UN Chief’s Reprehensible Bankrolling of Violence in Burundi

Thousands of people fleeing fear of violence in Burundi have arrived in Mahama Refugee Camp, Rwanda. Credit: UNHCR/Kate Holt

By Paula Donovan
NEW YORK, May 6 2019 – Last week the Washington Post published a scathing critique by the executive director of Human Rights Watch, titled “Why the U.N. Chief’s Silence on Human Rights is Deeply Troubling.” Kenneth Roth argued that Secretary-General António Guterres “is becoming defined by his silence on human rights—even as serious rights abuses proliferate.”

That must have made things difficult for the UN spokespeople who form a human shield around António Guterres. It’s impossible to explain away the litany of recent atrocities—by Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Syria, Congo, Myanmar, Trump—that have provoked neither comment nor condemnation from the Secretary-General.

Mr. Roth, who knows a great deal about the power of words, is absolutely right. Silence can be strategic, but sometimes it’s just spineless. Or worse: Sometimes silence means consent. Take the case of Burundi.

One is loath to believe that Mr. Guterres’ wordlessness on Burundi could possibly signal an endorsement of President Pierre Nkurunziza and the horrendous crimes he’s suspected of orchestrating against his political opponents.

But with no rationale coming from the Secretary-General to explain why he’s in business with an autocratic regime while it’s being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, we can only rely on documented facts. They speak for themselves.

The UN pays Burundi for the use of its soldiers as UN peacekeepers—some US $13 million annually, or almost a quarter of the poverty-stricken country’s entire defense budget—and currently deploys 740 of them to its mission known as MINUSCA to “protect” the war-racked Central African Republic (CAR).

The Security Council has authorized the Secretary-General to send military peacekeepers home “when there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse.” It’s left to the Secretary-General to decide how much sexual violence is too much.

Burundians account for one-fifth of all the UN peacekeeping soldiers since 2015 who have been formally accused by CAR women and children of rape and other sexual “misconduct,” although fewer than seven percent of MINUSCA’s current complement of 11,158 peacekeeping soldiers are contributed by Burundi.

Burundi’s behavior in CAR should surprise no one. Back at home, the Burundian army’s chain of command looks something like this: President Nkurunziza is under divine orders—heard only by him—to rule for life, and his army is under instruction to eliminate Burundian citizens who dare to challenge that order.

When the president announced four years ago that he would seek a third term, voters demonstrated in the streets, and the massacres began. Since 2016, bone-chilling official reports from independent UN investigators and commissioners have described rape, sexual torture, dismemberment, and mass murder carried out by government soldiers, police, and militia.

Experts believe that the gruesome campaign is ongoing. Keeping an army loyal enough to sustain brutal levels of rape and murder against its own people, year after year, is costly. On whom can Nkurunziza depend for steady income? The answer: Secretary-General Guterres.

Even compared with the world’s most notorious campaigns of state terror and mayhem, Burundi stands out. International Criminal Court investigations are rare, but alleged past and ongoing attacks by the Nkurunziza government against its own citizens have been grotesque enough to warrant one, based on credible evidence of the worst of all offenses: crimes against humanity.

If there is any reasonable explanation for allowing Burundi to keep contributing peacekeepers, Nkurunziza’s victims deserve to hear it from the UN Secretary-General.

Why is he bankrolling their oppressor? And the women and children of CAR deserve to hear why, when their government asked the international community for peacekeepers, Mr. Guterres sent them an army notorious for raping and murdering instead.

Nkurunziza has no problem making his views heard. He angrily withdrew his country from the International Criminal Court when it announced the probe into alleged crimes against humanity (though by international law, the withdrawal was not enough to stop the ICC’s investigation.)

He had already forced the UN to withdraw its expert investigators and commissioners. And most recently, he expelled the UN human rights office from the country.

The withdrawals, expulsions, and denunciations have gone in just one direction. António Guterres has maintained his silence, punctured only by the sound of a pen scratching on a checkbook: Pay to the order of Pierre Nkurunziza, US $13 million. The world is owed an explanation.

Deira Mall in Dubai Gets the Largest Retractable Roof in the World

OAKVILLE, Ontario, May 06, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — OpenAire, the industry leader in large span retractable roofs, has been appointed to design and install a state–of–the–art retractable skylight for the newest mall in Deira, Dubai, which will be home to more than 1,000 shops, cafes, restaurants and entertainment outlets, and feature a multi–storey car park with 8,400 parking bays.

When opened, the mall will be home to the largest volume of leasable space in the United Arab Emirates, with a total retail space of over 1.6 million square meters (17 million square feet) with the star attraction being the state–of–the–art retractable skylight, which will bring natural light into the complex and allow for the feeling and experience of open–air shopping year round.

