2004 – Under-Told Stories Project

Under-Told Stories Project


Family Planning in Zambia

Many programs that help women with family planning have run afoul of new rules from the United States. The new rules won’t give funding to programs that don’t allow for the option of abortion as a family planning measure.

No transcript is available.


Refugee Crisis in Sudan and Chad

Refugees from the Darfur region of western Sudan have fled across the border into Chad to escape alleged ethnic cleansing in their war-torn country.

No transcript is available.


South Africa’s Water Meters

This program originally aired on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro heads to South Africa to report on remaining social divisions, such as water access, between the country’s white and black populations.


No transcript is available.


Samaritan’s Purse in Sudan

This story originally aired on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on a non-denominational evangelical Christian International Relief organization working in Sudan.

No transcript is available.


HIV Testing in Botswana

This program originally aired on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on June 16, 2004. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Botswana where a new program is encouraging routine HIV testing to break the stigma of getting tested.

No transcript is available.


Haitian Vodou

This story originally aired on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Haiti on the practice of Haitian Vodou and its role in the island nation.


No transcript is available.


A New Orphanage for Minnesota

Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reported on Mary’s Place, a privately run orphanage in Minneapolis in 2004.

No transcript is available.


Truth and Justice in Sierra Leone

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sierra Leone is trying to come to terms with the brutal civil war that began in 1991 and only ended last January.

Helping them is David Crane, appointed by the United Nations as prosecutor for a special war crimes court.

DAVID CRANE, talking to a group of people: I can assure you that I am an international independent prosecutor. I work for no one other than you.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Crane is a native of North Carolina. Ironically, many of the people he represents are descended from freed slaves who settled here after escaping the Carolinas and Georgia 200 years ago.

DAVID CRANE: And my promise to you is to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for the tragedy that took place here in Sierra Leone over the past ten years.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war saw brutality taken to new lows.

In all, 75,000 people were killed, and about two million, almost half the entire population, was displaced from their homes.

Twenty thousand civilians were randomly targeted for mutilation by all sides of the conflict, many by limb amputation. One victim was Alusine Conteh.

ALUSINE CONTEH: The hand is took. They slashed it like that.

ALUSINE CONTEH (Translated): They first used the axe to chop the left hand off. After that, they wanted to chop the other, and this little boy started crying and said, “please, soldier, don’t cut off my poppa’s other hand.”

So they said, “let this woman remove this child from her back. We’ll chop off his arm.” And I said, “no,” and they decided to chop the other hand off.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So they basically said you could have your right hand if you gave your son’s hand?


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many of the soldiers were children abducted into the notorious revolutionary united front, the rebel force. Sorie Sheriff managed to escape combat duty. He did hard labor with his father, who died when they tried to escape.

SORIE SHERIFF: He want to run. He halts my father, say, “stop!” My father no stop. Shoot him here.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You witnessed this? You saw this?


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With diamonds, gold, and bauxite, Sierra Leone should be as wealthy as it is picturesque. Instead the natural abundance has meant only tragedy and genocide.

DAVID CRANE: This civil war wasn’t caused by a political vision or for religious reasons or for ethnic reasons — not that that excuses war crimes or crimes against humanity.

This was done for pure greed. This was done to control a commodity, and that commodity was diamonds.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As they have for decades, thousands of young men dredge and sift gravel in the diamond-rich eastern region. Few of these freelance prospectors ever find much. The big payoffs have always gone mainly to foreign dealers working with the political elite that has controlled the official trade.

Today this former British colony has the world’s lowest per capita income. Two thirds are illiterate, their plight worsened by the fighting. The war began in this region a decade ago, when the RUF rebels, backed by neighboring Liberia, fought the government and army for control of the diamond trade, which in turn fueled arms purchases.

SPOKESMAN: This is for antitank.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Finally, late in 2000, after smaller West African and U.N. peacekeeping forces failed to stop the carnage, British troops began to restore calm, paving the way for a massive U.N. deployment which completed disarming the combatants in January 2002. Today, some 17,000 international troops patrol in Sierra Leone. In early December, the U.N. also swore in the international court to try those most responsible for the killings.

