2008 – Under-Told Stories Project

Under-Told Stories Project


Ancient Mandaens Struggle to Survive

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Refugee advocates have asked President Bush to use his Middle Eastern trip to promote humanitarian aid for the more than two million Iraqis who have fled their country. They also want Bush to speed up resettlement of refugees here. Last fall the Administration pledged to bring in about 1,000 Iraq refugees a month. But the actual number admitted since then has been going down to just 245 in December.
Meanwhile, other countries have taken in many Iraqis, among them Sweden, where there is now a 9,000-strong community of Iraqi Mandeans, an ancient Middle East religious group that gives special honor to John the Baptist. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Stockholm.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the family of monotheistic religions, Mandeanism is a distant cousin of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Father SALAM GHAIAD GATIA (praying in Aramaic)

DE SAM LAZARO: The prayers that this priest recites are in an Aramaic tongue that Jesus would have understood. And Christ had one encounter with a man revered as a great teacher by Mandeans — John the Baptist.

Fr. GHAIAD GATIA (through translator): The followers of Jesus Christ were also followers of John the Baptist. John the Baptist actually baptized Christ and opened the doors for his prophecy.

Father Salam Ghaiad Gatia (leading service): Blessed are you, the king of light, with your instruction everything was created. When you sent your Angel Gabriel to the world of darkness, Adam and Eve were created.
DE SAM LAZARO: Mandeans share some rituals, symbols and variations of stories found in Jewish and Christian scriptures. Their baptism ceremonies evoke images right out of children’s Bible storybooks, but their belief system sets Mandeans fundamentally apart.

Professor MARTIN LINDGREN (University of Uppsala, Sweden): One of the traits very particular to the Mandeans is what has been called Gnostic, which basically means that they stress the importance of knowledge for salvation. Not blind faith, but knowledge.
Professor Martin Lindgren

DE SAM LAZARO: Martin Lindgren, a Swedish scholar who has studied the Mandean faith, says that knowledge is in texts like the Gazara — much of it sacred, some secret, all hard for anyone outside the fold to interpret.

Prof. LINDGREN: This knowledge is not necessarily verbal or textual, it’s mainly ritual for most Mandeans. It’s being able to perform the correct rituals.

DE SAM LAZARO: The origins of Mandeanism date back more than 2,000 years to Mesopotamia, located primarily in modern-day Iraq. There is some uncertainty about their theological roots.

Prof. LINDGREN: It is very much possible that it is a heretical sect of Judaism. On the other hand they have this very strict hierarchy that doesn’t resemble anything else than it’s a form of a caste system, really, in its strictness and condemnation of impurity, and that makes it more Eastern than Western.
“Purification comes from the hallmark Mandean ritual — elaborate, exacting baptism ceremonies, which occur frequently through life.”

DE SAM LAZARO: Many acts can make one ritually impure in Mandean theology: touching a dead body or intercourse while a woman is menstruating. Purification comes from the hallmark Mandean ritual — elaborate, exacting baptism ceremonies, which occur frequently through life.

Prof. LINDGREN: It’s not just the immersion in water. It’s the prayer and cleansing beforehand, the cleansing of the priest, the cleansing of the baptisees, and also the following ritual of the ritual handshake which signifies truth.
This is classical Mandean pictography. What we see depicted here are angels, or uthras in Mandean, which help the soul through its journey through the purgatories.

DE SAM LAZARO: Mandeans believe that in death the soul begins a heavenward journey that can be arduous
Classical Mandean pictography

Prof. LINDGREN: The journey is made more difficult if you’ve lived a sinful life, and if you’ve committed one of the mortal sins, such as killing another person, you don’t go through the purgatories, you go straight to hell.

DE SAM LAZARO: There’s an absolute ban on killing or bearing arms under any circumstances. It has profoundly shaped Mandean history. They’ve been targets of pogroms and forced conversions dating back to the expansion of Islam into Mesopotamia in the 7th century, continuing up to the advent of Islamic radicalism after the American-led invasion 14 centuries later.
In 2003, Mandeans in Iraq were thought to number around 40,000. Today all but about 5,000 have converted or fled — some 9,000 here in Sweden.

Fr. GHAIAD GATIA (leading service, through translator): Brothers, dear sisters, I always demand from your Mandean spirit that you extend the hand of help to your brothers in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, elsewhere, until this dark cloud passes and God gives them his mercy as he was merciful to us and allowed us to come here where we live in peace.

DE SAM LAZARO: In Sweden they live in peace and enjoy freedom to practice their faith, so rare in Mandean history. Economic prospects are likely brighter for their children, yet many fear a loss of Mandean identity. Parents have a delicate cultural balancing act. This couple asked to remain anonymous to protect relatives still at home in Baghdad.
Some 9,000 Mandeans live here in Sweden.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (Mandean Refugee, through translator): We would like to propagate our faith to the children, but we live here and would also like to integrate into the society. We will accept some aspects of the culture here and reject others, depending on whether it fits into our culture.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (Mandean Refugee, through translator): We have some reservations as people from the Orient. We cannot accept total freedom — premarital sex, for example.

DE SAM LAZARO: It will be up to the Mandean diaspora to preserve the religion and traditions, traditions adapted to surviving.

Prof. LINDGREN: The Mandeans don’t have a lot of architecture. The classical temple, the “mande” — it’s a mobile temple. It’s quick to erect and easy to pull down and move if you have to. I don’t know if you’ve see the toriana, which is the altar. It’s about this big, made of clay. So it’s a very mobile religion, and they’ve had to be mobile in times of pogroms and persecutions in the past. They don’t have any particular holy site. Wherever there is a fresh river water, flowing river, they can perform their baptisms.
How can we improve our program or Web site?

DE SAM LAZARO: Even that becomes difficult in cold climates. In winter they must make do with tap water or a swimming pool. It’s one more painful compromise for a religion that has strict ritual requirements. But pain and survival are part of Mandean tradition.
(to Fr. Ghaiad Gatia): So the Mandeans will not completely disappear?

Fr. GHAIAD GATIA (through translator): Impossible!

DE SAM LAZARO: For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro, in Stockholm, Sweden.


Climate Change Worries Bangladesh

flooded home is bangladeshMonths after Cyclone Sidr killed 3,200 people along the Bangladesh coast, the devastated country turns its attention to climate change. A report on recovery efforts and worries about the long-term future of the country.
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FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Months after Cyclone Sidr killed 3,200 people along the Bangladesh coast, many of the modest homes still lie in hopeless disrepair.

The human suffering is on fullest display at distribution centers, like this one run by the charity Islamic Relief.

On this day, 700 families were given care packages: cooking utensils, toiletries and some basic clothing. Many more went home empty handed.

Sixty-two-year-old Saidur Rahman was among those who took home a bag. His family has gotten some emergency food supplies, scarcely enough to get by. The Rahmans had moved back into their badly damaged house after patching it up. But they say their life is still in tatters because of the death of their 27-year-old son.

SAIDUR RAHMAN: He went out to fish, when the cyclone came he was trying to park his boat but another boat collided with him, he fell in his boat, he was injured and he died.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: November’s cyclone was the strongest ever recorded in a land that’s seen many. Yet the death toll was among the smallest. The previous storm, in 1991, killed 140,000. This time there were early warnings and schools were used as shelters.

The relief effort, led mostly by international and non-government groups, is helping people put homes together temporarily with corrugated iron sheets. It will take years to build sturdier homes.

But the long term future for the country is a real challenge. Many scientists have said climate change would cause more and more intense cyclones. These farmers have no doubt.

FARMER: It’s not just Cyclone. We are facing a disaster every day with water problems.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They say salt water from the encroaching sea is contaminating the rice fields in this low lying delta. Â

FARMER: The crops have reduced productivity and you can see fewer trees grow here. From past years to now, gradually the land is decreasing, going further and further down. We don’t really know but it is our guess that the developed countries that have big factories and machinery, they’re producing some gases. Those gas mix with the air and that is making the environment polluted.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The country’s leading climatologist says with tens of millions of people living no more than 30 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is at ground zero for global warming.

ATIQ RAHMAN, Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies: So, the ocean will rise this way and the central flood plain, which will be inundated more.

Dr. Atiq Rahman says Bangladesh is pummeled from all sides, from the south by cyclones. From the north flow rivers increasingly swollen by melting glaciers in the Himalayas.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So it’s making almost like a lake in the middle of the country?

ATIQ RAHMAN: It already does that every year, certain amount of flooding takes place every year.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In this, the dry season, it’s easy to measure the impact of erosion. Like people, the trees struggle to stay rooted. If, as some scientists predict, sea levels rise about three feet by the end of this century, a lot of Bangladesh will, simply, disappear.

ATIQ RAHMAN: If the sea level rises by a meter, this is the amount the land, below that line south of that line that will disappear, that will go under water.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: About a quarter of the landmass.

ATIQ RAHMAN: About a quarter of the land mass.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s already happening. In the capital’s burgeoning slums, precarious stilts a water mark of the wet season.

Joynal Mollah moved into this small room four years ago with his wife and four young children, scraping by as laborers on less than two dollars a day. The land his family had farmed for 200 years and the home on it fell into the river.

JOYNAL MOLLAH, Laborer: I used to have a piece of land, a third of an acre. We used to have a home, it had a big kitchen. As I lost my land and house in the village, the situation compelled me to come here, otherwise no one would live in a place like this.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The question is, where will all the people driven from their land go?

Bangladesh has a landmass approximately the size of Wisconsin, which has a population of about five million. Bangladesh’s population is 146 million.

If the country is running out of land, Mohammad Rezwan says it will have to look to the water.

MOHAMMAD REZWAN, Teacher: People have to live on water in some way at the time. And it is the most densely populated country in the world, people they will not have any place to live. It is because of climate change.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When Rezwan graduated from architecture school eight years ago, he began to use his skills to design a floating community.

Its first building block was a boat to serve both as school bus — and school.

MOHAMMAD REZWAN: We designed in a way that it has more space and a multi-layered water proof roof on it so that when it rains you still can continue working on it. And there are side windows and the bottom is flat so it can move through the flooded lands.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His fledgling nonprofit caught the attention of donors including the Gates and Levi Strauss foundations. Today, there are 41 floating, solar-powered classrooms plying the Natore region in northwestern Bangladesh. For 1,200 students, school is no longer interrupted by flooding.

One boat serves as a library. It makes three-hour stops along the river. Its young patrons can study, check out a book or learn to use the internet.

There’s also a floating power station. Eighty percent of Bangladesh’s villages lack electricity. Rezwan provides families solar lamps, powered by small batteries that people bring in about once a month to be recharged.

MOHAMMAD REZWAN: We always had surplus energy on the boat and at the same time the children in the rural houses, they couldn’t study during the night. We decided why don’t we share our surplus energy with these children? In this way we developed the solar lamp.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rezwan is also trying to help struggling farmers survive on the land they have left.

In a simple assembly line outside his headquarters, used bicycles are, well, recycled into irrigation pumps. They are sold at a 50 percent subsidy to farmers for about twenty-seven U.S. dollars.

MOHAMMAD REZWAN: It is difficult for the landless or marginal farmers to cultivate. Earlier they could get only one crop a year because it is very difficult for them to get the diesel pump. Diesel pump is expensive.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The workers he’s hired to make the pumps and farmers like Jalal Ahmed have benefited.

JALAL AHMED: Until two years ago, it was very difficult to bring water to the field so we used to bring it up in bowls that we carried. Before using this pump we used to get only one crop a year. Now I get up to five crops a year because we can irrigate the land.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts say it will take affordable, so called green technology — bicycle pumps, floating schools and homes — to quite literally keep communities above water, to produce enough food.

The challenge, Dr. Rahman says, is the sheer scale of the problem and population. He says people will be forced to move and he suggests in future treaties that these so called carbon credits should be traded for climate refugees.

ATIQ RAHMAN: So if U.S.A. is producing — a city or enterprise, it’s producing so many million tons of carbon, you have to take two villages — villages from Bangladesh. If Switzerland is doing that, take another three villages. You know, that’s probably a fair swap, which will not please a lot of people.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You’re tongue in cheek.

ATIQ RAHMAN: Well, it’s a global market and climate change is a global phenomenon, so if humans have to move, they shall find places to move. That’s how the Irish moved. That’s how the Italians moved. Why not Bangladeshis?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Meanwhile, as scientists and relief agencies discuss the long term effects of climate change, their efforts to deal with them are likely to be hindered by the desperate, immediate needs of victims of this country’s increasingly frequent natural disasters.


A Unique Approach to Fight TB in Bangladesh

health workers in bangladeshTuberculosis — a potentially fatal but treatable lung disease — infects 300,000 people in Bangladesh every year. A report on a success story in the country’s fight against TB, which relies on local women trained to spot and treat infected patients.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a success story about fighting tuberculosis in Bangladesh. Our report is a co-production with National Public Radio. It comes from special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Anima Tewari has a sixth-grade education, but this 50-year-old grandmother is on the front lines of a methodical surveillance program that’s one of the world’s most successful campaigns against tuberculosis in a country that’s especially vulnerable to the disease.