Deira Mall will be the centerpiece of the current Dh16–billion ($4.4 billion USD) expansion project of a mixed–use community in the heart of Deira Islands. It will be the latest project of the master developer Nakheel Properties. This developer is a major contributor to the realization of the vision of creating a world–class destination for living, business, and tourism in 21st century Dubai, and has an iconic portfolio of landmark projects in Dubai across all sectors.

"Dubai is known for being on the cutting edge of innovation, fashion, technology, and shopping. It is therefore fitting that the new Deira Mall has been fitted with the largest motorized and fully automated retractable roof in the world, that will bring the outdoors into the mall providing guests with a unique new, world class shopping experience," says Mark Albertine, the President and CEO of the retractable roof, designer and installer, OpenAire.

For this noteworthy project the developer has also chosen to collaborate with United Engineering Construction, which is one of the leading construction companies in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region, with over 35 years of construction excellence.

Working on Large Scale Projects

OpenAire has been designing and manufacturing beautiful, high quality, retractable roof structures and skylights for 30 years, and is no stranger to design and construction for large–scale facilities. The retractable roof at Deira Mall will be approximately 77 m x 418 m, (252 ft. x 1,372 ft.) with a fixed glass half dome at each end projecting about 47 m (154 ft.) from each end of the skylight, resulting in an overall length of about 512 m (1680 ft.).

"The OpenAire team had to develop a design that reflects the client's vision of having a fully open sky view, which meant moving the massive skylight steel structure hundreds of meters along both sides of the skylight. We conducted months of detailed analysis and worked closely with the Contractor (United Engineering Construction (UNEC)), Architect (RSP Architects Planners & Engineers), and Engineering team (Ted Jacob Engineering Group) to achieve a design that reduces the overall weight of the skylight structure and minimizes the impact of the skylight loads on the base building structural systems. We also developed a proprietary sealing system to ensure a fully sealed and weather tight, thermally broken skylight when the retractable roof is closed," explains Albertine.

Thanks to innovative and future–focused mechanical and electrical engineering by the OpenAire structural and mechanical engineering teams, the skylight will travel from the fully closed position to fully opened (and vice versa) in 25 minutes, and by working closely with the facilities' management team, they will be able to integrate the skylight control system with the mall's building management system, allowing for the efficient and convenient control of the skylight through the mall's main control room.

"Close collaboration with all stakeholders, open communication, and a commitment to bringing the client's vision to life led to a fantastic result that will enthrall the shoppers of Deira Mall," concludes Albertine.

About OpenAire

The company brings unique designs to life from concept to installation, transforming buildings into sunlit spaces that customers have come to appreciate and love. With their head office located in Oakville Ontario, OpenAire has been at the forefront of nearly 1,000 projects throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East over the past 30 years.

OpenAire has worked across multiple industry sectors, ranging from shopping malls, to retail stores, restaurants, waterparks, health and sports clubs, to retirement facilities and more. Some projects include the Rooftop Bar at the Refinery Hotel in New York, NY (which achieved the #1 ranking in the 10 Best Readers' Choice Award for Best Hotel Rooftop Bar 2015); Restoration Hardware's "RH Gallery" courtyard in Chicago, IL; Drake's first Pick 6ix restaurant in Toronto, the new Sharjah Shopping Mall in UAE; Ball Park Village: Fox Sports Midwest LIVE! In St. Louis, MI; 5 Quantum Series cruise ships with Royal Caribbean and the new Luzhniki Aquapark Aquatic Complex in Moscow, Russia

Their latest landmark project Epic Waters in Grand Prairie, Texas is the single largest retractable roof water park in the US, and in its first year of opening is already ranked top 5 in Texas and top 8 in the USA and won the World Waterpark Associations Leading Edge award in 2018.

To learn more about OpenAire Inc., visit http://www.openaire.com and follow us on Twitter. For more details on this project, please e–mail: sales@openaire.com.

For more information contact:
OpenAire Inc.
T: 905–901–8535 TF: 1–800–267–4877
E: sales@openaire.com

Photos accompanying this announcement are available at





The Burning of Notre Dame and the Spirit of Place

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, May 6 2019 – The catastrophic fire in Notre Dame produced a massive emotional reaction. In a Paris famous for its secularism tearful people knelt on the pavement, sang the Ave Maria and prayed to God to save their cathedral. Several stated that it was not only a church burning, but the soul of Paris passing away. What did they mean to say?

In Rome I was once told that even if all people were removed from it, that town would still be alive. An observation similar to the one of ancient Romans, who assumed that specific places were kept alive by the presence of divine forces called genii locorum.