SPOKESMAN: I, Geoffrey Robertson…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: British Judge Geoffrey Robertson is president of the new court.

JUDGE GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: I think the world is moving towards the position that there can be no lasting peace without a measure of justice, and that the reason why we are, in a sense, parachuting in a justice system, international judges to deal with particular crimes, is that there are certain crimes that are so heinous that they diminish us all as human beings.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Unlike similar tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, this one is located in the country where the crimes were committed, invited by the leadership. Pres. Tejan Kabbah was first elected in 1996, deposed in a coup a year later — then reinstated by a Nigerian-led troop intervention.

PRES. AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH: The main reason for the whole exercise is really to make sure that people see and understand that if they behave in the way they behaved here in the recent past, then it will all catch up with them. That’s the message. It’s not a question of retaliation or vengeance, no.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With limited resources and thousands of perpetrators, the court will only try about 20 of the war’s kingpins. Most of the others accused will appear before a truth and reconciliation commission. It will offer amnesty in exchange for confessions. Sierra Leone’s truth commission follows a concept first tried in post-apartheid South Africa. Dr. Alex Boraine served on that body, and now runs an Institute for Transitional Justice in New York.

DR. ALEX BORAINE: I think the idea of having the truth commission as well, not only for the victims to come and tell their stories and to seek answers, but also for perpetrators to be reintegrated into society so that they don’t feel they have to go back into the bush and pick up their guns and kill all over again.

SPOKESMAN: You can talk to anybody in the commission…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The truth commission held its first meeting recently in Bamaru, a village on the Liberian border where the civil war began. Villagers fled when the firing started, and returned when it was over to bury 15 people who couldn’t escape. “We don’t care whether or not the perpetrators are brought to justice,” a village elder told us. “It’s between them and their God.”

Residents said their biggest wish is for peace in this precarious setting, a stone’s throw from the Liberian border. Sierra Leonean soldiers stand guard here, some themselves former RUF rebels. Keeping soldiers loyal is considering key to keeping the peace, especially when the court begins continue to indict suspects, many of whom remain powerful players.

They include current Defense Minister Hinga Norman, whose faction, the Citizens Defense Force, like the rebels, is widely accused of atrocities. Norman says there may well be renewed instability and social unrest if the court is perceived as unfair.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So you think that the prosecutors should take into account the potential destabilizing effects?

HINGA NORMAN: I believe that they do take that. I believe. It is my belief that such mature people cannot just go riding high without thinking that it could be.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, Judge Robertson says to fulfill its mandate of dispensing justice, the court must work strictly off evidence, with no regard for potential consequences.

JUDGE GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: There will always be preference for doing deals, for allowing the torturers and tyrants to leave the bloody stage with amnesties in the back pocket, with their Swiss bank accounts intact. But that seems to me to be yesterday’s argument. It’s for those who are in charge of what, touch wood, is the improving security position in this country, to look after. And indeed, those who do seek– if any do– to drag this country back into barbarism will themselves face trial, perhaps before this court or a successor.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The U.N. may have brought a precarious peace, but little long-term economic improvement. Despite efforts to certify and tax diamonds, official estimates are that 60 percent of them are still smuggled to neighboring countries for export to the world markets. And there have even been recent reports by the Washington Post, among others, that island al-Qaida to the diamond business.

Following its implication in the bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa, the terrorist organization sought a safe haven for its assets. That haven was reportedly vast quantities of West African diamonds purchased in the late ’90s. Day to day, many ordinary Sierra Leoneans say it’s not the fight against terrorism, or even retribution for the crimes against humanity that’s on their minds — rather, it’s how to meet life’s most basic needs.

ALUSINE CONTEH ( Translated ): We have nothing. We have no medicine for the children. If they need medicine, we have to beg on the street.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sorie Sheriff is a good student and wants to become a doctor, but he’s not sure he’ll get past sixth grade, since his mother cannot afford the tuition. For many young people, businessmen Andrew Kromah says soldering remains the only option.

ANDREW KROMAH: We still have imminent danger in the country. Number one is, like, the economy. People are still poor. And you have youths among them… if you keep them idle for so long– even adults who are unemployed– you keep them idle for so long, they can be candidates for mercenary action. They can be candidates for terrorism.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Prosecutor Crane says that instability is just one reason Americans should be concerned. The other is the diamond trade.