Bangladesh is densely populated, making it a perfect environment for tuberculosis, an airborne disease that’s spread mainly by coughing and spitting.

Each year, some 300,000 Bangladeshis develop the crippling lung disease, which also wreaks havoc in their families, says Fazle Hasan Abed.

FAZLE HASAN ABED: Tuberculosis tends to debilitate people in prime of life. In other words, we see more among adults than children. So, therefore, it has a great impact on family, in terms of losing a livelihood earner in the family.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 1972, Abed left his job as an oil company executive and started an organization to tackle poverty and illiteracy called the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

Today, BRAC, as it’s commonly known, is a quarter-billion-dollar nonprofit, running education, nutrition, small enterprise and loan programs, and most of the campaign to control T.B., a disease that can be controlled with antibiotics.

FAZLE HASAN ABED: The treatment still is quite good, in the sense that, you know, efficacious treatment is available and it can be treated and people can get well.

Amina Tewari: Sore throat, fever, shivering. If anyone has symptoms for three weeks, I give them a cup for collection or I take them to the cough collection center.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The challenge is finding the infected people, getting them on, and keeping them on, their medications. Working through its chapters across Bangladesh, the Rural Advancement Committee has assembled an army of women volunteers that it trains to look out for tuberculosis.

TEACHER (through translator): How does T.B. spread?

GROUP (through translator): By sneezing and coughing.

TEACHER (through translator): How does it get transmitted?

GROUP (through translator): Through the air.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, Amina Tewari is one of 70,000 village health workers across the country. Her task every morning is to visit 15 neighboring families. She was trained to look for hallmark symptoms that may indicate T.B.

AMINA TEWARI, Health Worker (through translator): Sore throat, fever, shivering. If anyone has symptoms for three weeks, I give them a cup for collection or I take them to the cough collection center.

Is anyone not feeling well?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tewari carries a notebook to keep track of her visits and a bag with various everyday drugs, like painkillers and rehydration salts.

AMINA TEWARI (through translator): Do you have enough salts?

PATIENT (through translator): No, I’ll take a packet.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She gets these over-the-counter-type medicines from the Rural Advancement Committee and is allowed to sell them for a small mark-up. For Tewari, a widow who lives with a son and daughter-in-law, it’s an important source of income.

AMINA TEWARI (through translator): Now I have some of my own earnings. It’s very important. I can give some money to my sons, to their families, for my grandchildren.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tewari encountered a neighbor she’s been hounding for some days.

PATIENT (through translator): I don’t have any appetite.

AMINA TEWARI (through translator): I’ve told you numerous times to get tested. Let me look for some specimen cups. Now, take one sample right after dinner, around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In small towns across Bangladesh, health volunteers bring people with possible T.B. symptoms to what they call cough collection centers.

Patients and sputum samples are carefully registered. Typically about 1 in 10 cases turns out positive. The T.B. program collects the equivalent of five U.S. dollars from the patient, who then begins an antibiotics regimen that usually lasts six months.

However, the medicines are handed not to the patient, but to their health volunteer. It’s a key to the program’s success.

FAZLE HASAN ABED: In most cases, what happens is that, after one month of drug taking, the patient feels quite OK, normal, and then he gives up, and nobody is following up with the patient.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: An incomplete course of antibiotics can spawn drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis which are much harder to contain. A recent World Health Organization report found sharp increases in multi-drug-resistant T.B., especially in countries of the former Soviet Union and China.

So every day, patients like Bashanti Tewari (ph) show up at Amina Tewari’s house. They’re not related. Bashanti (ph) is three months into her six-month treatment. Amina Tewari will hand her patient every pill in the prescription and watch it go down.

What keeps patients coming back, even when they feel better? They’ll get back their five dollars. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but by this country’s per capita income that’s two-and-a-half days’ wages.

FAZLE HASAN ABED: Detection rate is 90 percent, and the cure rate is more than 95 percent.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What’s more, the tuberculosis program, which is supported by international donor agencies, opens the door to other public health opportunities.

As she looks out for T.B. symptoms, Amina Tewari also prods mothers to make sure kids are immunized. Thanks to these health volunteers, 80 percent of Bangladeshi children are up-to-date on all their shots, including one used to prevent tuberculosis.

FAZLE HASAN ABED: If you can improve immunization rates of children, there will be less infant mortality and better life expectancy. We are also trying to improve health of women, so we are also looking at maternal health, neonatal health, and so on. And, of course, also with better nutrition and education, we’ll have a better life expectancy in this country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: More immediately, Abed says, tuberculosis could quite possibly be eradicated here in 10 to 15 years. Even if that doesn’t happen, Bangladesh has a model in many ways that could work in other developing countries, where T.B. claims about 2 million lives every year.


Food Aid Debate in Malawi

young boy being served foodA report on the debate over the benefits of providing cash or crops to food aid recipient nations.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our second African story about feeding the hungry in Malawi. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story. A version of his report will air on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour correspondent: At about 10:30 each morning, some 800 children in the southern Malawi village of Kusungo break from studies for porridge.

The principal says attendance has climbed 50 percent since the food program began three years ago. In this country of 13 million, beset by chronic hunger, it’s the only reliable meal of the day.

BRIGHTON MTIKOMOLA, school principal: They haven’t eaten anything else. So when they come here, take this sort of food, now when they take this sort of food, it makes them to increase their performance.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They have more energy?

BRIGHTON MTIKOMOLA: Yes, more energy, yes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The soy or maize for the feeding program comes from many countries, but the largest contributor is the United States, through a program called Food for Peace. It began in the 1950s as a means to use U.S. grain surpluses to help countries hit by food crises.

U.S. aid system highly inefficient

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The United States is the world’s single-largest food aid donor, but there are intermediaries, agribusinesses and shipping companies which by law have to be American, and they consume a good part of the U.S. food aid dollar.

The General Accountability Office says two-thirds of that U.S. food aid dollar goes toward administrative overhead. That’s led critics of the $1.2 billion program to argue it helps private contractors more than the hungry.

Last year, one of the largest private food aid charities, Atlanta-based CARE, announced it would stop accepting U.S. food donations in 2009.

CECILY BRYANT, CARE Malawi: We felt very strongly that the inefficiency and the waste that was happening throughout the current system just had to be addressed. And if we didn’t take a stand and try and make a change, then this would just continue.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Care’s Cecily Bryant argues it would be much more efficient if U.S. assistance came directly in the form of cash. The money could be used to train farmers and to buy grain locally, cutting delivery cost and time, while developing markets for African farmers.

In fact, many aid agencies generate cash to run such programs by selling these American commodities to African wholesalers and traders, a practice called monetization.

MALAWI CITIZEN (through translator): This is where we grow soy beans. You need 75 centimeters between ridges for the highest yields.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On this day, CARE extension agents used test plots to demonstrate new crop varieties and types, like soy beans, a high-protein crop that is growing in popularity here in Malawi.

CECILY BRYANT: Food alone isn’t going to change anything in the long run. We’re working with farmers to teach them to harvest greater yields, to be able to market surplus once they reach that level.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite myriad problems with poor infrastructure and uneven distribution that leave many hungry, there have been overall grain surpluses. Rains have been good for two years, and subsidies have helped farmers buy seeds and fertilizers.

President Bingu Mutharika says Malawi must lessen its dependence on charity.

BINGU MUTHARIKA, president of Malawi: We now have had two successive years of surplus. And the year I took over, we were told Malawi was poor and that we must go to the rest of the world and beg that we are poor and the world will feel sorry for us. I said, “No, that’s not the way globalization works.”

People will come to Malawi if there are investment opportunities, if we are helping ourselves, and they want to be part of that success story. Nobody, nobody wants to be part a failing story.

FOOD AGENCY WORKER: So are they looking forward to a good harvest this year?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Indeed, the United Nations food aid agency, the World Food Programme, is now using cash it gets from non-U.S. donors to increase local purchases of grain. But for many farmers, the concept of a surplus is new, one they almost fear jinxing.

FOOD AGENCY WORKER: OK, so they don’t anticipate having a surplus this year?

TRANSLATOR: No, he’s indicating that they are not expecting surplus.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These farmers weren’t sure how to answer a simple question from an agency better known for giving away rather than buying food.

FOOD AGENCY WORKER: Let them understand that we’re not seeing where we can deliver food to. We’re looking to buy food. So, I mean, I understand to a degree they’re used to — they’re used to assessment missions asking them if they are hungry.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite such local difficulties, country director Domenico Scalpelli says the World Food Programme bought 90,000 tons of grain from Malawi last year.

DOMENICO SCALPELLI, World Food Programme: That’s a huge amount of food, and it’s the largest amount we’ve bought ever in Malawi. A lot of it was not only for Malawi, but a lot of it also went to Zimbabwe, it went to Democratic Republic of Congo.

We bought food even for West Africa. And that was because the price was the best at the time and the quality was good, competed internationally.

Part of the philosophy behind it is to try and bring up local farmers and traders to a point where they can, in fact, compete internationally.

Cash donations also criticized

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a goal some in Washington support. The Bush administration has proposed that a quarter of U.S. food aid be sent in cash. And that idea has the support of many Democrats in Congress.

But it gets nowhere in the influential House and Senate Agriculture Committees, whose members come predominantly from farm states. They’ve insisted that all assistance remain in the form of U.S.-grown commodities shipped on U.S. flag carriers.

Representative Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat, says sending cash instead of the usual grain or cooking oils could do damage in some developing countries.

REP. EARL POMEROY (D), North Dakota: You go into some of these small economies with a check, buy a bunch of commodity for food aid, you’ve just drove prices out of sight and you hurt everybody else.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: More importantly, Pomeroy says he fears any changes in the program could jeopardize fragile congressional support for what remains the world’s largest food aid program, even though it accounts for 0.3 percent of the U.S. farm program.

REP. EARL POMEROY: One of the things about the structure of our program is that it’s been able to sustain congressional support through all kinds of political circumstances.

You know, even in the years I’ve been in Congress, I’ve seen very different environments relative to the receptivity of members of Congress to supporting foreign aid.

Well, if feeding the world’s hungry becomes your basic foreign aid football, we’re not going to be a very predictable leader of the global response to hunger.

FOOD AGENCY WORKER: … for purchasing, we’d want to be targeting associations. I mean, it’s impossible for us to deal individually with each farmer and each farm.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: World Food Programme officials say they make local purchases carefully. They reject criticism that this causes prices to rise, but they’re not about to reject Food for Peace donations.

DOMENICO SCALPELLI: I am asked this question quite a bit, and I’m not going to bite the hand that helps feed essentially a million Malawians today. And the United States government is, indeed, the number-one largest donor to Malawi, still.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And other food aid agencies say they will continue to monetize U.S. donations. Nick Ford is the Malawi director for Catholic Relief Services.

Would you not prefer just straight cash assistance?

NICK FORD, Catholic Relief Services: Absolutely. That’s going to be a much more efficient use of the American taxpayer’s money.

We still have a service to provide to the target communities for our development activities. Monetization provides resources that do address the root causes of hunger and poverty in these countries.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What all sides seem to agree on is that more food aid, whether in cash or food, is needed. Only 30 percent of Malawi’s children receive a daily school meal, and that number that could fall as global food prices continue their record rise.


Art Exhibit Tackles Stereotypes of Suburban Life

walker art exhibit pieceAn art exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis aims to examine stereotypes tied to life in the suburbs and shows the work of artists and architects influenced by the slew of social issues outside of cities.
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FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: From the heart of urban Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center is tackling the stereotype about suburbs, that of a colorless, design-free zone.

TRACY MYERS, Curator: I grew up in suburbia and escaped as soon as I possibly could. And so it required a certain amount of effort to maintain a kind of objective or non-judgmental stance. But through this exhibition, you know, I have sort of rethought my assumptions.

ANDREW BLAUVELT, Curator: The idea of the American suburb is constantly changing, although the paradox is that it seems to stay static in most peoples’ minds. Most people tend to have a post-World War II, what we call a sitcom suburb image in their head of what constitutes suburbia.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What curators Andrew Blauvelt and Tracy Myers try to show is the rich variety in today’s suburbia. The exhibit, called “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes,” features drawings, sculpture, photography, and multimedia platforms, inevitably inspiring comment not just about the art, but about suburbia itself.

They offer glimpses of McMansions in outer suburbs, tract homes in what once were cornfields, and the residential settings in California’s San Fernando Valley, where the majority of adult films are shot.