Around 64 CE, in one of 124 letters to his friend Lucilius, the philosopher and author Seneca wrote:

    If ever you have come upon a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the exclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors, will persuade you of the presence of a deity. 1

Feelings of a spiritual presence are common to most cultures. For example, Japanese kami are elements of the landscape; forces of nature, as well as various living and deceased beings, like the spirits of venerated dead persons. In Shintoism impressive natural manifestations, even those that to others may appear as being insignificant, may carry divine messages, like in a haiku by Hoshinaga Fumio (b. 1933):

Flicking off water
a dragonfly quickly
becomes divine. 2

A place imbued with a sense of enigmatic presence may be considered as a sacred venue. Terms like sacred and holy tend to be used interchangeably, though holiness is actually related to persons, while sacredness refers to objects, places, or happenings. However, both words denote something different from everyday existence and thus worthy of being respected. The Latin word sanctum means ”to set apart”. A sacred place may be referred to as a hierophany [Greek hieros – holy and phanein – to reveal/bring to light], or as the historian of religions Mircia Eliade describes the term ”breakthroughs of the sacred into the World.” 3

A sacred place represents interests and profound feelings of an individual and/or a group of people. A site of reference, a centre which through its tangible existence provides stability and meaning to our lives. To enter a church, a mosque or any other holy temple or secluded space venerated by deeply religious people may even for a non-believer create feelings of tranquillity and reveration.

In the very centre of Paris stands Our Lady of Paris, Notre-Dame de Paris, a magnificent gothic cathedral. Notre-Dame has throughout centuries been at the heart of a city fostering creativity, strong feelings and it has often even been called The Capital of Love.

In 1831, Victor Hugo published his novel Notre-Dame de Paris while declaring that his intention had been to make his contemporaries aware of how medieval piety had been expressed through the splendour of Gothic architecture. At the time, magnificent French cathedrals were being neglected and often destroyed to be replaced by new buildings or defaced in the name of ”modernity”. What particularly pained Victor Hugo was that during the revolution of 1830 a fire had broken out and severly damaged the three rosette windows of his beloved Notre Dame. Parisian authorities had voted to replace these chefs d´oeuvre of Christendom with plain glass windows to ”bring more light into the gloomy cathedral.” It is probable that Hugo´s magnificent novel about Quasimodo, the kind-hearted, crippled and ugly custodian of the Cathedral and his impossible love for the beautiful Esmeralda saved Notre Dame from this thoughtless profanation. The Cathedral is actually the most significant aspect of Hugo´s novel. The focal point of a prodigious epic depicting an entire epoch. A comprehensive panorama of an entire people, represented by characters caught in the whirlwind of history. It was one of the first novels that tried to encompass the entirety of a city, from the royal courts down to the depths of its sewers.

Notre Dame is the genius loci of Paris, its sacred, living heart. Seeing it engulfed by flames was a painful experience for everyone who has learned to love the city and the splendour of human endeavours. A monument like Notre Dame is not only a magnificent building. It encapsulates human piety, our striving for peace and unity.

To watch the burning Notre Dame reminded us of how entire, wonderous cities like Dresden and Aleppo were bombed and burned to cinders. How World Heritage like the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, or temples in Palmyra, were intentionally destroyed by fanatics. It is not only monuments that are being destroyed. Such acts of pityless vandalism constitute attacks on our common sense of piety, our feelings of unity and humility while we face the perils of human existence. When the Spirit of Place, like Notre Dame, burns and is destroyed, the human soul also suffers.

1 Seneca (1969) Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium. London: Penguin Classics, p. 87.
2 Gilbert, Richard (2008) Poems of Conciousness: Contemporary Japanese & English-Language Haiku in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Winchester, Va: Red Moon Presss, p. 163.
3 Eliade, Mircea (1963) Myth and Reality. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, p. 6

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

Galimedix, Inc. Appoints Renowned Industry Veteran and Innovator in the Field of Ophthalmology Thomas Hohman, Ph.D. to Board of Directors

KENSINGTON, Md. and SHORASHIM, Israel, May 06, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Galimedix Therapeutics, which is developing new solutions for ophthalmic and neurodegenerative diseases, today announces the appointment of Thomas Hohman, Ph.D., an established industry leader who oversaw the development of multiple ophthalmology therapies for more than 30 years, to its Board of Directors.

"We are both enthusiastic and honored that Dr. Hohman has chosen to join our Board of Directors, bringing with him an unparalleled wealth of industry experience that we anticipate he will leverage into guiding us to creating new and lasting relationships within the ophthalmology community that will ultimately benefit patients suffering from glaucoma, age–related macular degeneration, as well as other neurodegenerative conditions," commented Dr. Andrew Pearlman, CEO of Galimedix.

Thomas Hohman, Ph.D. was formerly head of Retina Discovery and vice president of Retina Translation Medicine at Allergan, where he was responsible for discovering and advancing new treatments for retinal diseases. Prior to retiring, his efforts at Allergan focused on identifying biomarkers and methods quantifying retina functional changes that predict disease progression. These efforts formed the basis for clinical interventional studies of novel treatments for exudative age–related macular degeneration and geographic atrophy. Prior to his tenure at Allergan, Dr. Hohman held leadership positions at Alcon Research as vice president of Retinal Research and Development, and at Novartis as disease area section head for Ophthalmology Clinical Research and Development.