DAVID CRANE: It does affect the American people, because we are in fact one of the major purchasers of that commodity. I’m not sure of the exact number, but it is well within the 70 percent. And so the American people need to understand that a diamond is a wonderful gift, but one has to remember that some of those… the origins of some of those diamonds may be, in fact, coated in blood.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Crane will not disclose his specific timeline, but the first indictments are expected in the next few months.


A Direct Plea for a Liver Transplant

This program originally aired on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Texas on an unorthodox method from an individual seeking a liver transplant – direct plea.

No transcript is available.


Abstinence Education

Abstinence only education, a program that has been pushed heavily by President Bush, is being closely examined. A look at how it’s fairing in one rural Minnesota school.

No transcript is available.


India’s Zoroastrians

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Jashan or thanksgiving ceremony is one of few Parsi rituals that can be witnessed by outsiders.

But it’s not hard to witness the impact this small community has had in India, especially its commercial capital. Parsis are leaders of business and industry, science and philanthropy, even music. Former New York Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta is a Parsi from Bombay.

The growth of Islam in what is now Iran drove a die-hard Zoroastrian community to seek refuge in western India around 900 A.D. They became known as Parsis, or people from Persia.

Oblivious to the chaotic street, they come to pray at the sacred well. Parsis honor the skies, water, earth and plants which, with cattle and humans, are six of the seven creations of Ahura Mazda—the one God.

Professor KHOJESTE MISTREE (Zoroastrian Scholar): We believe that fire is the seventh creation which Ahura Mazda created, and when Ahura Mazda created fire, life came into the other six creations, and in our prayers we actually address fire as the son of God.

DE SAM LAZARO: Parsi houses of worship are called fire temples. Non-Parsis are not permitted inside, where priests pray and maintain the fires. Also off-limits to all but official pallbearers are the unusual disposal rites for the dead.

Prof. MISTREE: This happens to be a place called Karighat Colony, very close to our “towers of silence,” which are in the distance. This wonderful greenery that you see is part of our sacred precinct.

DE SAM LAZARO: Shrouded from view by the trees and strictly off-limits are towers of silence—26-foot cylindrical buildings like these on whose roofs the dead are placed, to be devoured by birds.

Professor Khojeste Mistree, Zoroastrian Scholar
Prof. MISTREE: We believe that when a person dies, the corpse is deemed to be defiled, and because it is defiled, we cannot burn it because that is desecrating fire; we cannot bury it because that is polluting the earth. We cannot drown the corpse because that is sullying the waters. So, the only method that is available by way of disposal is the exposure method, because death in Zoroastrianism is seen as the temporary triumph of evil, not the work of God.

DE SAM LAZARO: Temporary until the day of resurrection and judgment. Heaven can be attained if one’s good thoughts and deeds outnumber the bad. Zoroastrian beliefs come from the teachings of Zarathustra, the Persian prophet who lived at least 1,500 years before the Christian era. It is the religion of the ancient Persian Empire, whose kings—like Darius, Xerxes and Cyrus—were known for tolerance and praised in the Old Testament for their warm relations with the Jews.

Prof. MISTREE: Cyrus was a remarkable king; he is reputed to have liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity. He encouraged them to go back to Palestine to rebuild their Temple, and subsequently Darius the Great and Xerxes—and this is all recorded in the Old Testament—gave Persian moneys to actually rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

DE SAM LAZARO: Persia was the home of the Magi, the biblical Three Kings who greeted the infant Jesus but who, Parsis say, actually came in search of a Zoroastrian Messiah.

Prof. MISTREE: And, it is now believed by most Western scholars that the concept of an afterlife, the concept of heaven and hell, the concept of the coming of the Messiah, the concept of the Last Judgment and the Resurrection, these are mainstream Zoroastrian eschatological tenets.

DE SAM LAZARO: Even though Parsis have prospered in India, their numbers are dwindling. Few couples have more than one child.

Also, many Parsis have dispersed abroad, and they’ve married outside the community. For Firuza Parikh, a leading Indian endocrinologist, it means her children are no longer considered Parsis.