ANDREW BLAUVELT: How do you begin to represent diversity in the suburb? You’re reliant upon artists, because that’s what we do, and that tends to be more poetic than it is didactic.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Among the works on display are those of Laura Migliorino, a community college photography professor who lives in a bungalow in Minneapolis. After years of commuting 20 miles outside the city, she began to get curious about the places in between.

LAURA MIGLIORINO, Artist: I work in a suburb and I would never live there. And I thought, ‘Well, who lives here?’ And, you know, I was biased. And I just thought, ‘Well, you know who lives here, you know, people like Tim Pawlenty, that’s who lives here.’

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The governor of Minnesota?

LAURA MIGLIORINO: The governor — yes, the governor of Minnesota to me was the archetypal suburbanite. He was white; he was middle-class; he was evangelical Christian Republican.

And then I was just asking myself some harder questions. I don’t want anyone to paint all Italians in the same way or all gay people in the same way. And so that’s how this started. I just started looking around.

It’s so massively uniform, and, I mean, I do feel like I’m in the twilight zone right now.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Behind the uniform architecture, she found anything but uniform demographics: same-sex couples, single-parent households, and a diversity of immigrants. She portrays them in their environs with a distinct style and technique.

LAURA MIGLIORINO: You have the portraits of the people. And then I overlay them with five, six, seven layers of imagery.

So I have the portrait of the family, and that’s one layer, but then I overlay other subdivisions, depending on composition, color, tonality, design, traffic, and even farmland.

Suburbs as the American dream

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Curator Blauvelt says the suburbs have become the face of America that would-be Americans aspire to from distant lands.

ANDREW BLAUVELT: Today, the suburbia is the first choice for immigrants, which is vastly different than, say, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, where the city core was the first stopping point for most immigrants.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Here, an American suburb lives in a complex symbiosis with its international twin in a piece called “Cross-Border Suburbia.” It’s depicted in this diagrammatic work by San Diego architect Teddy Cruz.

ANDREW BLAUVELT: What he’s looking at is literally the waste of America’s old suburbs being used and recycled into what he would call the housing, the emergency housing of Tijuana.

And then, from the opposite direction, he’s looking at the influences from Mexico to the United States, and specifically, of course, both legal and illegal immigration, and then occupation and habitation of San Diego’s suburbs by different cultures.

So this is not exactly an architecture about aesthetics, although I think it’s beautiful; it’s really more about an architecture of process.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The images of Tijuana show comfortable mixed use, in sharp contrast to the strict zoning that has dictated how Americans, particularly suburbanites, shop: in strip malls and shopping centers.

That retail experience is another focus of the exhibit, including this look back at a high point of suburban retail building design from the ’70s.

VIDEO SPEAKER: I don’t even know what’s inside, so I’m going to go in and look.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These film images highlight an attempt by the defunct retailer Best Products to set some of its stores apart, to brand itself with buildings that were themselves sculpture.

TRACY MYERS: If you watch the film, you’ll see people say, looking up at it, like, they’re sort of worried about the building falling down or the facade with the bricks cascading down the front of the building.

I love the fact that he commissioned a group of people who were committed to bringing art out of the museum into the world of everyday people, into peoples’ everyday lives.

Documenting suburbia’s poverty

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, big box retailers are the norm in the suburbs, with very little by way of distinctive design.

But, again, uniform architecture has not meant uniform economics. Seven percent of malls and big boxes are abandoned, according to one study. Their re-use is depicted in numerous ways here, reinforcing the idea of diversity in the suburbs.

TRACY MYERS: For example, the photograph by Julie Christensen of a big box that’s been converted to an office for Head Start, Head Start was initiated as a program for the urban poor.

And so what that tells us about suburbia is that now there’s poverty in suburbia, and there might always have been, but now somebody’s documenting it. Somebody’s capturing it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Other artists have thrived alongside, or inside, the successful big box stores, where the displays include the candid photographs of Brian Ulrich and the sculptures of Stefanie Nagorka in the aisles of Home Depot.

TRACY MYERS: Initially, it was sort of guerilla art. She would kind of go in and build these things without permission. Then she started photographing them.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These sculptures are now acclaimed after their humble beginnings.

ANDREW BLAUVELT: I think it shouldn’t have been too surprising, because artists have always drawn inspiration from the world around them.

New architectural designs

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And, he says, even architects are now engaging with suburban design.

ANDREW BLAUVELT: A lot of architects aren’t primarily in the design lead when it comes to developing new aspects of suburbia. In those cases, we’re looking at kind of retrofit solutions to existing suburban problems.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s one provocative example envisioned in this speculative work by the New York architectural firm LTL. It integrates housing and shopping. Housing is placed on the roofs of big box stores on vast tracks of land. Adjacent big boxes are adapted for use as libraries, schools, and community centers.

It’s a take-off on the so-called smart growth policies some cities have adapted to reduce energy use and to increase human interaction.

TRACY MYERS: Very often, urbanites in general and people in my field in particular are very derisive of suburbia. And what LTL did was sort of take as a given this condition of horizontality and, rather than trying to sort of eradicate it, neutralize it, or otherwise dismiss it, treated it as an opportunity for a new kind of suburban development.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It may be a timely opportunity, with gasoline at $4 a gallon, but whether and how such radical shifts catch on remains to be seen in what’s likely to remain an enduring automotive culture, itself abundantly displayed in this exhibit.

“Worlds Away” moves to the Carnegie Heinz Architectural Design Center in Pittsburgh when it ends its Minneapolis run. It will live on in a companion 600-page catalog.


U.S. Doctors Create Pediatric AIDS Network in Malawi

malawi doctor with patientIn Malawi, where some 83,000 children are infected with HIV, a new program brings U.S. doctors to the East African country and encourages African doctors to set up practices in their hometowns, instead of leaving for more prosperous countries.

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FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: In Malawi, 1 out of every 4 children dies before reaching age 5. Famine is chronic, and AIDS has left tens of thousands of orphans often in the care of struggling grandparents, like Robin Nangwandu.
Many children, like his grandson, McAnthony, are HIV-positive.

ROBIN NANGWANDU, Malawian Grandfather (through translator): I will continue working until I die. Don’t have enough money to buy food stocks, just enough money to buy day-to-day. It’s not easy to care for a kid who is HIV-positive, not easy to shuttle him back and forth to hospital.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Until recently, there were just two pediatricians for the entire public health system. Dr. Peter Kazembe was one.
How many children in this country, approximately, are HIV-positive?

DR. PETER KAZEMBE: Well, it’s estimated at 83,000 children are HIV-positive.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … 83,000 children, and to serve all of them, you had two pediatricians, essentially?

DR. PETER KAZEMBE: The two pediatricians, yes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says many Malawian doctors have left for more prosperous countries, like neighboring Botswana, Britain, and the U.S.

DR. PETER KAZEMBE: The issues are the same in all the countries in southern Africa certainly, you know, with salaries, poor salaries, poor working conditions. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing what you need to do, but not having the resources to do it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Kazembe was hired to lead one American effort to bring health care resources to Malawi. Its center is a modern, American-style clinic, complete with 11 young American doctors.
Colorado native Chris Buck and colleagues came here soon after completing their residency. Each will spend at least one year rotating through this busy clinic and also in some Malawian public health facilities.

DOCTOR: Is he using his mosquito net every night?

Dr. Portia Kamthunzi Working with HIV-positive children, I feel that I can relate to them better than other people who are coming from other countries, because, in a way, I know the culture. I know the kind of background that they’re coming from.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Pediatric Aids Corps program is the brainchild of Dr. Mark Kline of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He wanted to address both Africa’s brain drain and its struggle with HIV.

DR. MARK KLINE: You know, obviously, a number of long-term solutions have to be put in place to encourage African doctors to remain in Africa and to bring back African doctors who have emigrated to the developed world. But while those fixes are being put in place, we can’t afford to lose a generation of children to this epidemic.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With a grant from drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, Kline designed a program that pays doctors, like Omolara Thomas of New York, a stipend of $40,000 a year. It’s a fraction of what they could earn at home, but the program also pays down up to $40,000 instudent loan debt for each year of service.

DR. MARK KLINE: Half of the doctors that we have in the program could not have participated were it not for the student loan debt repayment provision, because they simply couldn’t afford to do so.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Three years after it began, about 60 physicians have been placed in 11 African countries.
DOCTOR: So you want to come take a listen again, just listen to both lungs?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their mission: treat patients, and more importantly train local providers on the front lines, like nurses and clinical officers, like George Mkwanda. He works with Yale medical graduate Saeed Ahmed at the Kwale Public Hospital.

DR. SAEED AHMED: So if you listen — if you compare the left to the right, the right is quite decreased compared to the left, correct?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A key goal of the Baylor program, besides providing American doctors, is improving working conditions so the Malawian providers don’t leave, so some who have left come back.

DR. PETER KAZEMBE: Well, a lot of people want to stay and work, but, you know, you have to provide them, you know, basics for them to survive comfortably.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Baylor clinic offers its staff more comfortable wages by local standards and basics that are rare in the spartan public health care system: equipment that works, hygienic facilities and drugs. That was enough to bring Dr. Portia Kamthunzi home from the U.K., despite a big pay cut.

DR. PORTIA KAMTHUNZI: It’s not just the money for me. It’s the job satisfaction, as well. It’s different from working with the government institute, because there’s a lot of shortages of supplies, so it’s different here. You have almost everything.
Working with HIV-positive children, I feel that I can relate to them better than other people who are coming from other countries, because, in a way, I know the culture. I know the kind of background that they’re coming from.

Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan George Washington University
The principles, the issues that people learning global health and living global heath will bring home will not only be valuable globally, but they’re going to be valuable in leading our country in the future.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Compared to medical care in the rest of Malawi, this clinic, with a pharmacy dispensing life-saving antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs, may be a luxury. But for the visitors, this is a culture of severe limits compared to the do-whatever-it-takes American system they trained in.DR.

CHRIS BUCK: I have one patient I can think of in particular that’s a 17-year-old boy. He’s pretty severely immune suppressed. He’s been on ARVs for a long time. And he has a gastric tumor. And it’s just kind of slowly killing him, unfortunately.
And I can think of so many things I could do for him in the states to improve his prognosis — from diagnostic tests to different medicines — and here, I’m really hampered and limited. I really find that to be distressing.

DR. OMOLARA THOMAS: I think every day you wonder and you say to yourself, when you’re prescribing these medicines, what difference really is this going to make, you know? Really what they need is food.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Doctors Thomas and Ahmed say they expected a difficult adjustment, but still they weren’t prepared.

DR. SAEED AHMED: I worked at a very high-acuity hospital in New York, Columbia. And if one patient died or two patients died in a week or a month, it would be a big deal. But we come here and during our time on the wards, we might have three or four patients die a day. And coming to terms with that and coming to terms with there being limits to what we can do for kids was shocking and hard.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Working in such conditions is a valuable lesson for American doctors facing rising health care costs at home, says Washington, D.C., physician and author Fitzhugh Mullan.

DR. FITZHUGH MULLAN, George Washington University: We cannot keep developing our own health care system at the rate we are, that every year or two it eats up another percent of our gross domestic product. And working abroad is an internship, a trial by fire in learning how to deal with constrained resources.
Now, obviously, on a very different level, but the principles, the issues that people learning global health and living global heath will bring home will not only be valuable globally, but they’re going to be valuable in leading our country in the future.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mullan has long advocated a much larger federal program like Baylor’s. It would repay African countries for helping fill the U.S. doctor shortage, he says, and be a strong boost to the American image.

Dr. Mark KlineBaylor College of Medicine
Most of them do it because they feel that AIDS in Africa is the challenge of this generation. This is a very highly idealistic group of young physicians, by and large, and they want to do something very meaningful straight out of their training.

DR. FITZHUGH MULLAN: There are battles for hearts and minds going on in Africa. China is very present. And sending doctors abroad, sending nurses abroad is partly a statement of what we are beyond Coca-Cola and other commercial enterprises.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s no shortage of doctors who want to go. Baylor’s Dr. Kline says, for every one chosen, he has to turn away two.

DR. MARK KLINE: I think most of them do it because they feel that AIDS in Africa is the challenge of this generation. This is a very highly idealistic group of young physicians, by and large, and they want to do something very meaningful straight out of their training. They want to have an immediate impact.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The young doctors say their Africa stint has been profoundly formative and likely not their last. Dr. Thomas is bringing it full circle in her family. Her parents are Nigerian immigrants to America.

DR. OMOLARA THOMAS: I’ve been involved with trying to develop hopefully a program with Nigerian, I guess you can say, expatriates to the U.S. and physicians there who at some point do want to come back to Nigeria and do want to work.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Maryland native Amy Sims plans to return frequently to Africa.