"Striving to preserve vision in degenerative retinal diseases has been my passion for decades. I am extremely pleased to join the Galimedix team in their effort to develop a groundbreaking new class of therapeutics that will help people whose vision is at risk," added Dr. Hohman.

About GAL–101
GAL–101 is a proprietary compound designed to prevent the formation of all forms of toxic amyloid beta oligomers, by binding with high affinity to the misfolded amyloid beta monomers before they can form toxic soluble oligomers. These then rapidly conglomerate into amorphous, non–beta–sheet formations, which we call "clusters." These "clusters" are innocuous. Interestingly, once formed, the "clusters" have shown the capacity to collect additional misfolded amyloid beta monomers even in the absence of additional MRZ–99030 molecules, through a self–propagation mechanism. This novel "trigger effect," protected by Galimedix's patent portfolio, results in a sustained action effect lasting far longer than the time a single administration of the drug remains at therapeutic levels in the retina, potentially allowing for a convenient sustained inter–treatment interval application regimen for patients. Thus GAL–101 drops may potentially provide sustained prevention of formation of toxic amyloid beta oligomers, clearing the system of these pathological factors, which has been shown in animal studies to lead to gradual removal of toxic beta amyloid deposits.

About Galimedix
Based in the United States and Israel, Galimedix is a Phase 2 ophthalmic pharmaceutical company with a novel, patented small molecule drug with a novel MOA addressing glaucoma and dry AMD utilizing an eye drops delivery platform, which may offer significant safety and compliance advantages over commonly used direct ocular injections. Eye drops are often used to deliver steroids and other small molecules, like GAL–101, in retinal disease, and studies with Galimedix's eye drops in monkeys have demonstrated more than 30 times predicted therapeutic levels quickly reaching the retina of the closest model to humans. Compelling efficacy data from GAL–101 eye drops in relevant animal models have demonstrated more than 90 percent neuroprotection, and the compound is supported by several leading experts in glaucoma and in dry AMD who also support the design of the company's proposed Phase 2 studies.

Galimedix has exclusive worldwide license from Tel Aviv University, following return of license by a German pharma (Merz) due to management change and strategic pivot away from neuroscience. In the meantime, key members of the Merz Pharma team that developed the compound are now working with or for the company. The license also includes a next generation, potentially superior version, intended for oral delivery, with potential to treat retinal and other CNS diseases.

Jules Abraham
Core IR

Sustainable Development Goals: One of the Greatest Fun Things in the World!?

By Inge Kaul
BERLIN, May 6 2019 – This year’s annual “SDG Global Festival of Action” was held in Bonn, Germany, from May 2–4, 2019. The festival’s overall aim is to gather campaigners and multiple stakeholders from around the world at one place for interaction with each other; furthermore, it seeks to inspire them to scale up action in support of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth in the 2030 Agenda adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

As can be seen from the festival website, it is a dynamic event awash in the specific color codes of the various SDGs. About 1,500 “festival-goers” meet and chat in the hallways, share information, or listen to brief interventions—some lasting just 2 minutes—by an array of speakers commenting on a wide range of topics.

They also enjoy cultural performances and SDG-related films screened in different formats, such as 2D, 3D, as well as virtual and augmented reality. Award ceremonies and evening parties are held and, on top of this, the festival fireworks light up the skies over the river Rhine.

However, one is compelled to ask: why hold a festival? Why use fireworks? Why should we have a good time at the banks of the Rhine when there is still a long way to go to achieve the SDGs?

The ill-effects of global warming continue to wreak havoc. In some parts of the world, people and animals starve because of droughts caused by climate change; in other parts, harvests are being destroyed and houses swept away by torrential rains and floods.

Lives are still being cut short because of the unavailability or unaffordability of medicines. Inhuman working conditions, including those prevailing in factories and mines producing goods for export to the world’s rich and super-rich, are still being tolerated.

Human trafficking is still rampant, as are various forms illicit trade and tax evasion. War, international terrorism, and conflict continue to persist, increasing the number of people forcibly displaced within their own country, as well as the number of refugees and international migrants.

So, it is worth wondering what would be the reaction of refugees, who are living in camps and hardly have any real prospects of change in their living conditions, if they have a functioning smart phone and would be able to see pictures of the SDG Global Action Festival and the fun-filled activities held in Bonn?

Would they accept them as part the effort toward “leaving no one behind,” a commitment enshrined in paragraph 4 of the 2030 Agenda? Would these pictures not seem like a cruel and twisted joke to the people caught up in the devastating war in Yemen and the conscience-shocking humanitarian crisis that followed it?