Dr. FIRUZA PARIKH (Endocrinologist): I was pregnant with my first child, and I am quite a devout Parsi. I go to the fire temple maybe once a month—once in two months. That was an auspicious day, and I wanted to visit the fire temple, and my mother said, “You can’t right now because you’re carrying a child who technically is not a Parsi,” and that pained me to know that perhaps I would not be able to teach my religion to my children. But that did pass.

Dr. Firuza ParikhDE SAM LAZARO: At the same time, her parents did not object to her marriage to a non-Parsi. With no Sabbath, simple rituals, and the objective of gently promoting harmony in public life, Zoroastrians say they are inherently tolerant and ecumenical. So far, however, Parsi leaders have resisted allowing children of mixed heritage like Parikh’s into the fold.

Dr. PARIKH: I think we should be allowed to have this option, because if we really want our community to proliferate, one of the ways is to accept people from other religions into our fold, be more secular in our thinking. We’re very broad-minded in another sense, but I think in this particular sense we have a narrow vision, and perhaps that may be the reason why we are dwindling.

Prof. MISTREE: I am dead against that …

DE SAM LAZARO: Mistree, the Zoroastrian scholar, is convinced the community can survive ethnically intact.

Prof. MISTREE: But, it is very important for us to recognize that the spirituality of the faith is linked to its roots and, therefore, I’m a great believer in the “live and let live” policy. Namely, that if for 3,000 years the paradigm shows us that the Parsis and the Iranis have managed to keep this wonderful religion alive, then I’m of the view that these people should be allowed and, in fact, encouraged to preserve their heritage, to preserve their ethnicity, to preserve their religion, because it is a beautiful religion to preserve.

DE SAM LAZARO: Preserving old customs has its modern day challenges for a community with far more members in geriatric rather than maternity wards. Parsi families are now offered scholarships and subsidized housing if they have more children—a rare policy in one of the world’s most populous nations to preserve one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Bombay.


Gandhi’s Violins

A report on how a Jesuit priest is fighting generational poverty with violins in the remote Himalayan foothills of India.

No transcript is available.


Garment Quotas in Cambodia

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cambodia is one of the word’s poorest countries. It is still feeling the impact of the war in Southeast Asia and of genocide in the ’70s that claimed up to two million lives, perhaps a fifth of the entire population. About eight years ago, Cambodia began a comeback, centered largely on making garments for the American and European markets.

Clothing exports now bring in about 80 percent of Cambodia’s export earnings. But all that could change beginning in January when a new free trade system takes effect. Jan. 1 will mark the end of an elaborate system of quotas, first designed to protect U.S. jobs but which also guaranteed Cambodia and other nations space on American clothing racks. Sebastien Teunissen is a business professor at the University of California Berkeley.

SEBASTIAN TEUNISSEN: It’s not one quota per country. It’s, in fact, one co-a for each type of garment. So there’s quotas for socks, there’s quotas for pants, shirts and so on. It’s a very, very complex set of numbers. I think it’s well over a thousand different limits when you look at the number of countries and garments involved.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The end of the quota system is welcome at retailers like San Francisco-based Gap. It imports a billion pieces of apparel from 50 countries each year for its Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Gap stores. Gap’s Dan Henkle says quotas have complicated life for the company’s buyers.

DAN HENKLE, Gap: You might have a product category that you… you would ideally like to place with one vendor, one factory. But maybe because of quota restrictions you have to split that order apart. And you might have 10 percent over here and 50 percent over here. And I think in a post-quota environment, you’re going to see that we are going to be able to consolidate some of that… some of those orders and overall I think that will lead to greater efficiency.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It is also expected to lead to major changes in where clothing is made. Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has set aside rack space for many developing nations from Mongolia to Lesotho to Cambodia. Experts say countries with large industrial bases and labor pools especially China, could now dominate. That could cost millions of jobs in the smaller nations. Jobs critical to most countries, says Professor Teunissen.

