker and repair trucks, like he does today, than about the long-term problems that are literally sinking one of the world’s largest cities.
In Mexico City, I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro for the “NewsHour.”
GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Colombian Civil War Relief Efforts Face Dangerous Barriers
GWEN IFILL: We turn now to Colombia, where a civil war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, or FARC, has lasted more than half-a-century. Along the way, it’s claimed more than 200,000 lives.
Peace talks have offered some hope, but they have dragged on for more than two years.
Tonight, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on efforts to bring reparations to the war’s victims. Its part of his Agents for Change series.
A warning: Some of the images in the story may be disturbing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Edgar Bermudez is one of seven million victims, 15 percent of Colombia’s population, who’ve been promised reparations for their suffering in this country’s long-running civil war. The 35-year-old former policeman lost his sight and much of his face in 2005, when a land mine set by rebel forces exploded.
EDGAR BERMUDEZ (through interpreter): The way you see me is a lot better than I used to look. I didn’t have eyebrows. My nose was a lot more damaged. I had a lot of scars and injuries that stuck out in my face
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bermudez suffers from hearing loss and other issues. He struggles to support his two daughters and wife. She didn’t want to be filmed. Reprisals are an ever-present danger.
EDGAR BERMUDEZ (through interpreter): The police gave me a pension, but it’s not commensurate with my injuries. They didn’t give me the funds to finish my surgery. Reparations have to be far bigger, more multidimensional than what’s being given now.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Colombia has set up more than 100 victims centers like this one. They are the first stop in a long journey that’s supposed to bring education, health and housing benefits, some cash and, where possible, return people to land they were driven from.
The government’s war with leftist FARC rebels, which dates back to the height of the Cold War, shows some signs of ebbing. Peace talks are being held in Havana, Cuba.
However, Paula Gaviria, who heads the agency helping victims, says her task is fraught with complication.
PAULA GAVIRIA, Director, Unit for Attention and Reparation Victims: We’re doing this in the middle of conflict, and we are hopeful that this will have a good end with the FARC in Havana. But there are regions like Buenaventura, where it’s not only conflict with the FARC, it’s different conflicts that are there. There’s narcotics, there are guns going in and out.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Buenaventura, 300 miles from Bogota on the Pacific coast, is the country’s largest commercial port.
It’s also a transshipment point for narcotics, an industry that has thrived in the turmoil of the war. Soldiers patrol here ostensibly to keep FARC rebels out. But many residents say the real danger comes from paramilitary groups who’ve run amok.
Started by rich landowners who also oppose the FARC, these groups are often allied with the military. Some are connected to the narcotics trade. They have driven some 12,000 people a year from their homes and murdered with impunity.
WOMAN (through interpreter): A friend came to visit me on November 3, 2013. The paramilitaries came into the neighborhood, they took my friend outside and shot him in front of my children and my nieces and nephews.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ten years ago, they took her father away. The family never heard from him again, never reported it, for fear of even worse consequences.
Even today, she does not want her image or her real name. We are calling her Gloria.
Dozens, if not hundreds have disappeared or been murdered, some with particular brutality, their bodies dismembered and disposed of in clear sight, in a campaign intended to terrorize people. Things began to change in one small part of the neighborhood called La Playita. Some 4,000 residents put up a gate and a sign and declared it a humanitarian space.
Starting last April a nervous calm has distinguished it from other neighborhoods. So have frequent visits by outsiders. These are organized by a group called the Interdenominational Committee for Justice and Peace.
Father Jesus Alberto Franco Geraldo was one of its founders.
REV. JESUS ALBERTO FRANCO GERALDO (through interpreter): Our work with the international community is what keeps us alive, ensures that we haven’t been assassinated. The reason we have the attention of the international community is our ability to provide really concrete documentation.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The group was started in the ’80s, when violent evictions and extrajudicial killings began to escalate. They have collected large amounts of evidence, bringing cases to the courts and to global human rights groups.
FATHER JESUS ALBERTO FRANCO GERALDO (through interpreter): We began at a time of assassinations of human rights defenders, and those haven’t stopped to this day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Under orders from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Colombia’s government provides security protection to the group. But Father Alberto Geraldo says there are no real guarantees because corruption allows criminal and paramilitary groups to still operate.
FATHER JESUS ALBERTO FRANCO GERALDO (through interpreter): I travel in a government car, and I receive government protection. Last year, that car was shot three times while it was parked in front of my house.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In Buenaventura, the Justice and Peace group sent Maria Mosquera and her brother Edwin to live in the humanitarian zone. The goal is to have constant vigilance, record any incidents and hold security forces accountable for doing their job.
MARIA MOSQUERA (through interpreter): When we first arrived, there was a lot of fear. No one left their house after 6:00 p.m.
EDWIN MOSQUERA, Justice and Peace (through interpreter): They built a gate outside, and that was the symbol that said, we don’t
want paramilitaries in here anymore.
MARIA MOSQUERA (through interpreter): We asked for the police to be present at five strategic locations in the humanitarian space. The role of the police is to patrol just the perimeter of the area and to be alert for the paramilitaries.
ORLANDO CASTILLO (through interpreter): Since the 13th of April, when the humanitarian space was inaugurated, we have not had one single killing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a small, but significant gain for community activists like Orlando Castillo, who led the effort to invite the Justice and Peace group in. He’d counted 27 death threats in recent years, he says.
Gloria also lives in fear of her life. She doesn’t send her young children to school because it’s outside the safe zone,nor does she visit her husband who lives two hours away. Many residents of Buenaventura in general say they has been an escalation of terror in recent years. Free trade agreements, including one with the United States, have made the land more valuable and people living here more vulnerable to being driven out.