I want to make it clear that many of the contemporary global challenges do not adversely affect only those living in the Global South. People in the Global North also increasingly suffer from rising inequality, relative poverty, unresolved financial problems, and mounting uncertainty about their future living conditions.

This includes uncertainty about managing the risks and tapping the opportunities, such as those arising from the digitalization of economies, as well as the development and application of artificial intelligence and other new technologies. In fact, many Northern consumption and production patterns negatively affect the living conditions of people in the South; further, many of the South’s unresolved problems spill over into the North.

Thus, progress toward meeting the SDGs still faces a number of obstacles that require major reforms in the global economy and an improvement in the functioning of the system of international cooperation.

Therefore, this is not the time for fun travel from one international SDG meeting to another, a pattern that has become rather popular after 2015. Although networking, information sharing, and storytelling can be useful policy tools, there is no justification yet for holding a festival or getting into a festive mood.

In fact, doing so can be construed as signaling a lack of respect not only for the deprived among the current and future generations, but for the planet as a whole.

Even as we face many challenges today, we possess the knowledge and the resources needed to tackle them. The key missing element, which prevents scaled-up and accelerated progress, is the willingness to start “walking the talk,” that is, to act unilaterally and, as and when necessary, collectively with the requisite sense of urgency on the most pressing, high-risk challenges.

Such a shift from slow to quick policymaking calls for a worldwide action on part of the truly determined, realistic yet ambitious change advocates urging policymakers to act now and to do all what others cannot do better to ensure that problems not only get addressed in a piecemeal manner, off and on, but rather actually get resolved decisively.

This could revitalize the global public’s and policymakers’ willingness to cooperate and innovate and move us forward toward global sustainable growth and development.

To facilitate the emergence of such a strong worldwide movement of change advocates, the series of annual “SDG Festivals” could be discontinued and the UN could encourage the festival partners: (1) to lend their support instead to the hard work of transformative change, while holding in check festivities and the fireworks until we see real progress; and (2) to use available resources to offer a global platform for interaction and cooperation to the recently sprung-up but steadily growing and already world-spanning movement of “Fridays for Future.”

The bottom line is – if we fail to effectively limit global warming, many other developments, however big or small, may come to naught. In the longer run, we might even find that “Fridays for Future” was the beginning of a durable innovation in global governance: the beginning of a “future generations council” (perhaps under the umbrella of the United Nations) aimed at fostering an enhanced balance between policymaking for the short and the longer term.

* The author can be reached at contact@ingekaul.net

1 For the full text of the 2030 Agenda, see: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/21252030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf/
2 For more information on the Festival, see https://globalfestivalofaction.org/

Rural Education: Moving Past “Poor Solutions for Poor People”

People often believe that the problems in the education space have more to do with curricula or pedagogy, or with the capacity of teachers. We disagree. The main issue is that today, communities are missing from the school ecosystem.

Photo Courtesy: Sachin Sachdeva

By Sachin Sachdeva
NEW DELHI, May 6 2019 – Communities are treated as passive recipients, giving them no say in the functioning of their schools. Here’s why this needs to change.

During our work with people living around the Ranthambhor National Park on issues of conservation, livelihoods, and eco-development, a constant question we were asked was how long we thought we could continue helping them. And then, an accompanying question — would their children never be in a position to help themselves? To advocate for and implement the change they wanted to see?

People had been led to believe that sending children to school was a precondition for a better future. Despite this, what they kept seeing was that the education system accessible to them was not equipping their children with the skills and abilities that they required to negotiate better futures for themselves.

Poor solutions for poor people

Working in Sawai Madhopur made us painfully aware of the community’s past experiences with education. Over time they had experienced the Shiksha Karmi Programme (which trained daughters-in-law to run schools), and the Rajiv Gandhi Pathshalas (which trained a young person who had passed Class 10, to run schools), not counting their countless experiences with government schools in the larger villages, most of which were sub-optimal.

When we look at the pitfalls of the government schooling system — be it teacher absenteeism, quality of textbooks, a lack of adequate infrastructure, constrained budgets and human resources — and the plans or schemes that have been created to address them, we realise that most of them could be categorised as ‘poor solutions for poor people’.

People often believe that the problems in the education space have more to do with curricula or pedagogy, or with the capacity of teachers. We disagree. The main issue is that today, communities are missing from the school ecosystem.

The current school system has made communities passive recipients of whatever the government tosses at them, giving them no say in the functioning of the school. It does not work with the community to help them actively engage with the process.


People don’t understand the gap between their aspirations and reality

The idea that any kind of education should lead to a job (preferably a government one) is prevalent amongst the communities we work with. However, what is less clear is how exactly that will happen, and what the probability is of it happening at all.