SEBASTIAN TEUNISSEN: It’s not stated so obviously but it’s considered in a way to be foreign aid. That is by granting quotas to less developed countries, you’re giving them the opportunity to establish production facilities there, employ people, generate incomes, generate foreign exchange and it’s viewed as therefore helping the economy of that particular country grow.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With Cambodia U.S. officials used the quota system to address widespread concern over child labor and other abuses in factories overseas. In 1999, the U.S. offered Cambodia a deal. It would increase its imports of Cambodian garments; in exchange, Cambodia would have to improve working conditions in its factories, introduce a minimum wage, recognize unions and open its factories to international inspectors. Cambodia’s commerce minister, Cham Prasidh, negotiated with the U.S. He says almost overnight a garment industry still in its infancy took off.

CHAM PRASIDH, Minister of Commerce, Cambodia: Since 1996 until this year, it’s almost eight years the number of factories have grown from zero to over two hundred factories. Actually, they are employing about 235,000 workers.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For 21-year-old Nou Yath and her 20-year-old sister, Nou Charya, factory work has meant escape from life at subsistence levels at street vendors.

NOU CHARYA: We make good money in the factory. We can make as much as $70 a month. We share our money with our mother and it allows our younger brother to attend school.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Life here is Spartan by any account. The sisters share a 100-square-foot room with two others. There’s little margin for luxuries. $70 may seem meager, especially since it includes overtime pay, but it’s still twice what an average civil servant earns in Cambodia.

At the factory, these women — and most workers are young women — are guaranteed a minimum wage: $45 a month. They are represented by a union and work in a well-ventilated space. Factories that violate labor standards can lose their export licenses and the International Labor Organization– a U.N. agency– is free to visit unannounced. While it’s hard to monitor all factories, the ILO’s Ros Harvey is encouraged so far.

ROS HARVEY: We’re seeing that basically child labor has effectively been eliminated from the industry. There’s no forced labor. There is also, I think, the freedom to organize.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And, she says, from all indications, the improvements do not cost the bottom line.

ROS HARVEY: We’re finding that it’s not a tradeoff. That you can improve working conditions and at the same time improve profitability, quality and productivity.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The problem is Cambodia’s costs are still 25 percent higher than China’s. Unlike China, Cambodia has to import its textiles and raw materials. The transportation system isn’t as good. It’s also slowed down by corruption and red tape in a business where timely deliveries are critical. On the top floors and in worker homes, there’s great anxiety.

NOU CHIA (translated): We’ve heard rumors that they might be closing factories. We’re really worried.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Plant closings would also dash the hopes of their 17-year-old sister who plans to find factory work when she comes of age. For young, uneducated women, there are few other places to find work. For many, commercial sex districts are a desperate last resort. For his part, Cambodia’s commerce minister says his country can retain its customers, even get new ones by branding itself as the socially responsible place to buy garments.

CHAM PRASIDH: We try to develop a new image of Cambodia as a safe haven for the major brand names in the world. We guarantee that any garment or apparel that we produce from Cambodia are not from sweatshops.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s certainly attracted the Gap, which buys almost a third of all Cambodian garments. In the ’90s, Gap was the target of protests over its alleged use of sweatshop suppliers.

PROTESTERS: Living wages we demand!

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Gap acknowledges there were and still are problems. It says it’s working to police factory conditions. It has a staff of some 100 labor compliance inspectors. While cost is critical in choosing suppliers, the company says it also factors in social issues. So Dan Henkle, who is vice president of compliance, says in recognition of its progress, Gap will continue to do business in Cambodia.

DAN HENKLE: We are making an investment in this. And certainly if you’re holding vendors accountable for paying overtime premiums and wages and so on and so forth, the appropriate wages, there’s a cost associated with that, but you have to look at this in terms of the benefit as well, the benefits on productivity and quality and overall reliability.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Several other retailers who buy in Cambodia have said they plan to continue. The approach may also carry a positive marketing message, but UC Berkeley’s Teunissen wonders how long the buyers can keep their pledge.

SEBASTIAN TEUNISSEN: In the short run, those are probably honest statements. But in the long run, the realities of the marketplace may force them to reconsider it. If the competitors have moved to China as their sole source of supply are able to undercut them in price, then they may have to do so as well.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To make its clothing cheaper, Cambodian officials will soon ask the U.S. to add Cambodia to a list of African countries which are allowed to export goods to the U.S. without the tariffs normally charged to other nations, including China.