EDGAR BERMUDEZ (through interpreter): Colombia has suffered a great deal of violence as a result of just a few interests, but it’s been regular everyday people who’ve had to suffer the consequences and take the brunt of that violence.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in Bogota, former policeman Bermudez is going back to school. He hopes some day to start a organization to help wounded combatants.
I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro in Colombia for the “PBS NewsHour.”
GWEN IFILL: A version of this report aired on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.” Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, we take a look at one South American city that’s gone from being one of the world’s most dangerous places to an urban success story.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our report from Medellin, Colombia. It’s part of our series Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For two decades, Martha Alvarez has held dance classes year-round seven days a week. For the 350-odd students who cram into her tiny studios, it’s an alternative, she says, in a city that offers few.
MARTHA ALVAREZ, Dance Instructor (through interpreter): I started this is 1992 out of concern for the amount of drug use and prostitution in the neighborhood.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That was back when Medellin had become the world’s murder capital, the cocaine capital, home of the drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was killed by police in 1993.
MARTHA ALVAREZ (through interpreter): It has changed a lot since then in terms of drug use, and the armed conflict has certainly diminished.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Medellin has seen a dramatic drop in violence. The murder rate is down from about 380 per 100,000 people to about 50. Experts credit a general calming trend in the country’s long-running civil war, also the efforts of new political leadership to bring people together in the city, says Alejandro Echeverri.
ALEJANDRO ECHEVERRI, Architect (through interpreter): When we look at the narco-trafficking years of Pablo Escobar, people didn’t trust each other. They built barriers around themselves and they put walls up. So public space in this city takes on a far greater significance than anywhere else, because people didn’t look each other in the eye when they walked down the street.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Echeverri is an architect. He was part of the administration a decade ago that set out to create safe public spaces.
We spoke in front of the Exploratorium he designed, a science museum that’s one of several distinctive new buildings.
ALEJANDRO ECHEVERRI (through interpreter): This project right here is part of a broader narrative of social urbanism that the city started in 2003 and 2004. This place is symbolic because it connects the north of the city, which has a lot of poor neighborhoods and has traditionally been stigmatized, with the south. It’s not just the Exploratorium. It’s also the botanical gardens and the metro.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The metro is perhaps the most extraordinary of all the building projects here, with a system of escalators and gondolas you typically see at ski resorts. Here, they reach into the poorest neighborhoods. These barrios cling to the mountains that surround the city, an almost vertical hike that was a barrier that excluded the poor, Echeverri says.
ALEJANDRO ECHEVERRI (through interpreter): All of these policies are geared towards trying to decrease inequality and include the poor and marginalized sectors, who today can now access transportation and other services.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Along the new transit routes are community centers, libraries where there’s everything from computer and Internet stations to loan programs for would-be entrepreneurs, like Fernando Posada.
He was among winners in a city- run contest. He won money to buy the kitchen equipment to expand a business he runs out of his home. Today, Posada is expanding from two to four employees. His cookies and waffle chips look like professional products, he proudly says, and they are selling well.
FERNANDO POSADA, Entrepreneur (through interpreter): Since I got training, I have been able to professionalize and mechanize our production to meet all the labeling requirements, so that we can sell in more stores.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The money for all this come from and unlikely source for a city.
One of the biggest drivers of Medellin’s transformation is a company headquartered here called EPM. It’s one of Latin America’s most profitable electric utilities. This company is wholly owned by the city, but it’s run independently and privately. It pays taxes to the city, but it also sends it profits to the city. And last year, those amounted to nearly $600 million.
EPM has expanded into six Latin American countries and seen record profits in recent years. The construction it’s fueled here has won Medellin international awards, says urban affairs scholar Catalina Ortiz. But, she adds, its not the whole story.
CATALINA ORTIZ ARCINIEGAS, National University of Colombia, Medellin: Don’t be fooled by – by the great marketing that has been done. Scratch a little bit more and you are going to find several things that usually are not really unveiled.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not unveiled, she says, is a huge housing challenge. The city has seen an influx of hundreds of thousands of rural residents displaced in Colombia’s long-running conflict.
CATALINA ORTIZ ARCINIEGAS: Housing to re-house the households that are located in risky areas, or try to break the segregation pattern, and try to have more mixed-income housing, for instance. And that is a very big part of the problem, because, if you are dealing with informality, you really need to think in terms of alternative ways of tenure, of land tenure.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many newcomers are in informal settlements, ever higher up the mountains. Ortiz says they’re vulnerable to poor services, possible landslides and also extortion by criminal gangs that still have a major presence.
Architect Echeverri agrees there’s still much to do in a city where crime, though lower, is sill high, by corruption, a city whose historic industries like textiles have gone away.
ALEJANDRO ECHEVERRI (through interpreter): There still remains a profound level of inequality here and a lot of economic policies that exclude the poor, a lot of it due to globalization. I’m also concerned about politics. Things are very fragile and could change very quickly. But I’m optimistic because Medellin does have this spirit of social commitment and trust.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That optimism is also new, despite the challenges and complaints. Martha Alvarez says her neighborhood hasn’t seen a lot of new investment. It still lacks community meeting spaces, she says.
MARTHA ALVAREZ (through interpreter): I would like the expand this space, because we could get 500 kids to attend every day.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Still, Alvarez says, her own business thriving, tiny tots to seasoned performers. Just the week before we visited, she told us, four of her senior students took jobs teaching dance in China, helping in their own way to make Medellin famous for a more wholesome kind of export.
Fred de Sam Lazaro for “PBS NewsHour” in Medellin, Colombia.
GWEN IFILL: A version of this story will air on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.” Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.