People had begun to realise that their education system was leaving children under prepared – they may have completed class 10 or 12, but their capacities and skill sets were far lower than they should have been – making it impossible for them to find the job they dreamed of, or continue on an educational path that would get them there.

What’s worse, by dedicating most of their time and resources to school, these children were sometimes unable to take up their traditional occupations – be it in agriculture or livestock rearing – making them incapable of earning a substantial income.

In such a situation, with huge gaps between their reality and aspirations, young people often found themselves helpless. There was scarcely anyone in the village who could have told them what needed to be done to become a doctor, engineer, bureaucrat, lawyer, entrepreneur – or what it entailed.

Despite this, children would go through their schools and come to urban centres looking for opportunities – be it that elusive government job or being a professional. It was only upon reaching the cities that they would realise how under-prepared they were, and as a result end up taking whatever work they could get–as waiters, drivers, cleaners, helpers, construction workers and similar positions in the informal sector.

It is no surprise then, that when it came to education, people in the community were losing faith in government schools.


Communities are the main stakeholder in their education

People often believe that the problems in the education space have more to do with curricula or pedagogy, or with the capacity of teachers. We disagree. The main issue is that today, communities are missing from the school ecosystem.

The community is the biggest stakeholder in the education space, and they need to be treated as such. People need to have a real idea of what they can expect from the system, and they need the system to be accountable to them. This has never happened.

So while there is plenty of work being done to train teachers, help principals, build the skills of School Management Committees (SMCs), design curriculum and change pedagogy, there is not enough being done with parents and community members. Even though parents make up the bulk of the SMC, they tend to be involved only in issues related to infrastructure or for instance, looking at teacher attendance or organising events – essentially any activity that is easy to monitor and does not demand engagement in processes.

It is time that we understood that education is about creating the right ecosystem for learning to happen, and that a village and its community are part of that process. When families have a better understanding of learning processes, they will also ensure that the home environment provides the right encouragement. When community members are able to offer their knowledge—as farmers, mechanics or officers in government—to students, they are teaching children about different possibilities in their future. It is only through involvement of the community that people will learn to ask the right questions, to seek accountability from the system. SMCs, being a subset of the community, offer a channel to do this. And if the community is aware, the SMCs will also function well.

For change to occur, communities must be more aware, and in charge of their education.


People often believe that the problems in the education space have more to do with curricula or pedagogy, or with the capacity of teachers. We disagree. The main issue is that today, communities are missing from the school ecosystem.

Photo Courtesy: Sachin Sachdeva


Working with communities to improve the education system

Having said that, we have to keep in mind that today, most communities, having been passive recipients of education thus far, are unprepared to challenge the system. It is therefore essential that we work to change this.

Based on our work at Gramin Shiksha Kendra (GSK) – an organisation which works with communities to enhance the quality of education in government schools – over the last 14 years, here are some suggestions on how this can be done:


1. Give them positions of seniority/power

Include members of the local community in your organisation board and involve them in the decision making. For example, at GSK we have people from the community on our board – some of them are parents who missed the opportunities of a quality education for their children, and two of them have never been to school but bring in their insights, wisdom and understanding of the local context.

These community members have guided and helped the organisation evolve its strategies, brought concerns and aspirations of the people to the board, and cautioned us against taking decisions that might not have the right impact.


2. Change your metrics of success

For example, we have kept the strength and management capacities of the school management committees as our apex indicator of success/failure, rather than only focussing on learning outcomes. We believe that when the schools and government-appointed school teachers become accountable to the SMC, and the SMC is in a position to guide and manage, the initiative will have succeeded.


3. Involve them in the work being done

Members from the community are invited to teach in the schools as guest teachers. Their experiences add to the curriculum of the school and are adapted for the schools. To be a teacher is still a valued profession, which gives parents a sense of importance and respect in the area.

Additionally, in an attempt to create a community-led ecosystem for education, we have an annual education festival called Kilol in our villages. The village community takes responsibility to organise Kilol’s and GSK shares, through exhibits and processes, our ways of teaching science, language, math, as well as the importance of components like pottery, sport and carpentry. The festival gives everyone in the community an opportunity to celebrate learning and understand what happens in school.


4. Give the initiative that is for them, to them

Our latest attempt is in handing over one of the schools that GSK set up back to the community to manage. That is when the school will become truly community-owned and community-managed.

We made this possible by, over the last 14 years, giving different members from the community a chance to be a part of the SMC. This has resulted in over 35 members in the community who have at one point or another been members of the SMC.

Because of their experience, the SMCs will soon be able to take over the management of the school and run it. GSK plans to facilitate this process and will help the SMC and the community evolve a future course of action – whether that leads to a science education initiative in the area, a comprehensive school, or an outreach programme.

This is important, as it defines our education initiative in the area. We don’t intend running the schools for ever, we want the community to take over. This will be our biggest success and we will continue providing them the technical support – or any other support that they may require. Most importantly, by giving the school back to the community, we are giving power back to the people – which is where it should be.