DR. AMY SIMS: I’m actually going back for specialist training in a couple months in the states. And specialists are something that are kind of few and far between here in Africa. And so I plan to use that to train African health workers and kind of pass on that knowledge. And so I always see myself coming back to Africa.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Amid all the poverty and suffering, they say, are rewards harder to measure, but just as meaningful, like sharing good news with young McAnthony’s grandfather…

DOCTOR: He looks fantastic.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: … or like watching the teen club on the clinic grounds, knowing that, without this clinic, few of these patients would have survived to be teens.


Rice Production Makes a Comeback in Cambodia

cambodian farmerAmid rising food prices and supply shortages, Cambodia has managed to increase its food production by turning the war-ravaged country’s former “killing fields” into rice fields. Click here to watch the video »



JIM LEHRER: Now, turning Cambodia’s killing fields back into rice fields. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Rice is a staple in most of Asia, and shortages and high prices have triggered riots in several countries. But here in Cambodia, things have been calm, thanks to record harvests, says Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.

KHIEU KANHARITH, Minister of Information, Cambodia: The food situation in Cambodia is good. You know, we had the last year production be at a surplus of 2 million ton of rice. And this is a good reserve for food security. Despite that, we can even get more.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cambodia even exported some of its surplus to the Middle East and Africa, and the government hopes to double production in the next few years, welcome news in a global rice market that’s seen tightening supplies.

Yet success is all the more noteworthy given Cambodia’s recent history.

This museum offers a glimpse of how the Khmer Rouge regime wiped out almost two million people in the 1970s, almost a quarter of the population. With them went farming know-how. Hundreds of rice strains that over the centuries have adapted to local conditions died off, as well.

MEN SAROM, Cambodia Rice Institute: Some variety respond well for drought, some not. Some respond well for, you know, flood, some not.

Prum Keth


When we planted the traditional rice in the past, we only got about one ton per hectare. Now it’s increased more than twice that. We get more than two-and-a-half tons her hectare.

Methods for yielding rice

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Men Sarom heads Cambodia’s rice institute, which has tried to reverse the terrible legacy. Set up in the mid-’80s with help from the Australian government and the International Rice Research Institute, they began to bring rice back to what became known as the killing fields.

MEN SAROM: We successfully developed many rice varieties.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Now, are you developing new varieties or restoring old varieties or a combination?

MEN SAROM: Both. Both.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The institute’s extension agents, like Heng Vuthy, work in the fields, training or re-training farmers.

HENG VUTHY, Extension Agent (through translator): We tell them to use the right type of seedlings, especially the ones from the institute. Farmers find it easier to use chemicals because they don’t need to work as hard, but it doesn’t help them the next year, because they have to keep buying it.

We train them on how to space their crops, how to use natural fertilizers, instead of the chemical ones, and how to prepare their rice fields.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One of her clients is Kun Kamara, who uses homemade compost and seedlings developed by the rice institute on the nine acres she cultivates with her husband, Prum Keth.

PRUM KETH, Farmer (through translator): When we planted the traditional rice in the past, we only got about one ton per hectare. Now it’s increased more than twice that. We get more than two-and-a-half tons her hectare.

FARMER (through translator): Yes, we’re very happy. But even though we’re happy, we’re still poor.

Urooj Malik

Asian Development Bank

Water management systems are not as well developed as they are, for example, in Thailand and Vietnam. So in the wet season, it gets very wet and floods.

Technology, methods remain outdated

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cambodia’s farms are productive once again, but they’re still far behind those of neighboring countries like Thailand or even Vietnam. The technologies and methods are still outdated, and then there’s the inescapable legacy of the warriors.

UROOJ MALIK, Asian Development Bank: There are a lot of unexploded ordnance in these countries. Vietnam has, I think, managed to clear most of it, but there are landmines there, as well.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Urooj Malik of the Asian Development Bank says as much as 20 percent of Cambodian farmland is still off-limits because of landmines. And, he says, there are other barriers that modern genetics and technology alone cannot surmount.

UROOJ MALIK: Water management systems are not as well developed as they are, for example, in Thailand and Vietnam. So in the wet season, it gets very wet and floods. In the drought season, it’s totally dry and there are large chunks of land that are not available, don’t have available water.

So, I mean — so I think, again, irrigation and water resources management is another important key to increasing productivity.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At all levels, there’s outdated equipment.

FARMER (through translator): As a farmer, I don’t want anything except modern equipment, like a tractor. I don’t want to use the cows anymore.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Cambodia has too few mills, where rice kernels are separated from their husks. Those mills that do exist are antiquated and break a lot of the rice grains, diminishing both their market and aesthetic value, says the Chan Sophal, who heads an economic research organization.

CHAN SOPHAL, Cambodia Economic Association: We have very poor post-harvest infrastructure. And much of the harvest has to go out immediately because there’s no place to be kept.

Prak Sat

Cambodian Citizen

We eat rice seven days a week, every day. We also eat fish every day, half a kilo. I don’t have enough money. I’m always thinking about food.

Unequal distribution of rice

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Because of poor storage, a lot of grain decays or is eaten by rodents. Because of poor roads, Cambodia’s surplus is unevenly distributed. Chan says it’s particularly hard on the landless peasants and urban poor, who buy rather than grow most of their food.

CHAN SOPHAL: In the past three years, we have generated 50 percent surplus. However, this doesn’t mean every household has food sufficiency. And there’s a level — a high level of inequality of land ownership. Twenty percent of rural households don’t own any land, I mean, agricultural land.

INTERVIEWER (through translator): Do you have any land for cultivation?

PRAK SAT, Cambodian Citizen (through translator): No, I don’t have land for cultivation.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Among those answering a survey by Chan on food security was 68-year-old Prak Sat. She takes care of an ailing husband and cooks for an extended family of seven.

INTERVIEWER (through translator): How many times do you eat rice in a week?

PRAK SAT (through translator): We eat rice seven days a week, every day. We also eat fish every day, half a kilo. I don’t have enough money. I’m always thinking about food.

Coco Ushiyama

World Food Programme

For the first time, we got a historic donation of 2,000 tons from the government of Cambodia for our school feeding and other vulnerable group feeding.

Measuring Cambodia’s recovery

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the everyday struggles, many Cambodians take a historical view, especially those, like Prak Sat, who survived the Khmer Rouge years.

PRAK SAT (through translator): It’s better than before. Now we have enough rice and food to eat, and we don’t have to worry about being executed.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And Cambodia is better off than many countries that must depend on increasingly scarce and expensive imported rice, says Chan.

CHAN SOPHAL: My feeling is the positive impact of high food prices is greater than the negative impact, because we are a net producer.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In other words, the gain from selling rice at a higher price is yielding dividends that offset the cost of buying higher priced food?


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the aggregate, but not…

CHAN SOPHAL: Right. In the aggregate, yes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One measure of Cambodia’s recovery is the World Food Programme’s school breakfasts, which are made possible by food donations from rich countries. The program, which operates in 74 countries, has come under severe strain due to rising grain and freight prices.

But in Cambodia, spokeswoman Coco Ushiyama says, a remarkable thing happened.

COCO USHIYAMA, World Food Programme: For the first time, we got a historic donation of 2,000 tons from the government of Cambodia for our school feeding and other vulnerable group feeding. And so with the Cambodians, the other donors also came through, but we still need more resources.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This year, she says, the Cambodian government has increased its rice donation to 3,000 tons.


New Bridge Opens After Collapse

i-35W bridgeThirteen months after a bridge collapse killed 13 people in Minnesota, a new 10-lane structure reopens to traffic Thursday morning. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the engineering behind the I-35W’s multi-million-dollar reconstruction.
Click here to watch the video »


GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, another rebuilding story, this one out of Minneapolis. A little more than a year after the deadly I-35 bridge collapse, its replacement opens to traffic tomorrow.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our Science Unit report.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: Workers put on the final touches Monday morning as a host of dignitaries gathered on the new bridge, finished three months ahead of schedule. But the celebration has been muted, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters noted.

MARY PETERS, U.S. Secretary of Transportation: This is kind of a bittersweet day. It’s a day that we remember those who tragically lost their lives and those who were injured here, but also a day of new beginning, as we see this new crossing bring the community back together again.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A memorial was announced, to be built in a nearby park for the 13 who lost their lives and 145 who were injured in one of the most spectacular infrastructure failures in U.S. history.

REP. JAMES OBERSTAR (D), Minnesota: Out of mind-numbing tragedy has come an engineering marvel. Out of the rubble of failure of a bridge has come a lesson for the future of bridge engineering and construction.

Tom DeHaven Bridge Design Team The workers have been working pretty much around the clock since we started, and it’s really come together.

Design and building processes

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, who is from Minnesota, shepherded appropriations of some $370 million federal dollars to kick-start a quick rebuild of the busy traffic artery.

TOM DEHAVEN, Bridge Design Team: The workers have been working pretty much around the clock since we started, and it’s really come together.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tom DeHaven is a designer who worked with the Denver-based general contractor. The state awarded Flatiron-Manson the contract, scoring it highly on a design that blends in with its surroundings and neighboring arch bridges, a focus on safety and speed.

In fact, DeHaven says, building proceeded in stages even before his team had completed their final design.

TOM DEHAVEN: So the design process was going on at the same time construction was. When we finished the foundations, they built those. And we were designing the piers. We were designing the piers. They’re building those. We’re designing the roadway up top.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Also to speed things up, concrete was used for the superstructure instead of steel, which would have had to be fabricated and shipped in.

Concrete was acquired locally, but curing almost 500,000 cubic yards of it was no picnic in the minus 20 to 30 degree temperatures that often visited Minneapolis last winter.

TOM DEHAVEN: You have to keep concrete above about 50 degrees so it will keep hydrating, so the cement and water will react. So what they did was they built an enclosure that was bigger than whatever concrete piece they wanted to pour.

So any time we were pouring concrete, like these columns behind us, they were wrapped with an enclosure that was about three feet bigger than it was on either side, double layers of high-density plastic to keep the wind from blowing out so you didn’t lose the heat loss, and the heaters blowing heat from the bottom.

Kevin Gutknecht

Minnesota Department of Transportation

We call it smart bridge technology. They tell us how much the bridge might move, how much the bridge expands and contracts. There’s also a microphone inside that will tell us if there’s any strange sounds inside the bridge.

The bridge’s ‘smart technology’

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the core of each column was placed a steel skeleton, the concrete around it serving as a skin.

TOM DEHAVEN: We have thousands and thousands of miles, like, 7,500 miles of high-strength cables in it, as well. That steel actually holds up the bridge, and the concrete protects it. So it’s like the skin on your body is the concrete, but the thing that really holds it up is the bones inside, the steel.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And just under the skin is embedded a kind of fiber-optic nervous system.

DAN SJOGREN, Construction Worker: I’m installing a telerock maturity meter. It monitors the temperature and strength gain of the concrete based on a time-temperature scale. I put this in the pourage. It’s one of the ways we manage the concrete as it cures.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In all, about 320 sensors will monitor every aspect of the bridge’s operation, how the loads are borne and distributed, and whether corrosive de-icing chemicals used in the winter are seeping in.

Kevin Gutknecht is a spokesman for Minnesota’s Transportation Department.

KEVIN GUTKNECHT, Minnesota Department of Transportation: We call it smart bridge technology. They tell us how much the bridge might move, how much the bridge expands and contracts. There’s also a microphone inside that will tell us if there’s any strange sounds inside the bridge.

All of this is designed to help us monitor the health of this bridge, as well as the University of Minnesota and a university out of Florida are monitoring this data, as well, and they’re teaching young engineers, so it will help us design bridges in the future.

Carol Shield

University of Minnesota

I think all the instrumentation in there will hopefully help us learn better how these types of structures behave. And so that when they’re designed, maybe we can design them even more cost-effectively.

Effective design and its costs

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: University of Minnesota civil engineering Professor Carol Shield says the bridge’s design is not new. However, having it monitored or instrumented from day one will provide valuable new and ongoing information about how these structures age.

CAROL SHIELD, University of Minnesota: We don’t really have the ability to run huge computer codes and model every little part of every structure we build, because we build one of them.

It’s unlike the airline industry where you’re building a airplane, and you’re going to build a thousand of them, and so you can spend a lot of time really analyzing to death every little part of it. A bridge you get to build one of.

And so we make a lot of assumption and approximations along the way. And what instrumenting the bridge has let us do is try to understand whether a lot of those assumptions are good assumptions or bad assumptions.

And I think all the instrumentation in there will hopefully help us learn better how these types of structures behave. And so that when they’re designed, maybe we can design them even more cost-effectively.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Costs for this bridge seemed no object. In fact, two bidders who came in lower are suing the state, alleging a flawed process.

But for the state, speed was at a premium. In fact, Flatiron-Manson stands to get a $27 million incentive bonus for finishing early.

Minnesota’s Department of Transportation says the bonus payment to the contractor for the accelerated timeline is well worth it. The department says, for every day that this roadway is closed, it costs the regional economy at least $400,000.

The new I-35 bridge opens first thing Thursday morning to an anticipated 140,000 Minneapolis commuters every day.

GWEN IFILL: Again, also on our Web site, you can see our coverage from last year about the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis. Visit us at PBS.org and click on NewsHour Reports.


Republican National Convention Coverage in St. Paul

republican national convention round tableAt the Republican convention in St. Paul, GOP delegates have been discussing the economic downturn and their support for Sen. John McCain’s policies. The NewsHour speaks with delegates from Michigan about their viewpoints and with political experts about the delegates’ differences, similarities to voters.
Click here to watch the video »


FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: First Lady Laura Bush’s visit with the Michigan delegates this morning highlighted the state’s importance in November.

LAURA BUSH, First Lady of the United States: Michigan could be the Ohio of this time. You know, Michigan could be the state that carries the ticket for us.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Michigan’s delegates, the economy seems to be a top concern this election. Retired General Motors worker Ron Michals said the state had been severely hit.

RON MICHALS, Michigan Delegate: There’s an old saying that, when the country catches cold, Michigan catches pneumonia. It’s been heavily relying on industry, and building cars, and everything that goes with it, so there have been slumps like that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Michals has three sons who have lost jobs, contributing to Michigan’s 8.5 percent unemployment rate, the nation’s highest. Since 2000, the state has lost more than 250,000 manufacturing jobs.

Real estate businessman Dennis Buchholtz, a delegate from Warren, said McCain’s plans for keeping taxes low would help spur economic growth.

DENNIS BUCHHOLTZ, Michigan Delegate: I’ve never been hired by a poor man. You take the money away from a rich man, he’s the only one that’s got the money to build the factory or build the shopping center. And you raise the taxes to the level that we used to have, and the money leaves the country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Gerald Wall, a delegate from Higgins Lake, argued for more government aid to the auto industry, a view he acknowledged may not be shared by many fellow delegates.

GERALD WALL, Michigan Delegate: Well, you know, some people talk about the Chrysler bailout, if you were around then. It did work.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That sounds surprising coming from a Republican.

GERALD WALL: Well, it worked — I understand that. And I am very, very conservative. But the old saying, “Desperate people do desperate things.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Delegate Carol Curtin of Evart (ph), meanwhile, said she was confident McCain’s overall leadership ability would help Michigan’s struggling economy.

CAROLYN CURTIN, Michigan Delegate: I can’t say that I’ve actually studied McCain’s economic proposal to know it really well. I just have confidence in him and his demeanor. And I think that he’s the right person to lead our country forward.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: More than half the voters in Michigan’s January Republican primary ranked the economy as their most important issue.

JIM LEHRER: And more on who are the Republicans now from Ray Suarez.

Delegates and Voters Differ

RAY SUAREZ: And, Jim, for that, I’m joined by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal’s political daily.

Well, Andy, let’s broaden out that portrait we just got of Michigan’s delegates to the delegates as a whole. How do they line up with people who vote for their party and with other Americans?

ANDREW KOHUT, President, Pew Research Center: Well, it’s certainly a very distinct demographic crowd: 93 percent of them are white; 68 percent of them are male. It’s quite different than we saw last week, when only 67 percent were white and only 51 percent were male.

This is a married — largely 80 percent of these people are married. Among the Democratic delegates, it was only 68 percent.

They’re more affluent, they’re more educated than Republican voters at large, but that was characteristic of the Democrats, too. They’re well-educated and affluent people who are delegates and grassroots politicians.

RAY SUAREZ: Amy, you’ve seen the numbers. What jumped out at you in this portrait of the Republican delegates?

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: What’s interesting coming after the Michigan piece here, which is you ask the delegates, you know, do you think this country is in a recession? And 24 percent of delegates say they think it is; 72 percent say no.

Last week, when we talked to Democratic delegates, 90 percent of them said, yes, we’re in a recession, and only 8 percent said, no, we weren’t. They thought that — they like the job that Bush is doing on the economy: 70 percent said that, as opposed to 24 percent of all voters.

Even Republicans across-the-board, Republican voters, are less — feels less strong about Bush’s stewardship of the economy, less strongly about that than them.

So this is a group as a whole, just like we talked about with the Democrats, I mean, this is — obviously, you come to a convention because you’re here to talk to people that are a lot like you on a whole host of issues. And then it’s sort of, you know, it’s an echo chamber.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how has the last four years treated this party? A lot of these delegates were with us at the 2004 convention in New York.

ANDREW KOHUT: This has not been a good four years for the Republican Party. Four years ago, 33 percent of American voters said that they were Republicans. It’s only 28 percent in the surveys that we’ve done over the past three months.

Republicans have lost ground among independents. There are more independents who lean to the Democrats than four years ago.

And they’ve lost a fair amount of support among young people, among middle-aged people, middle-income people, and in the suburbs, the center of the electorate.

And these are tough times for the Republicans. And they’re really running at a disadvantage.

Party trouble on issues

RAY SUAREZ: Running at a disadvantage, suggests Andy, but what issues are they going to run on? Where do they have or believe they have — and when you look at what they think ails the country — where do they have some points that they can bring to the country for the fall?

AMY WALTER: Well, I think why you’re seeing so much enthusiasm on the floor right now for Sarah Palin is this idea that this is somebody not only who speaks to them from a conservative point of view on social issues and fiscal issues, but somebody that they think can sell well across the rest of the country, somebody who’s — right, she’s a self-described hockey mom.

She can go in there and talk to a lot of these folks in the suburbs and in rural areas who, you know, raising a family, being a mom, she gets these kitchen-table issues, hoping that that’s the way you go in and get some of those kinds of voters back.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there places where there’s, Andy, some joy for the Republicans, some positive numbers, some things that they can work on that — where they agree more with the voters as a whole than the Democrats?

ANDREW KOHUT: Not many. Not many. I mean, I think the only area of real strength for the Republican Party continues to be as seen as the party better able to protect the country from terrorist attacks, but they trail by 20 points and 30 points on the environment, on energy, on health care, and by 19 points on the environment.

They’ve got to in some way instill in voters a renewed confidence that this party speaks to solutions to problems that the public thinks have been ignored during the Bush years.

And they’re really under a cloud. The best thing they have going for them is that John McCain has been a broadly popular presidential candidate, especially among independent voters.

AMY WALTER: And this is what’s the interesting challenge for John McCain, that is, coming in front of these people we just described as being very conservative. They think George Bush is doing a good job on a whole host of issues that the rest of the country doesn’t feel the same way about.

And he has to go out there and give a speech to the rest of the country that’s going to make a lot of those people in the room potentially cringe. I had a Republican say that to me today, which is, “If he’s successful in his speech on Thursday night, it will be making people like me kind of cringe a little bit in the end.”

And that’s hard to do when you’re in front of your own folks on a stage like that.

RAY SUAREZ: But it’s because of the way these Democrats — these delegates, excuse me, do not agree with the voters as a whole on some of these issues?


RAY SUAREZ: I mean, you have to…

AMY WALTER: You have to distance yourself from Bush. It’s not even the issues as much as distancing yourself from the president, a president that these folks feel is doing a good job on the economy, is doing a good job on the war in Iraq. That’s going to be a very different than McCain needs to send to the people who are watching this on television.

RAY SUAREZ: Amy Walter, Andrew Kohut, thank you both.


Republican National Convention Coverage in St. Paul

republican national convention interviewSome Louisiana RNC delegates flew home on a chartered plane Sunday to help family with evacuation efforts. The NewsHour talks to Louisiana delegates about attending the convention as Gustav threatens.
Click here to watch the video »


JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Judy.

It has been a long day for both the first lady and Cindy McCain. They had breakfast with the Louisiana delegation, and special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro was there.

CINDY MCCAIN, wife of Sen. John McCain: May I introduce to you the first lady of the United States, Mrs. Bush.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour correspondent: It was a surprise uplifting start for the day for the Louisiana delegation, many with family members and friends in the path of the hurricane.

The chairman of the delegation, Brian Wagner, began the morning on an optimistic note.

BRIAN WAGNER, chair, Louisiana delegation: Gustav has kind of rained on our parade a little bit, but I want you to know that my hardest cheering, because the wonderful things that the McCain people have done and the convention has done for the people in Louisiana, and Texas, and Mississippi, and Alabama, just makes our heart sing.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That tone was echoed by former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.

FORMER GOV. BUDDY ROEMER (R), La.: The early returns from Louisiana are good, to put it in political terms, but they’re just early. I’ve won and lost elections in the last hour, and the same thing is true with hurricanes. It’s not over until it’s over.

And often the greatest danger and damage is inland, far away from the coastline. It’s 18 inches of rain in five hours; it’s a road that can’t stand anymore; it’s a bridge that tumbles. So we’re a room filled with anxiety and hope.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The center of attention, however, was Rhett and Vickie Davis’ family. The McCain campaign flew Rhett Davis and about a dozen other delegates home on a chartered plane. He returned with the family’s three children and his mother-in-law.

Vickie Davis said she was grateful for the gesture.

VICKIE DAVIS, Louisiana delegate: John McCain, he’s our hero. He just saved the day. He sent the plane and brought them here. So we’re overjoyed.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Other delegates were nervous about the potential impact of the storm. City Attorney Bob Ellis of New Orleans.

BOB ELLIS, Louisiana delegate: I think a lot of the delegates are anxious like them. You know, it was a very big concern. Some of the delegates went home to get their families to secure areas. I evacuated before I came here, so this was sort of my evacuation.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: College student Deanna Wallace of Shreveport, meanwhile, said the state’s delegation would try to make the best of the situation.

DEANNA WALLACE, Louisiana delegate: It is a little disappointing. We have been so excited to come here and to be here. And to have it kind of overshadowed and rained on, I suppose you could say, by Gustav is — it’s sad. But I think that we’re resilient. And if anyone knows how to have a good time in the midst of a storm, it’s Louisiana.

MINISTER: We know, Father, that you will send a hedge of protection…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Louisiana delegation closed the breakfast with a prayer, while Gustav continued to rage.

Emotional dimension added to RNC

JIM LEHRER: Now, let’s go back to Gwen on the convention floor.



I’m down here on the convention floor with two of those delegates that Fred de Sam Lazaro talked to on that piece from Louisiana. And they went — and Rhett Davis and Vickie Davis went and rescued their family on that McCain plane today.

Do you feel nervous at all, Mr. Davis, being here?

RHETT DAVIS, Louisiana delegate: Well, I feel a lot better now since my mother-in-law and her four children are here. We left early because my wife, Vickie, is on the Credentials Committee and we had to be here a few days early.

And at that point, Gustav was not a big threat to Louisiana. It was heading that way, but five to seven days out it always turns. This one never turned.

And so Sunday morning, as I was preparing to fly home to be with the children and my mother-in-law during the storm, I heard in the lobby that McCain had rented a plane to fly people home who needed to get home.

And so I thought it was very generous of him. And he’s been through a lot of suffering in his life. I think he has a very big heart and he understands what other people go through when they suffer.

GWEN IFILL: I noticed that the Louisiana delegation seemed to be pretty robust in its attendance here tonight. Are people talking among themselves, that they’re kind of nervous to be here when so much is going on at home?

VICKIE DAVIS, Louisiana delegate: No, their hearts are at home. We have these red ribbons that everyone is trying to wear and just to let you know, you know, their hearts are there. Their responsibility is here.

We wanted, you know, to do the business of the convention. And when we go home Friday, we’re going to, you know, hit the ground running and do as much as we can to help.

GWEN IFILL: Louisiana went through so much during Katrina. Do you feel echoes of Katrina at a time like this?

RHETT DAVIS: Well, we did at first, but this storm turned out to be not quite as strong as everyone thought. And with our new governor, Bobby Jindal, a Republican, who’s got everything so well organized and is doing such an excellent job, under Jindal’s leadership, everything has just run very smoothly.

And you can only do so much when nature strikes. But I believe that the government, the FEMA, the White House, Governor Jindal’s office have done an excellent job. And everyone in our state is so thankful for their leadership.

GWEN IFILL: And, Mrs. Davis, do you think that, in the end, this convention is going to ever get back to normal? It’s gotten a very unusual start.

VICKIE DAVIS: Well, I heard the great news. It’s down to a Category 1. It’s moving west. I think we’ve been spared a lot. New Orleans seems to have come through it all right. I think we can get down to business tomorrow.

GWEN IFILL: OK, Vickie Davis, Rhett Davis from Baton Rouge, La., bravely sticking out the convention. Thank you both very much.


Haiti Relief

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: We have a report today from one of the neediest countries on earth — Haiti in the Caribbean. Church and other relief groups and heroic aid workers are helping, but Haiti’s plight remains daunting at best. First came the devastating Hurricane Jeanne four years ago. Then this year Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike all battered Haiti’s north coast. Fred de Sam Lazaro visited the city of Gonaives, with its desperate people and everywhere — mud.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When the food supplies arrive in Gonaives, so do riot police from the UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti. They bring some order but not food for everyone. A stream of needy people, mostly women, leaves empty-handed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (through translator): I’m dying of hunger and so are my kids. I came here to get food, but they’ve given it all away. I haven’t eaten anything today. I’m still hungry.

DE SAM LAZARO: A number of church-based groups have tried to fill the gaps, showing up at camps for the displaced with a cooked meal, the efforts often piecemeal.

ISAAC ESTIME (Pastor, through translator): We provided food three times: last week, yesterday, today. Basically we need money to rebuild our church. Lot of kids who lost homes, parents, need money to take care of them.

DE SAM LAZARO: At least 300 people lost their lives in this year’s storms. Perhaps 800,000, a tenth of Haiti’s population, lost livelihoods.

Odette Jame
ODETTE JAME (Seamstress, through translator): I lost chairs, cooking pots, kids’ clothing. But the only thing I really cared about was my sewing machine, and I had a lot of material to sew for school uniforms. I lost all that, too. The money that I would have made from selling uniforms I would have used to send my kids to school.

President RENE PREVAL (through translator): Just in Gonaives, we have three million cubic meters of mud. You can imagine the effort that is needed. I hope the international community understands the profound catastrophe Haiti is going through.

DE SAM LAZARO: Haiti’s president, Rene Preval, has had to rely on the international community to lead the relief operation in a country where 80 percent live in what the UN calls absolute poverty, crippled for years by political and economic meltdown. One key non- government group has been Doctors Without Borders.

At a temporary shelter, about 120 anxious mothers with infants and a few elderly sought their first medical attention since the hurricanes. Two-year-old Kelly was triaged to the top of the line with swollen face and limbs and aggressive skin rashes.

Dr. Louis-Jaques Ismael
Dr. LOUIS-JACQUES ISMAEL (Doctors Without Borders, through translator): The little child that you saw is malnourished, and one of the symptoms of that malnourishment is that you have dermatitis that rises up on the skin, and this is what we are seeing very, very often now.

DE SAM LAZARO: Kelly’s mother received medicines and a nutrient-rich formula given to malnourished children. In Haiti, even before the hurricanes a quarter of all children were chronically malnourished. The key to Kelly’s recovery will also be access to food and clean water, something unavailable to half the population in the best of times.

Deforestation over two centuries – for lumber and cooking fuel – is almost total now. It has eroded the soil, washing it into rivers and streams. Floodwaters from the hurricanes have contaminated wells, and Gonaives’ water pipe network, shaky before, is useless.

Dr. RIGUELLE GILLES (Doctors Without Borders): We lost 80 percent of the water from the reservoir every day, which is way too much.

DE SAM LAZARO: Just so I understand it, you’re saying that by the time the water gets from the reservoir into the city, 80 percent of it leaks out?

Dr. GILLES: Yes.

DE SAM LAZARO: Non-government groups are trucking potable water from the city’s reservoir in large rubber bladders, installing these on roof tops. Transporting them and finding available rooftops has been difficult.

Dr. GILLES: The first goal we’re doing now is providing potable water to maximum of population, and the next stage will be cleaning the wells.

DE SAM LAZARO: Preventing disease is half of the public health task. The other is to rebuild demolished health care facilities. This warehouse, spared by the storms, has been converted into an 80-bed temporary hospital, the only one to serve some 200,000 people.

Dr. Rodnie Senat
Dr. RODNIE SENAT (Gynecologist): Since we set up the field hospital, the first day we had two deliveries, and up until now we’ve delivered 15 babies.

DE SAM LAZARO: Like the hospital itself, Dr. Senat is here temporarily, volunteering on a month’s leave from her private practice in the capital, Port Au Prince.

The UN has pledged to build a permanent hospital that can withstand the next hurricane. But for everything from a daily meal to rebuilding homes, indeed to rebuilding a civil society, churches will play a key role.

MICHAEL WILSON (Cross International): There is no government for the most part. The infrastructure — you’ve seen the country, you’ve seen it from the air, and so where they’re going to turn is they’re going to turn to their local church. Their local church was here yesterday; their local church is here today, and it’s going to be here tomorrow.

DE SAM LAZARO: Wilson works with a Florida-based charity called Cross International. It gathers donations from church campaigns and radio-thons across America, then channels them to local churches here.

One local partner is El Shaddai Ministries, which houses growing numbers of children orphaned by the storms.

Pastor DONY ST. GERMAIN (El Shaddai Ministries): We started this ministry after Jeanne in 2004, and then we started in 2005 with the building. So we thank God for providing the seed funds so that we could have started this building. So right now we have 250 kids we are ministering here in this facility, and there’s 300 other kids that has been affected by the new storms who are waiting for a place to call home.

Michael Wilson
Mr. WILSON: So will you be bringing them up here?

Pastor ST. GERMAIN: Yes. Yes.

Mr. WILSON: Wow.

Pastor ST. GERMAIN: So we provide three meals for them, some snacks, and also at the same time we have a school. They will be able to go to school.

Mr. WILSON: On any given day, you’re instantly overwhelmed with the poverty. You’re instantly overwhelmed with trash in streets and the living conditions of people, and if you get caught up with that, you’ll never do anything. You’ll be paralyzed with fear, paralyzed with helplessness. You start with one pastor. That leads to two, three. We’re in network of 145 now. There’s a Haitian saying: “pithy pithyl’oiseauvainishili,”and it translates to “little by little the bird makes its nest.”

President Rene Preval
DE SAM LAZARO: President Preval has vowed Haiti will build back better than it was before. His country, born out of a slave revolt, plagued by invasions and civil unrest for its first 200 years, has been relatively quiet since 2006, thanks in part to 8,000 UN peacekeepers. Preval, elected in 2006, says peace is the first priority.

President PREVAL (through translator): In 2005, 2006, if you’d been here you wouldn’t have been able to go to Gonaives, walk the street. Today we have restored peace to the country. It’s the beginning of the country’s rebuilding.

DE SAM LAZARO: But as the international community’s emergency SWAT teams leave, as relief gives way to rebuilding, Michael Wilson worries.

Child of Haiti
Mr. WILSON: It’s the worst thing that you can see in one of these disasters: international community goes home. At some point in time, it becomes a very difficult sell back home, and without that sell you’re not going to have the donors to react. Once it’s out of the news, and right now the news cycle is pretty much focused on politics back home, it’s not big news, it’s not pretty news. But the long-term effect is, you know, we’ll be here on the ground. We’ll be serving with these pastors that are here. They don’t have a ticket to go home. They are home.

How can we improve our program or Web site?

DE SAM LAZARO: There’s no more compelling metaphor for the long road ahead than the roads here in Gonaives. Almost a month after the last hurricane passed through, they remain mired in a toxic muck. Faith-based organizations will play a key role in keeping international attention on the task that lies ahead.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Gonaives, Haiti.


Solar Power Empowering Women

an indian couple sitting at a tableThe Barefoot College in northern India teaches women skills to bring solar power to their villages and to manage the energy system in rural areas. A report on the philosophy behind the school and its unusual approach to empowering women. Click here to watch the video »


JIM LEHRER: Now, a most unusual school that changes lives. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from the Barefoot College in northern India. A version of this story aired earlier on the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: The students are mostly women. Some are grandmothers. Hundreds have come here from villages across India and a dozen other countries to learn how to install and maintain solar energy systems in rural areas.

Even though it’s sophisticated coursework, the only prerequisite for admission to the Barefoot College is that there are no prerequisites, not even to speak the language.

Until we arrived with a translator, these Mauritanian women, who’d been here four months, hadn’t spoken to anyone else in their native Arabic. But the college’s founder says language is not a barrier to learning.

BUNKER ROY, Founder, Barefoot College: Our job is to show how it is possible to take an illiterate woman and make her into an engineer in six months and show that she can solar-electrify a village.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Social entrepreneur Bunker Roy founded the Barefoot College in 1972, looking to use traditional knowledge and sustainable technology to help this impoverished desert region.

It began with basics, like finding safe drinking water, then a few years later, solar.

BUNKER ROY: In 1986, no one ever thought of solar electrification. It was far too expensive. But today we have 50 kilowatts of panels on our roofs. All our 20, 30 computers, electronic machines, telephone exchange all works off solar.

Self-reliant learning

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, solar energy drives not just the equipment, but a larger social experiment to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.

It begins in the classroom, run by instructors who themselves have little or no formal education. Instruction is delivered with a mix of body language, a few essential terms in English, and a lot of hands-on practice.

The students create an illustrated manual they’ll take home. It’s the closest thing to a diploma certifying their training as solar technicians.

But just coming here is an unlikely achievement for students like 56-year-old Sarka Mussara, a widowed grandmother. She’d never attended school before, never even left her village in the West African nation of Mauritania.

SARKA MUSSARA, Student (through translator): At first, we did not even have a passport. We started little by little learning the solar energy system. Day by day and little by little, we were able to put things together.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Roy was educated at elite schools, on a path to medicine or diplomatic service, before he founded the Barefoot College. The idea of self-reliant learning was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, also by a legendary American.

BUNKER ROY: Well, it’s Mark Twain who said, “Never let school interfere with your education.” School is something that you learn, reading and writing. Education is what you learn from the family, from the environment, from the community.

Seeking potential students

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Using grants from the U.N. and private foundations, Bunker Roy travels extensively in developing countries, seeking potential students. The ones he does not want are city dwellers and, unless they’re physically handicapped, men.

BUNKER ROY: We’ve come to the sad conclusion men are untrainable. They expect too much. They are restless. If they’re young, they’re impatient. The first thing they ask, even before the training starts is, do I get a certificate? They will use that certificate to get the worst job possible in a city, whereas, if we take middle-aged grandmothers to be trained, I don’t have that problem of migration.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Women not only don’t leave their rural homes. They also more reliably bring money back to their families, says Sarka Mussara.

SARKA MUSSARA (through translator): When women work, there’s at least food and something to drink, to take care of the family. And we can even get our hair done with the extra money. But when a man works, maybe he’ll bring home money, and maybe he won’t.

BUNKER ROY (through translator): How many houses are in the town?

WOMAN STUDENT: About 500 people.

BUNKER ROY: Five hundred.

WOMAN STUDENT: Five hundred.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their villages in Mauritania, like much of the rural developing world, are not electrified.

WOMAN STUDENT (through translator): May God reward you for what you have done, because those people did not have any light, and now they will have light.

Opportunities for girls, women

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And these women will have an income, installing and maintaining solar systems. They are a common sight in villages near the Barefoot campus, replacing dirtier and more expensively fueled lanterns.

BUNKER ROY: We said they should pay as much as you pay today for kerosene, for wood, for batteries, for torches, for candles, it comes to about $5 a month. They’re willing to pay $5 a month for the use of the solar light.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Solar has opened new opportunities for work and study, especially for girls. In both the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities here, girls have traditionally been restricted to household chores.

BUNKER ROY: It is the girls who go and graze the cattle and graze the goats and the sheep. There is a feeling in the family that the boys should be getting better education, better education, whatever that means.

So we started the night schools of Tilonia in 1975, purely from the point of view of attracting more girls who graze cattle in the morning to come to school at night.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today some 7,000 children attend night school here and across rural north India. In song, these girls plead to their parents to allow them to study, to delay marriage until they turn the legal age of 18, a law that’s frequently ignored in rural society.

PUPPETEER (through translator): OK, eight and five make how much?

KIDS (through translator): Thirteen.

PUPPETEER: Ten plus three?

KIDS (through translator): Thirteen.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Entertainment programs promote the Barefoot College and encourage children to attend school. There have also been campaigns to promote public health and accountability from government officials.

New economic activity and technology seem to be eroding social barriers. For example, several women work to create solar stoves, a Barefoot College enterprise.

The solar cookers made at the Barefoot College are a simple but precisely engineered contraption. These mirrors track, then capture the sun’s energy and direct it to a cooker, which really cooks.

For Sita Devi, who has only a second-grade education, working on the cookers means she can hope for more for her baby girl.

SITA DEVI, Solar Technician (through translator): My daughter must be educated. She will be able to do things, to progress so much faster than I can because of going to school more.

For me, for example, it takes so much more time to measure out three centimeters when I’m welding here, whereas someone who is educated could do it in no time.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her colleague, Shahnaz Banu, says her new occupation greatly improved life for her family, which includes two sons and a daughter.

SHAHNAZ BANU, Solar Technician (through translator): In our village, in our community, women were not allowed outside the house. My husband was reluctant, but I said, if we stay behind the veil, we won’t have anything to eat. Some people object to women working. But if we can add income to the household, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

A self-sustaining community

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Roy says a key to sustaining rural jobs and development is to use technology that can be managed by the local community, like solar lanterns, and technology that’s familiar, like rainwater collectors.

That was an idea developed by a rural architect who could neither read or write who designed the Barefoot College’s green campus.

The foundation of everything Roy does is decentralization. It’s a departure from the typical approach of aid agencies, which he says want to bring big infrastructure and ideas created by outside experts.

BUNKER ROY: Any technology that brings in dependency on anybody on outside is not a technology that will work.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So far, the Barefoot College has solar-electrified some 350 villages across India and dozens more in sub-Saharan Africa and even war-torn Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: You can learn more about Barefoot College and similar projects in social entrepreneurship on our Web site. Just go to PBS.org, and then scroll down to NewsHour Reports.


Indian Farmers, Coca-Cola Vie for Scarce Water Source

worker carrying six long tubesIn the Indian state of Rajasthsan, farmers have accused Coca-Cola factories of drawing too heavily on the area’s water supplies and contributing to pollution. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the controversy and the claims of both the company and its critics. Click here to watch the video »


GWEN IFILL: Next, the battle between Coca-Cola and farmers over the shrinking supply of available water in India. NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our report from the state of Rajasthan.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: This is one of 49 factories that make Coca-Cola drinks across India. The company has invested over $1 billion dollars building a market for its products in this country, but Coca-Cola’s welcome has been less than effervescent, particularly around this factory in Kala Dera, in the arid and recently drought-stricken state of Rajasthan.

The plant used about 900,000 liters of water last year, about a third of it for the soft drinks, the rest to clean bottles and machinery. It is drawn from wells at the plant but also from aquifers Coca-Cola shares with neighboring farmers. The water is virtually free to all users.

These farmers say their problems began after the Coca-Cola factory arrived in 1999.

RAMESHWAR PRASAD, Farmer (through translator): Before, the water level was descending by about one foot per year. Now it’s 10 feet every year. We have a 3.5-horsepower motor. We cannot cope. They have a 50-horsepower pump.

RAM SAPAT, Farmer (through translator): Every day, a thousand vehicles come out of that factory taking away our water. What is left for our kids?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To irrigate their fields of barley, millet and peanuts, these growers complain they must now drill deeper and use heftier pumps to water their fields.

MANGAL CHAND YADAV, Farmer (through translator): I’ve had to drill three times. It’s down to 260 feet. Five years ago, it was 180 feet.

HARI MICHAN YOGI, Farmer (through translator): It’s because everyone has a submersible pump now, the Coca-Cola factory. There’s not enough rain. These are the reasons.

Environmentalists’ claims

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their cause was picked up by activists, like Rajendra Singh. He has worked across the region helping villagers conserve and collect rainwater through traditional methods.

RAJENDRA SINGH, Water Activist (through translator): Exploitation, pollution, encroachment, Coca-Cola is doing all three. That’s why I say that no company has the right to steal the common water resource. No company has the right to pollute water that is our life. No company has the right to encroach on our land that is our livelihood. Coca-Cola is doing all three.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The farmers also got the attention of international activists, according to Siddharth Varadarajan, an editor with the newspaper The Hindu.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN, Newspaper Editor: Activist groups have been quite effective and have managed to tap into anti-globalization and environmental and green groups across the world and have, you know, therefore, I think, managed to put Coke on the defensive internationally, to a much greater extent than has happened within India.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 2005, when the University of Michigan banned Coke products, the company responded, and the ban was then lifted.

Coca-Cola agreed to an independent third-party assessment of some of its operations in India. That report determined that this plant in Rajasthan is contributing to a worsening water situation. It recommended that the company bring water in from outside the area or shut the factory down. Coca-Cola rejected that recommendation.

Already in 2004, Coca-Cola shut down one factory in south India amid a similar controversy. Its response now doesn’t surprise Varadarajan.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN: Clearly, if Coke were to give in one factory, as other communities essentially look at the experience of Rajasthan, it’s quite likely that there would be a cascading effect. So I suspect Coke will dig its heels in.

The company’s viewpoint

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Coca-Cola’s India head, Atul Singh, says it would be irresponsible to leave.

ATUL SINGH, President, Coca-Cola India: You know, walking away is the easiest thing we can do. That’s not going to help that community build sustainability.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So Coca-Cola, while insisting its impact on the water supply was minimal, said it would stay and help.

The company has agreed to subsidize one-third of the cost of water-efficient drip irrigation systems for 15 neighboring farmers. The government pays most of the rest; growers themselves must chip in 10 percent.

Coca-Cola has also set up concrete collection systems for rainwater. Typically about 70 percent of rainfall evaporates before it can seep into the ground. Water collected from rooftops is piped into shafts up to 150 feet deep. Despite drought conditions, the system has been a success, according to company spokesman Kalyan Ranjan.

KALYAN RANJAN, Coca-Cola Spokesman: We have still managed to recharge banks than what we withdraw, so what we see ourselves is we are part of a problem-solving mechanism rather than a problem in ourselves.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Are you saying you’re putting back more water than you’re taking?

KALYAN RANJAN: In Kala Dera, yes. In Kala Dera, yes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The scientist who conducted the independent study of Coca-Cola’s operations is not ready to accept that claim. Dr. Leena Srivastava is with the Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute.

LEENA SRIVASTAVA, Scientist: We haven’t been able to prove that. And it’s too short a timeframe to start talking about whether groundwater aquifers have been recharged in six months. I think we really have to wait and watch and see what the impact is.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And farmers and activists, like Rajendra Singh, remain skeptical.

RAJENDRA SINGH (through translator): They have an arrogance that says, “We have money; we can buy what we want.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They also are critical of the government locally for attracting Coca-Cola to a water-scarce region and nationally for ignoring water policy in a rush to attract industry and foreign investment. Editor Varadarajan says they have a point.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN: India has a completely irrational groundwater management policy, where, if you have the means and the resources, you can extract as much groundwater as you like and you can use this water which you essentially pump up for free — it’s unmetered — to manufacture products which you can sell for a high price, whether it’s bottled water, whether it’s a beverage, whether it’s industry.

And, you know, this is something which the Indian policymakers have simply not bothered to formulate a cohesive strategy to deal with.

Food, water scarcity

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At stake is the nation’s food supply, says scientist Leena Srivastava.

LEENA SRIVASTAVA: We are heading very rapidly towards the situation of absolute scarcity. Without even adding on the problems that might come up because of climate change issues, we just don’t have enough. And food security in the future can become a major problem for the country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Food security?

LEENA SRIVASTAVA: Food security, yes.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Based on the water scarcity?

LEENA SRIVASTAVA: Based on water scarcity.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In June, India’s prime minister proposed a series of measures to address broader climate change issues, including water. As for Coca-Cola, CEO Singh says, by the end of 2009, the company will become, quote, “water-neutral,” returning at least as much groundwater as it withdraws in India overall, though not necessarily at individual plants like Kala Dera.

He says it’s part of an emerging sense of corporate social responsibility.

ATUL SINGH: You know, I think the world has changed. If you’d asked me this question 10, 15, 20 years ago, I would give you a different answer.

Today, what I have seen — and this is globally, as well as in India — corporates have moved from philanthropy — you know, cutting a check for the art, you know, some art museum or some religious temple or, you know, helping a particular foundation — into real sustainability.

Are we building sustainable communities? And if we are not, consumers will choose products and services from companies who do behave in that manner.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says Coca-Cola plans to invest several hundred million more dollars in the years ahead in what may soon become its largest market.

India’s Car Demands Eclipse Environmental Concerns

small car being presentedWith a population of more than 1 billion, India has one of the world’s greatest demands for automobiles. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the growing accessibility to low-cost cars that also leads to more congested roads and carbon emissions.
Click here to watch the video »


JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a look at India, where the economy is booming and where growth comes with problems.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the expanding market for cheap cars and new roads. He reports from New Delhi.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour correspondent: Last January, India’s Tata motor company unveiled a landmark car that it planned to begin selling by the end of this year. At the equivalent of US$2,500, the Nano is India’s Model T, a car for the masses, says automotive journalist Murad Ali Baig.

MURAD ALI BAIG, automotive journalist: The German Volkswagen was built with the same philosophy. The French Citroen 2CV was built with the same philosophy.

So, therefore, the Nano will have several roles. It will be the car for a large number of low-income families. And it will be an auxiliary car for some of the richer families who would be happy to have a low-cost small car to go nipping around for chores.

PRAHALAD KAKAR, film director: What does a car epitomize? Get in, switch on, and you’re free to go wherever you want.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Prahalad Kakar, a director of films and commercials, says India’s heavily nationalized and regulated economy used to give consumers only two antiquated car models to choose from, and those were in very short supply. They’re still in use, mostly as taxis. Kakar says scarcity helped glamorize the car.

PRAHALAD KAKAR: The car was this dream. So when you went to an astrologer, and you showed your son’s hand to him, and he read the hand, he said, “Oh” — the first two things he’d turn around and say was, “This boy is going to be very successful because he’s going to have a car and he’s going to have a bungalow.” And everybody said, “Ah.”

A fast-growing car market

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But then in the late ’90s, the Indian government gave tax breaks to car companies and to the middle class, which had long faced income taxes as high as 90 percent. Banks followed with easy financing.

Years of pent-up demand have led to one of the world’s fastest-growing car markets. All major global auto companies have their eye on India, says Mike Boneham, who heads Ford’s expanding presence here.

MIKE BONEHAM, Ford India: There’s 1.2 billion people here. The GDP is rollicking along somewhere between 9 percent and 8 percent at this point in time.

Importantly, the demographic is extremely young. It’s the youngest — it’s certainly younger than China. We see huge opportunities for our product line-up matching up with the demographic of the India population.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The government in Delhi and at the state level has tried to spread new industry beyond urban areas to develop the impoverished rural economy, sometimes controversially.

In the state of West Bengal, land was acquired by eminent domain to lure Tata’s Nano plant, which will include several supplier factories. Some displaced farmers were unhappy.

FARMER (through translator): Don’t need money. It’s transitory. Land is what we want, our own land, ancestral land.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In 2007, 16 people died in riots by farmers and their allies in opposition political parties. As tension persisted, Tata announced in October that it would transplant the complex to the western state of Gujarat.

Despite some protests, despite the recent economic slowdown, analysts still think the car industry is poised for big growth in India, even in rural areas.

SALESMAN (through translator): You can get this package with A.C. and power steering.

Poor roads and unlicensed drivers

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dealerships for Suzuki, known in India as Maruti, hold regular marketing events in small towns to introduce or tempt new buyers. There are easy financing terms to anyone who owns land, a tractor, or even a two-wheeler.

Sales Manager S. Krishnan says rural India is virgin territory.

S. KRISHNAN, car salesman: Disposable incomes are rising day by day because earlier they were dependent only on one crop. Today, they are, you know, they are multitasking. They have got two or three crops running. And also, within the family, they have at least a couple of people, you know, who are also working somewhere.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Farmer Sripal Nagar is considering a new car for his family. He’ll rely on younger members who he says can drive. He plans to learn.

Do you have a license?

FARMER (through translator): What, for driving? No, but we’ll have to get one.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: I would think that you’d have a problem that’s pretty basic to selling cars. Number one, there aren’t many roads. And, number two, there aren’t many drivers with licenses in the rural areas. That doesn’t seem to be a hurdle for you.

S. KRISHNAN: No, that is why we started to, you know, build up, you know, our own Maruti driving schools.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite starting up new driving schools, traffic problems are expected to get much worse before improving. The number of cars, though small by Western standards, is expected to double by 2016.

Journalist Baig says the roads aren’t ready.

MURAD ALI BAIG: We may be going into the cars of the 21st century, but our roads are still in the age of the bullock cart. The roads and road management, the highways still have no traffic management to speak of. Our roads were built for towns which were designed, for the most part, 50 or 100 years ago.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s in accidents, which regularly dot India’s highways, that the country’s challenges with poor roads and poorly trained drivers becomes most grimly evident. Last year, 100,000 people were killed on India’s roads, the world’s highest fatality rate.

India’s government has pledged $35 billion to build better roads. But to environmental activists, like Sunita Narain, that’s exactly the wrong approach.

Overshadowing environmental harm

SUNITA NARAIN, Environmental Activist: You keep adding 1,000 vehicles a day as we do in Delhi, all the roads we make are not going to be enough. Congestion is increasing. Pollution is increasing. The cars are being sold, and therefore policies are being fixed to make sure that cars get sold.

But there is no overall constituency for public transport. There’s a global mindset which believes that cars are part of the manufacturing success story of any country.

There’s also a global mindset, which believes that cars are a sign of progress, and that’s the message we derive from countries like the United States.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Chhavi Dhingra, of Delhi’s Energy and Resources Institute, says it’s an issue with international implications.

CHHAVI DHINGRA, Transportation Analyst: Projections would say that, you know, there’s going to be 45 percent of the total world oil is going to be used by India and China, say, in the next — up to, say, 2025.

And in terms of carbon emission, CO2 emissions, carbon dioxide, it’s going to be — India is going to go up to almost, I think, six times of its present levels, and China is going to go up to four times.

So the implications from — in the transports sector itself, so the implications of the way things are going right now, if they continue, I mean, they are huge for climate change.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But among consumers, journalist Baig says climate change is not a consideration.

MURAD ALI BAIG: America, Europe, Japan have had millions of cars for dozens of years. Now it’s our turn, it would be a typical attitude.

It’s our turn to have a good time. All of you guys have had — been blowing carbon. Now we’re going to be using cleaner, smaller cars, and so why shouldn’t we have the benefits of four-wheel motorization?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And Ford’s Boneham says it’s unfair to ask India’s consumers to sacrifice.

MIKE BONEHAM: I travel the roads every day. And the thing that hits home to me very, very strongly is when I see a family of five sitting on a motorbike with maybe one person wearing a helmet in very, very significant traffic situations, I don’t feel I’ve got the right to say to them, “Sorry. Because of these concerns we have, you haven’t got the right to get into a much safer mode of transport, in a four-wheeler, relative to what you’re moving your family around from one place to another at this stage.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Environmental activists think the solution is safer mass transit, but they’ve had only limited success. India’s capital has a fledgling metro system and new bus-only traffic lanes, but the car is still in high demand. And at least one other ultra-cheap model has been announced to compete with Tata’s Nano.


Timbuktu Libraries

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Now, a reporter’s pilgrimage. Of all the world’s remote datelines, surely Timbuktu must rank close to the top. It’s in the West African nation of Mali, where the Sahara desert meets the grasslands. Fred de Sam Lazaro went there, and found a story. Long ago, it seems, Timbuktu was a place of high Islamic scholarship, and it still has a million manuscripts to prove it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For most Americans, Timbuktu has long stood for, well, nowhere — a place far, far away, probably in fiction.


But deep in the West African nation of Mali, where the savannah grasslands meet the Sahara, lies Timbuktu. It’s an impoverished town of about 30,000, most of them nomadic traders or subsistence farmers. But Timbuktu is rich in history — history that contradicts a commonly held impression in the West that sub-Saharan Africa has only oral and no written traditions.

Professor SALEM OULD EL HAJJ (Through Translator): Well before there was an America, Timbuktu was a thriving center of learning, with the university. Professors were teaching philosophy, theology, mathematics.

DE SAM LAZARO: Professor El Hajj says the earliest records of Timbuktu go back to the 11th century, to a prosperous desert crossroads where salt, gold, slaves, and scholarship were exchanged. That all ended in the late 1500s with Moroccan invasions and later French conquest.

Today, much of Timbuktu’s architecture seems frozen — or more appropriately, “baked” in time. The distinctive Djingerey Ber Mosque, built of limestone and mud, has been run by Imam Abdramane Essayouti’s family for generations. Islam is thought to have come to this region in the eighth century.

Imam ABDRAMANE ESSAYOUTI (Through Translator): For us this mosque is our heritage. Imagine, it was built in 1325, handed down to us by our parents. This mosque has been here for 700 years.


DE SAM LAZARO: The 15th-century Sankore Mosque was Timbuktu’s nerve center of intellectual life.

Imam ESSAYOUTI (Through Translator): In summertime, they gave lectures here. You have a circle here — at least 40 or 45 or 50 students.

DE SAM LAZARO: Well before Europe’s Renaissance, students and scholars — as many as 25,000 — came from West and North Africa and the Middle East to study Islamic law, theology, and a range of secular subjects.

Today, the legacy of that scholarship lies in a vast, scattered collection of historical manuscripts.

ALI OULD SIDI (Guide): Yes, this is the library.

DE SAM LAZARO: The Ahmed Baba collection, named after a 15th-century scholar, with some 40,000 manuscripts.

Arabic was used for theological as well as secular works — testament to the Islamic world’s leadership during the period in medicine and the sciences.


Every now and then, there’s a manuscript in Hebrew. This one is a 16th-century letter by a Jewish trader, writing home to Morocco about market prices in Timbuktu.

ALI OULD SIDI: Timbuktu was really a melting pot where we had Jewish, we had people from North Africa, people from sub-Saharan Africa, and all of them were living in peace here in Timbuktu.

DE SAM LAZARO: So far, only a small fraction of Timbuktu’s one million or so manuscripts has been studied. Stephanie Diakete, a U.S.-born expert on book arts, says the works she’s surveyed are classically Islamic — emphasizing calligraphy — but with distinctive African influence.

STEPHANIE DIAKETE (Specialist on Book Arts): They respect the precepts of Islamic art in that they are geometric based and the use of colors. The drawing is quite close to ethnic art, it’s quite beautiful. The calligraphic style is very specific. It’s quite easy to tell the geographic origin of the scholar by the calligraphy that he uses.

DE SAM LAZARO: Despite a wealth of content, the priority now for scholars and manuscript owners, like Abdel Kader Haidara, is the uphill task of saving the crumbling manuscripts.

Their survival is a tribute to the ancient binders. This Qur’an survived a building collapse. The classic geometric artwork on its goatskin cover is still pristine on the back.


A handful of collections, like Haidara’s, have gotten support from universities and foundations in the West to catalog, conserve, and restore manuscripts.

It’s tedious work and at best involves a small part of the collection. The majority of Timbuktu’s volumes is precariously stored in small family collections.

Abdul Wahid Haidara, who’s not related, has little time. And, on a teacher’s salary of just $50 a month, almost no money to preserve what he calls the family’s heritage.

Haidara has resisted offers from foreign collectors to buy manuscripts, many of which could fetch fortunes in the West. But there’s concern that people struggling to feed their families will be tempted.

Timbuktu’s mayor says the best way to reduce poverty is to attract more tourists — sightseers and scholars — who could both highlight and preserve the historical treasure.

IBRAHIM CISSE (Mayor of Timbuktu) (Through Translator): Timbuktu belongs to all of humanity, not just to the people of Mali. This is a very old learning center, a historical city which has endangered sites declared world heritage by UNESCO. Timbuktu belongs to the whole world and around the world, people should do something to save Timbuktu.

DE SAM LAZARO: There’s not likely to be a renaissance anytime soon. For one thing, the road to Timbuktu hasn’t changed since the city’s heyday in the 1500s. That is, there is no road.

For RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Timbuktu, Mali.


Kids Against Hunger in Haiti

starving child in front of a plate of warm foodAs global food prices continue to rise, hunger in Haiti has fueled food riots and driven much of the population, including many children, to the brink of starvation. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on one man’s effort to alleviate the crisis. Click here to watch the video »


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Each weekday morning, in this missionary school in rural Haiti, the gates open to a stampede of small feet.

The kids come in for what will likely be their only substantial meal of the day.

A few quietly save a portion, usually for a younger sibling who could not get here.

In Haiti, anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of children suffer chronic malnutrition.

Occasionally, an adult, like Emma Marisu, is invited in. She was taking the first steps to heal her 2-year-old twins, their bodies swollen and emaciated by hunger.

Another occasional visitor at these mealtimes is a 79-year-old social entrepreneur from Minnesota who is responsible for the food on these tables.

Richard Proudfit’s Kids Against Hunger will deliver 40 million meals this year and, he hopes, 80 million next year in 38 countries. The ABC of good learning is a good meal, he says.

RICHARD PROUDFIT, founder, Kids Against Hunger: God has called me to do — feed starving children. I have to do that first. And then, when we activate their body, then they can learn to do other things.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His calling came long before he retired from a successful business career, long before a stroke that can distort his speech.

It all began in 1974, when he volunteered in Honduras after Hurricane Fifi.

RICHARD PROUDFIT: The children, they were literally dying all around me. And the mother was carrying, and they were dying right in their arms. And I said, I have to come back to Minnesota, and see what can I do.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He launched feeding programs soon after selling his plastics businesses in the mid-1908s.

In the beginning, he bought wholesale quantities of things typically found on American grocery shelves, like Twinkies and granola.

RICHARD PROUDFIT: I took 15 tons of food to India, and my kids were throwing up on me, because it was too powerful.

They were coming from zero, way up. So, I went I met with Cargill, they said, calm it down, and it will accept the children over all the world.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, finding the right diet took a lot of trial and error, then?

RICHARD PROUDFIT: Oh, it took three years, three years.

Linking companies to world needs

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Three years working with food companies to hit the formula that satisfies all religious dictates and nutritional needs around the world. Each meal has 52 percent protein from soy, six vegetables and 21 minerals and vitamins, all mixed with rice, the world’s most widely accepted staple.

RICHARD PROUDFIT: I met with other countries — or companies, and I said, what do we need in India? They need Vitamin A. I went to Philippines. They need magnesium — magnesium, calcium, and coppers.

Then I went to Honduras. They need folic acid. I said, wait a minute. I can’t have a menu of every country. I said, throw it all in.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s not just the food, but the design of the entire program that is key to its success.

DAWN DRESSER, Calvary Lutheran Church of Golden Valley: I’m Dawn Dresser, and I’m the director of outreach here.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Getting the food to hungry children begins in places like Calvary Lutheran Church in suburban Minneapolis, where people gather for so-called packaging events.

DAWN DRESSER: Do we have any kids in here that are under second grade? If we do, we need them to go over to child care.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Anyone second grade on up can volunteer.

DAWN DRESSER: We started out with a goal of half-a-million meals. We have bypassed that. And our new goal is a million meals.

So — and because we’re doing a million meals, it also — it changed the price per meal. So, we’re down to 13 cents a meal.

MAN: First thing we’re going to do is put in some of the vegetable. Put a full scoop — full scoop of this in there. That, you want to level off. We just — that’s why we have got two spoons in that one. Yes, perfect. The rice waits last.

WOMAN: Like that?

MAN: No more. Yes.

WOMAN: Like this?

MAN: Yes. You got it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: An assembly line rhythm quickly sets in, methodically mixing, measuring, sealing, and packaging meals in small bags and cartons. It’s church-basement, not warehouse scale.

WOMAN: Because I just can see those kids — my kids in those kids. It makes me sad.

MAN: Something simple that does a whole lot of good. And it shows the importance of working together and doing something good for more than just yourself.

BOY: It feels good when you can pack food for people who never get to have any every day, and people like us that we take food for granted.

Functioning on small-scale funds

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Like the packaging, funding is small-scale. Most contributions are from volunteers and the church community.

This church already doubled its annual goal.

Now Pastor Steve Dornbusch is confident they will raise the $130,000 for one million meals.

REV. STEVE DORNBUSCH, Calvary Lutheran Church of Golden Valley: I don’t know. I have been here almost 12 years, and I don’t remember us doing anything that has so excited this number of people to be a part of it, and to feel like we’re really making a difference in the world.

WOMAN: One, two, at least bag.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The idea has caught on. Today, Kids Against Hunger has helped 30 church groups and clubs like the Kiwanis set up satellite locations in 18 states. They have attracted some 80,000 volunteers.

Michael Lloyd, who runs its day-to-day affairs, says Kids Against Hunger’s role is as a logistical link between good intentions here and hungry children there.

MICHAEL LLOYD, Kids Against Hunger: Well, we provide them all the support, how much ingredients to order for how many meals they want to package, what equipment they need and so on. So, we help them distribute the food.

So, we have corrections in over 40 countries. And if they’re looking for an outlet for their food, an NGO to distribute it through, we tried to help them with that service as well.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kids Against Hunger has also established connections with the U.S. military, so international shipping costs, often a major expense, are minimized. On this day, the Coast Guard vessel Tampa on patrol in the Caribbean, delivered a load in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

MAN: It’s fantastic, what you guys are doing, really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it’s very rewarding with my crew. This is something they like. It’s something they can see, actually see good happening.

MAN: Right.

Marked progress in nutrition rates

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: These meals were destined to help kids at the church center like Emma Marisu’s twins.


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At age 2, each child weighs barely 20 pounds, about half of what they should be. It will take weeks to restore them to health with steady nutrition. But many children who have been on the Kids Against Hunger meals show marked improvement quickly.

Adam and Amber White, who run the feeding program here, point to 3-year-old Jarolyn.

ADAM WHITE, feeding program administrator: Within 10 days, she has gained five pounds in weight. And she’s — I mean, as you can tell, she is still malnourished, but a few days ago, she didn’t have a smile on her face, and now she does.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The smile, like progress on malnutrition in Haiti, is slow to come.


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But that doesn’t dampen

RICHARD PROUDFIT’s optimism that he will soon reach every hungry child, optimism expressed with biblical zeal and fable.

RICHARD PROUDFIT: It’s passion of going to my Nineveh, OK? I have to go there, because if I don’t, I’m going to wind up in the belly of a fish. (LAUGHTER)

RICHARD PROUDFIT: I love God for — because every children in the world is God’s children.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He wants to feed them all someday. More likely, he will make next year’s goal, to double the number of meals delivered by Kids Against Hunger.Â