Sachin Sachdeva is a Co-Founder of Gramin Shiksha Kendra, www.graminshiksha.org.in , an organisation which works with communities to enhance the quality of education in government schools. Sachin has worked with development initiatives over the past 25 years and has been working with communities to help them look at their futures from a position of strength. GSK works with over 70 schools around the Ranthambhor National Park and along with the community runs three schools, one of which has been set up in a rehabilitated village. He is currently Director of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s India programme.


This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

Bangladesh’s largest freshwater lake inching towards death

By Mohammad Zoglul Kamal
DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 6 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(UNB/IPS) – Kaptai Lake, the biggest manmade lake in Bangladesh, is heading for a tragic end as sediments fill up its bottom and waste materials continue to pollute it every day.

The 688-square-kilometre lake, created by damming the Karnafuli River in Rangamati for hydroelectricity in 1960, has been providing livelihood for a large portion of the local population through tourism, fishing, transportation and much else.

Pollution and the use of pesticides are playing big roles in the water body’s decline, environmentalists say.

The lake, connecting six sub-districts, is traversed by thousands of people every day. Waste and oil from the launches and boats go into it, apart from those dumped by people living on its edges, locals say.

It is unclear how much waste, including plastic and polythene, is dumped into the lake daily. Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati AKM Mamunur Rashid says he is not sure if there had been any cleanup drives.

‘Never been dredged’

But siltation has turned out to be the major concern. The lake has never been dredged in 59 years, says Commodore Mahbub-ul Islam, chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water Transportation Authority (BIWTA).

Although the lake’s average depth is nine metres, when the water level recedes, it becomes dotted with small shoals. Launches and steamers have to suspend operations until the water level rises.

It is not just affecting the people dependent on the lake but also hampering power production.

The 230-megawatt capacity hydroelectric power plant’s production has come down to 110MW, says ATM Abjjur Zaher, the project manager, noting that the situation will not improve until there’s adequate rainfall.

It is an alarming situation that calls for urgent and effective measures, local say. They are pushing for dredging but the idea is opposed by some environmental activists.

MA Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, a movement to protect the environment, argues that dredging is not a permanent solution.

The water is more or less stagnant when a dam is constructed, he notes. “If we remove silt now, the basin will again be filled up in another 10 years,” he says, recommending searching for alternatives.

Deputy Commissioner Rashid admits that there are pitfalls but insists that it will be impossible to overcome the situation without removing the silt.

He says the lake is gradually becoming unusable because of siltation. “We’ve written to higher authorities but without any result. Recently, a BIWTA team has conducted a survey of Kaptai area,” he says.

Landslide scare

People, pushing for dredging, are not realising that it will take time, Rashid says.

“You can’t just dredge the lake. More research is needed before action, and issues like landslides should be considered,” he tells UNB.

Md Mahbubul Islam, Soil Resource Development Institute’s acting chief scientific officer in Bandarban, concurs.

“We can’t deny the possibility of landslides since dredging will change the basin’s structure,” he says.

Islam suggests a long-term study and exploring ways to protect the area and warns that otherwise, there will be a possibility of damage.

He says the lake covers a huge area and needs time for studies or to start dredging. The process will be a “little bit complex”, he notes.

Sunil Kanti Dey, a Rangamati-based journalist who has seen Kaptai Lake from its inception, says that it is now a pale shadow of its former self.

“Restoring the lake’s former glory will be very difficult, if not impossible,” he says. “It’ll be too late if we don’t act now.”

The Ethiopian City Lost in the Shadow of South Sudan’s War

When war broke out in 2013 in South Sudan, refugees poured into neighbouring Gambella. Today, 485,000 South Sudanese refugees lived in the Gambella region, according to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee organisation. Some displaced Nuer brought arms across the border, destabilising an already tense region. “The fact that the Nuer and Anuwak exist on both sides of the border makes it easy for people of both communities to pass backwards and forwards, taking with them their conflicts both between the two tribes but also at the national level,” says John Ashworth, who has been working in South Sudan and the surrounding region for the last 30 years. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, May 6 2019 – Right up against the border with South Sudan, the western Gambella region of Ethiopia has become a watchword for trouble and no-go areas as its neighbour’s troubles have spilled over. But now there may be reason for optimism on either side of the border.

The brown waters of the Baro River meandering through the Ethiopian city of Gambella—from which the surrounding region takes its name—coupled with an atmosphere of tropical languor creates an almost cliched archetype of the Western idea of an African river port. Except for the fact that there is not a single boat on the river. The 2013 outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, whose border lies 50 kilometres from the city, put an end to the thriving trade that once plied this waterway between Gambella and Juba, the South Sudanese capital. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

It is hard to visit Gambella and not be struck by the height of many locals, some with horizontal scarification lines across their foreheads. The Nuer are one of five ethnic groups populating the region. Close ties and tensions between the Nuer and Anuwak, the two largest ethnic groups, representing about 45 percent and 26 percent of the population, respectively, date back centuries. The modern border between the two nations does not delineate where either group lives nor is movement across the South Sudan-Ethiopia border a new phenomenon. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

When war broke out in 2013 in South Sudan, refugees poured into neighbouring Gambella. Today, 485,000 South Sudanese refugees lived in the Gambella region, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee organisation. Some displaced Nuer brought arms across the border, destabilising an already tense region. “The fact that the Nuer and Anuwak exist on both sides of the border makes it easy for people of both communities to pass backwards and forwards, taking with them their conflicts both between the two tribes but also at the national level,” says John Ashworth, who has been working in South Sudan and the surrounding region for the last 30 years. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

This is the closest you will come to finding a boat in Gambella nowadays. “The river used to be full of boats and trade before 2013 and the war broke out,” one Gambella local says of the Baro River and its tributaries flowing across the border. Nowadays the most urgent traffic around the city comes from the plethora of white SUVs, plastered with the logos of almost every NGO to be found in Ethiopia. Some locals are employed by NGOs as drivers and translators, but the vast majority of locals struggling to get by see little of the money generated by Ethiopia’s refugee industry. In 2018 the budget required for Ethiopia’s total refugee population—around 900,000 people—was estimated at 618 million dollars. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Gambella city has an intriguing modern history, in which the Baro River plays a crucial part. In the late 19th century, Britain came knocking, seeing the Baro’s navigable reach to Khartoum as an excellent highway for exporting coffee and other produce to Sudan and Egypt. The Ethiopian emperor granted Britain the use of land for a port and Gambella was established in 1907. Only a few hundred hectares in size, this tiny British territory became a prosperous trade centre as ships from Khartoum sailed regularly during the rainy season when the water was high. The Italians captured Gambella in 1936 but it was back with the British after a bloody battle in 1941. Gambella became part of Sudan in 1951, but was reincorporated into Ethiopia five years later. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Here a woman sells fish in a small market. Everyday life appears slow and peaceful. But the Gambella region has gained a reputation as a no-go area among foreigners and Ethiopians alike. Back in 1962, the first of several civil wars broke out next door in Sudan at the start of a 50-year quest for South Sudanese independence, and from which Gambella could not remain immune. The stigma attached to the region hasn’t been helped by the Ethiopian government’ tendency to take a dismissive view of the region, underscored by a prejudice—one that extends throughout Ethiopian society—that the blacker one is the less Ethiopia you are, says Dereje Feyissa, a senior advisor at the Addis Ababa-based International Law and Policy Institute. “The Ethiopian centre has always related to its periphery in a predatory way,” Dereje says. “This is not only because of the geographic distance but also the historical, social and cultural differences which the discourse on skin colour signifies.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Local men carrying wrapped-up dried fish on their heads walk through an Anuwak village. The Gambella region is something of an anomaly in Ethiopia, displaying stronger historical, ethnic and climatic links to neighbouring South Sudan. “This was not the Ethiopia of cool highlands and white flowing traditional dress, but Nilotic Africa, in the blazing southwestern lowlands near the Sudanese border,” recalls Steve Buff, a former Peace Corps Volunteer. “This was much closer to our childhood National Geographic images of Africa than any place we’d seen before in Ethiopia.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Since the latest peace agreement between South Sudan’s warring factions late last year, the indications seem more promising than with previous peace agreements that fell apart. By December 2018, the security situation in South Sudan had significantly improved, stated Jean-Pierre Lacroix, head of United Nations Peacekeeping. And by February this year, David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, told reporters in New York that political violence has “dropped dramatically.” Shearer added that the success of the peace agreement will be partly measured by the extent to which people return to home towns and villages. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

This year the UNHCR has reported spontaneous movements of South Sudanese refugees from various Gambella-based camps heading toward South Sudan, an estimated 5,000 since mid-December. Perhaps a good sign of what Shearer discussed? Interviews with the refugees, however, indicated they were returning to South Sudan for fear of retaliatory action following clan-based conflicts in camps, while some said they were going to visit their families, and would eventually return to the camps in Gambella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“This time it is different, as the international community is involved,” a South Sudanese refugee in Gambella remarked while reading Facebook posts on his smartphone about the latest peace deal. At the same time, the time it has taken to overcome the animosity of the past and get to the current stage of the peace process suggests there will be South Sudanese refugees in Gambella for some time yet. Meanwhile, the Baro River will flow on undisturbed by river traffic through a land of limbo caught up in the surrounding troubles, its seemingly placid surface deceiving to the eye. “There are plenty of crocodiles, though you won’t see them as the water is high,” a local man says. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS