UNAOC and BMW Group Announce the 10 Finalists of the Intercultural Innovation Award and Celebrate 10 Years of Partnership

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 19, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Ten global grassroots initiatives have been named finalists of the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award during an Awards Ceremony held last night at the German Pavilion of the Dubai EXPO 2020, within the margins of the thematic week on Tolerance and Inclusivity. A partnership between the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group, and now with the support of Accenture, the Intercultural Innovation Award supports grassroots initiatives that promote intercultural dialogue and understanding and contribute to peace, cultural diversity, and more inclusive societies.

"As the Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA) celebrates its 10–year anniversary, UNAOC and the BMW Group continue to collaborate to promote a more inclusive global community by strengthening grassroots initiatives that are deeply committed to promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding. Through the Intercultural Innovation Award, we support projects that address diversity and inclusion in innovative ways." said Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos, High Representative for UNAOC.

"The Intercultural Innovation Award honors people and projects that promote diversity, tolerance and inclusion in a particularly creative way. These are the values that move us forward as a society and as a company. We are convinced that progress requires cohesion "" that is what the BMW Group stands for. Together with UNAOC, we make a meaningful contribution to respectful dialogue," said Ms. Ilka Horstmeier, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Human Resources at BMW Group.

This year, the selection process was highly competitive, with over 1,100 applications received from 120 countries.

2021 awardees:

International Trustbuilding "" Initiatives of Change International (Switzerland)
Knitting a Better Future "" La Cana, Productos con Causa (Mexico)
Dialogue on the Human Fraternity Document "" Mediterranean Youth Foundation (Egypt)
MITTI Caf, Inclusion with Every Meal "" MITTI Social Initiative Foundation (India)
Arrival Advisor "" PeaceGeeks Society (Canada)
Emerging Leaders "" PLACE Network (France)
Politize! Ambassadors Program: Promoting Civic Empowerment for All "" Politize! Civic Education Institute (Brazil)
Always Remember, Never Forget "" Spielen in der Stadt (Germany)
Creative Youth Boot Camp: Art for Social Transformation "" Street Project Foundation (Nigeria)
SMART Advocates: For Effective Dialogue to Address the Grassroots Conflicts "" Strengthening Youth Leadership Collective (Sri Lanka)

Media Inquiries:
– Ms. Milena Pighi, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BMW Group: Phone: +49–89–382–66563; Email: Milena.PA.Pighi@bmw.de
– Mr. Alessandro Girola, Programming Coordinator, UNAOC: Phone: +1 (929) 274–6217; Email: alessandrog@unops.org


Sri Lanka’s “SMART Advocates: For Effective Dialogue to Address the Grassroots Conflicts” Project Receives UNAOC-BMW Group Intercultural Innovation Award

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 19, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The "SMART Advocates" project of the Strengthening Youth Leadership Collective (SYLC) in Sri Lanka was selected as one of ten global grassroots initiatives to receive the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group, during an Awards Ceremony held last night at the German Pavilion of the Dubai EXPO 2020, within the margins of the thematic week on Tolerance and Inclusivity. The selection process was highly competitive, with over 1,100 applications received from 120 countries.

SMART Advocates is designed to train individuals who have the passion to engage in effective advocacy to address grassroots conflicts and build a better Sri Lanka. By facilitating peacebuilding through a digital platform and visual storytelling, SMART Advocates aims to tackle socio–economic and environmental challenges. The core objective is to bridge the gap between communities and local authorities to address these conflicts.

“Strengthening Youth Leadership Collective has been exploring mechanics that build trust, create innovation, and ensure sustainability to make lasting change. Young people are often considered as perpetrators of violence. To change this stereotypical perspective, our novel approach to address grassroots conflicts through digital platforms gives new insights about young people," said Kishoth Navaretnarajah, Co–Founder and Program Designer at SYLC.

The Intercultural Innovation Award supports grassroots initiatives that promote intercultural dialogue and understanding, thereby contributing to peace, cultural diversity, and more inclusive societies. This year, the Awards Ceremony was chaired by the High Representative for UNAOC and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, H.E. Mr. Miguel ngel Moratinos, and Ms. Ilka Horstmeier, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Human Resources at BMW Group.

In addition to a financial grant, SYLC will receive capacity–building and mentorship support from UNAOC, the BMW Group and Accenture to help strengthen the "SMART Advocates" project and ensure its sustainable growth. This model of collaboration between the United Nations and the private sector creates a more profound impact, as partners provide their respective expertise to ensure the sustainable growth of each supported project.

Learn more about the project:
https://interculturalinnovation.org/smart–advocates–sylc/

Media inquiries:
– Ms. Milena Pighi, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BMW Group: Phone: +49–89–382–66563; Email: Milena.PA.Pighi@bmw.de
– Mr. Alessandro Girola, Programming Coordinator, UNAOC: Phone: +1 (929) 274–6217; Email: alessandrog@unops.org


Nigeria’s “Creative Youth Boot Camp: Art for Social Transformation” Project Receives UNAOC-BMW Group Intercultural Innovation Award

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 19, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Nigeria's "Creative Youth Boot Camp: Art for Social Transformation" of the Street Project Foundation was selected as one of ten global grassroots organizations to receive the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group, during an Awards Ceremony held last night at the German Pavilion of the Dubai EXPO 2020, within the margins of the thematic week on Tolerance and Inclusivity. The selection process was highly competitive, with over 1,100 applications received from 120 countries.

Creative Youth Boot Camp galvanizes young individuals from over 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria to co–create, using performing arts as a tool to confront social issues such as gender inequality, social exclusion, xenophobia, and violent extremism, plaguing the development of women, youth, and young people with disabilities. By deploying a human–centered approach called "reflection sessions", young creatives are equipped with tools to unpack issues that threaten their existence.

"Receiving the intercultural and Innovation Award is a validation of the revolutionary work that Street Project Foundation is doing in Nigeria. This is a boost to our cause of using the performing arts as a tool to foster a youth movement that advocates for inclusion, pluralism and global citizenship," said Rita Ezenwa–Okoro, Founder at Street Project Foundation.

The Intercultural Innovation Award supports grassroots initiatives that promote intercultural dialogue and understanding, thereby contributing to peace, cultural diversity, and more inclusive societies. This year, the Awards Ceremony was chaired by the High Representative for UNAOC and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, H.E. Mr. Miguel ngel Moratinos, and Ms. Ilka Horstmeier, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Human Resources at BMW Group.

In addition to a financial grant, the Street Project Foundation will receive capacity–building and mentorship support from UNAOC, the BMW Group and Accenture to help strengthen its "Creative Youth Boot Camp" project and ensure its sustainable growth. This model of collaboration between the United Nations and the private sector creates a more profound impact, as partners provide their respective expertise to ensure the sustainable growth of each supported project.

Learn more about the project:
https://interculturalinnovation.org/creative–youth–booth–camp/

Media inquiries:
– Ms. Milena Pighi, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BMW Group: Phone: +49–89–382–66563; Email: Milena.PA.Pighi@bmw.de
– Mr. Alessandro Girola, Programming Coordinator, UNAOC: Phone: +1 (929) 274–6217; Email: alessandrog@unops.org


Egypt's “Dialogue on the Human Fraternity Document” Project Receives UNAOC-BMW Group Intercultural Innovation Award

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 19, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The "Dialogue on the Human Fraternity Document" project of the Mediterranean Youth Foundation in Egypt was selected as one of ten global grassroots initiatives to receive the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group, during an Awards Ceremony held last night at the German Pavilion of the Dubai EXPO 2020, within the margins of the thematic week on Tolerance and Inclusivity. The selection process was highly competitive, with over 1,100 applications received from 120 countries.

The project serves as the first youth dialogue in the world on the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, a joint statement signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed el–Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al–Azhar. The project empowers youth in the region to promote the concept of human fraternity, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, through implementing a series of workshops and sessions with the aim to counter hate speech, extremism and intolerance.

“This award is a recognition of our efforts as young people to build an inclusive society. The award means that I will have everything I need to expand and maximize the impact of my project by receiving financial support, mentoring and networking," said Youssef Sabry, Co–Founder and President of the Mediterranean Youth Foundation.

The Intercultural Innovation Award supports grassroots initiatives that promote intercultural dialogue and understanding, thereby contributing to peace, cultural diversity, and more inclusive societies. This year, the Awards Ceremony was chaired by the High Representative for UNAOC and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, H.E. Mr. Miguel ngel Moratinos, and Ms. Ilka Horstmeier, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Human Resources at BMW Group.

In addition to a financial grant, the Mediterranean Youth Foundation will receive capacity–building and mentorship support from UNAOC, the BMW Group and Accenture to help strengthen the "Dialogue on the Human Fraternity Document" project and ensure its sustainable growth. This model of collaboration between the United Nations and the private sector creates a more profound impact, as partners provide their respective expertise to ensure the sustainable growth of each supported project.

Learn more about the project:
https://interculturalinnovation.org/dialogue–on–the–human–fraternity–document/

Media inquiries:
– Ms. Milena Pighi, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BMW Group: Phone: +49–89–382–66563; Email: Milena.PA.Pighi@bmw.de
– Mr. Alessandro Girola, Programming Coordinator, UNAOC: Phone: +1 (929) 274–6217; Email: alessandrog@unops.org


Glossing Over in Glasgow – Some Thoughts on COP26

After extending the COP26 climate negotiations an extra day, nearly 200 countries meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, adopted an outcome document that, according to the UN Secretary-General, “reflects the interests, the contradictions, and the state of political will in the world today”. Credit: UN News/Laura Quiñones

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Nov 19 2021 – A week has gone by since COP 26 with 197 Parties ended in the Scottish city of Glasgow on extended time last Saturday. Climate change which covers wide array of issues affecting all living beings engaged the people around the world for COP 26 in a way never experienced since COP1 was held in Berlin in 1995.

Extensive and round-the-clock media coverage, huge presence of the civil society, activism by the young people, substantive advocacy by large number of non-governmental organizations, even the creatively decorated conference venue – all gave COP 26 a profile never seen before.

Before Glasgow, 25 annually convened sessions of COPs have been held by Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in New York in May 1992 which “determined to protect the climate system for present and future generations”. But never in the history of COPs there was an occasion when the Parties publicly negotiated to change the outcome document which was televised around the world as in the Glasgow COP.

As is natural for such multilateral gatherings, reactions to the question whether COP 26 was successful were different from the Parties and other entities engaged in the process. Efforts to gloss over following COP 26 left the common people uncertain and unsure whether there was really any forward movement in Glasgow.

Contradictions

What was somewhat intriguing that speaking for the United Nations system as a whole, the Secretary-General expressed his disappointment about the compromise reached in the outcome commenting “…unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”

He even warned “It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.” At the same time, Secretary-General’s rather confusing, ill-composed comment in his remarks at the conclusion of COP 26 that “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe” left many wondering what he was trying to convey.

Even more intriguing is that where was his leadership as the universally accepted global leader in getting rid of those contradictions he was complaining about.? On the other hand, the Executive Secretary entrusted with the responsibility of organizing COPs was upbeat about the outcome and may be reflecting another contradiction in Glasgow. COP 26 also invited the UN Secretary-General to convene world leaders in 2023 to consider ambition to 2030 dangling the traditional carrot of expectation to the people of the world.

Alok Sharma touch

Let me bring out a very uniquely remarkable thing that happened in COP 26 as its UK-appointed full-time President Alok Sharma openly and visibly choked back tears saying “I am deeply sorry” as he banged his gavel for the adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact.

His emotions and true feelings came out spontaneously as he was considerably upset by the proposal of India, joined by China, to change the expression “phase out” relating to coal consumption as agreed to by all till the moment of adoption.

India replaced that phrase with “phase down” thereby watering down the consensus intent of the Parties at COP 26. President Sharma expressed his apologies for the way things evolved in changing the agreed COP 26 outcome negotiated under his leadership and which he was about to gavel down. In my half a century of engagement in multilateral diplomacy,

I am not aware of any conference chair apologizing ever for his inability to protect the best interest of the participants in the outcome. Bravo to Alok Sharma for that honesty and integrity! He has shown the way to all future chairs that they can openly and courageously pronounce their failure identifying those who are dragging their feet destroying a forward-looking outcome.

It was also impressive the way President Sharma asserted the reality with his pithy comment that we have kept 1.5 Celsius alive “but its pulse is weak”.

Loss and Damage

The insensitivity of the Parties and their self-centered policy positions were starkly manifested in the decision relating to a major issue known as “Loss and Damage”. Not much media highlight was given to this very relevant item on COP 26 agenda. Even the UN’s Climate Change website does include in its list of topics.

I am sure many readers are picking their brains trying to recall the issue. “Loss and damage” is used within the COP process to refer to the harms caused by anthropogenic climate change. Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage has been a long-standing goal for vulnerable and developing countries in the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group in negotiations.

However, developed countries have resisted this. At Glasgow, the developing countries lamented the outcome on loss and damage. They had called for a financial mechanism for loss and damage, but the outcome on loss and damage only included strengthening the existing technical support functions, and expectedly more empty and rejectionist talks to convene from 2022 to 2024.

The existing UNFCCC mechanism created by COP 19, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, focuses on research and dialogue rather than liability or compensation.
Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network succinctly described COP 26 as “a clear betrayal by rich nations – the US, the EU and the UK- of vulnerable communities in poor countries.”

She went on to say that by blocking the proposal of the developing countries representing 6 billion people, on the creation of a Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility “rich countries have once again demonstrated their complete lack of solidarity and responsibility to protect those facing the worst of the climate impacts.

Referring to close-door pressure tactics, Saleemul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) regretted that “The COP Presidency has overnight been bullied into dropping the Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility. The UK’s words to the vulnerable countries have been proven to be totally unreliable.”

Natalie Lucas, Executive Director, Care About Climate very forcefully spoke about the loss and damage issue and expressed total disappointment commenting that “Developed nations, including the US, have not risen to the challenge to do what is necessary to protect people. We have missed the train on mitigation, on adaptation, and now it is colliding into the most vulnerable people.”

At the end the Glasgow Climate Pact pitifully agreed “to enhance understanding of how approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage can be improved”. It clearly reflects how the “powerful” of the world impose their totally irrelevant and illogical position on the poorest and most vulnerable humanity.

About the Glasgow outcome, globally respected eminent economist Jeffrey Sachs rightly opined “That leaves us stuck between the reality of a devastating global climate crisis and rich countries’ nationalist politics…” He articulated further that “The financial failures at COP26 are both tragic and absurd … Financing for “losses and damages,” that is, to recover and rebuild from climate disasters, fared even worse, with rich countries agreeing only to hold a “dialogue” on the issue.”

Kowtowing to the obstinacy of the developed countries, UN Secretary-General insensitively tried to console the developing world by his non-committal words saying “I want to make a particular appeal for our future work in relation to adaptation and the issue of loss and damage.”

He was oblivious that the Climate Change Convention of 1992 of which he is the depository asserts that “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”

Civil society

At Glasgow, the civil society engagement and advocacy for forward-looking actions fell on deaf ears of the leaders and negotiators. The civil society was separated from the so-called Blue Zone at the conference center where the wheeling-dealing was taking place.

If the civil society seriously wants a space to be heard and make an impact on the outcome of COP processes, it should ask for that opportunity clearly offered to them in all future climate negotiations. Protesting outside and commenting on the social media have limited value in influencing the decision-makers.

Even Greta Thunberg’s disparaging slogan “blah, blah, blah …” was laughed away by the leaders. COP 26 outcome proves that in a terribly frustrating manner. For COP 27 next year, the mode of operations for the civil society participation needs to change.

American climate scientist and author Peter Kalmus articulated that “The one thing the climate summit in Glasgow made clear is that human society remains in business-as-usual mode, with no meaningful curb on fossil fuel use. The soft pledges made at COP 26 might have been acceptable decades ago, but not now.”

He went on to highlight that “Unless COP26’s failure is recognized as failure, there is no way to learn from it. Allowing global leaders to feel that what happened in Glasgow was acceptable – and spinning it as some sort of success – would be a disastrous mistake.”

The whole COP process is flawed if the powerful Parties can brush aside the wishes of countries representing a huge majority of the world population just like that. Developing countries need to join together to stop this circus and find another approach.

“Phase down” – the new mantra

There has been strong criticism of the last-minute and veto-like proposal to replace “Phase out” by “Phase down” at the final moments of the Glasgow gathering. But “phase down” has always been the position of the worst and historically responsible polluters of the world who would prefer to follow their own pace for addressing the climate crisis.

Be it emissions control, be it fossil fuels, be it financing, be it adaptation, be it mitigation, be it loss and damage, be it transfer of technology, “phase down” mode has always been the preferred way of doing business by the developed world. India has only taken a dubious lead in actually introducing the phrase in a formal COP outcome.

The global community would find more and more such instances as the climate change negotiations evolves in the coming years. “Phase down” is the new mantra of the climate change negotiators. Be prepared for that. Sorry!

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations.

 


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‘The Brutal Death of a Child’s Dream’

Globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could rise to 46 million without access to critical social protection coverage. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could rise to 46 million without access to critical social protection coverage. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Nov 19 2021 – Kailash Satyarthi,  an Indian social reformer and co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Malala Yousafzai, spoke in a recent international forum about the devastating impacts of child labour.

“Nothing is as brutal as the death of a child’s dream,” said Satyarthi, who campaigned against child labour in his homeland. “We should feel the moral responsibility that we have to fulfill the dreams of these children.”

The Global Solutions Forum was held in the context of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, and it brought together representatives from government ministries, farmers’ organisations, workers’ groups, and development banks, businesses, as well as children, youth advocates, and former child labourers.

The Nobel Peace laureate’s words came ahead of the 2021 World Children’s Day, marked 20 November. The Day’s theme is–ironically: A Better Future for Every Child.

 

The nation of 160 million plus children

These children form a nation of 160 millions plus victims, the double of a big European country’s -Germany- total population. They do not know each other, but they are all victims of the current prevailing human rights abuses.

Half of them -or 80 million– are just 5 to 11 years old, and their number has been rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without mitigation measures, their number could rise to nearly 170 million by the year 2022.

Millions of them are trapped in hazardous work, and they are also easy prey to human trafficking.

 

Two-thirds in the rural sector

Given that more than two thirds plus –or 70%– of all these boys and girls are rural workers, Qu Dongyu, the director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has urged ways to stamp out the practice –which he called “a serious violation of human rights,”– by the year 2025.

For them, Qu stressed that effective action and strong and coherent leadership from agri-food stakeholders across the globe is critical. “Child labour deprives boys and girls of their childhood, their potential and dignity, while also being harmful to their physical and mental development.”

Although not all work carried out by children is considered child labour, “much of it is not age-appropriate, and many vulnerable families, especially in rural areas, have no choice.”

 

Also in services and industry

While the agriculture sector accounts for 70% of children in child labour, it is followed by 20% in services and 10% in industry.

As well, nearly 28% of 5 to 11-year-olds and 35% of those aged 12 to 14 in child labour, are out of school.

Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age but when 21 hours per week of household chores are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.

 

Reasons behind

Contributing factors include low family incomes, few livelihood alternatives, limited access to education, inadequate labour-saving technologies, and traditional attitudes surrounding children’s participation in agriculture.

In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years, according to this year’s report Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, elaborated by the International Labour Organisation(ILO) and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF).

 

More victims

Globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could rise to 46 million without access to critical social protection coverage, the two world bodies have reported.

“Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already obliged or forced to work, may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while job and income losses among vulnerable families may push many more into the worst forms of child labour,” according to Guy Ryder, the ILO director general.

 

Not an escape

Ryder also underlined that child labour did not have to continue indefinitely. “Child labour is not an escape road from poverty, it actually prolongs poverty; it makes poverty inter-generational,” he said.

This year’s World Day Against Child Labour, warned in its campaign: ‘Victims’ Voices Lead the Way’ which is aimed at putting a spotlight on victims’ untold stories, and on their roles in the fight against trafficking, warned that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw the number put to work fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

 

Cyber crimes

The UN Secretary General urged States to take action against human trafficking, where a third of all victims are children.

“The COVID pandemic has pushed as many as 124 million more people into extreme poverty. And “many millions” have been left vulnerable to the scourge of human trafficking.

“Criminals everywhere are using technology to identify, control and exploit vulnerable people,” the UN chief said, adding that children are increasingly targeted through online platforms for sexual exploitation, forced marriage and other forms of abuse.

Governments are aware, or at least they should. This practice against ten of millions of children is just one of the long list of human rights violations.

This is also the case of 1.000.000.000 child-girls who are either mutilated or forced to be mothers or both. Let alone the discrimination and marginisation against the millions of children who are forced to work… just because they are poor.

Time Honoured Food Traditions, Pleasing for Palate and Planet

Alia Chughtai (standing at the back), a journalist with filmmaker Akhlaque Mahesar (right, behind the table), and others in their team at Aur Chaawal (And Rice). Chughtai believes in using local fresh ingredients that are healthy and planet-friendly. Her method of cooking fits in with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition’s Double Pyramid. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Nov 19 2021 – Balance is the absolute key, says Alia Chughtai, a journalist who started a catering service with filmmaker Akhlaque Mahesar, by the name of Aur Chaawal (And Rice), two years ago.

She knows what she is talking about. Suffering from gastrointestinal issues, Chughtai’s journey towards healthy eating started a decade ago. Once she understood the science behind nutrition and what balance of eating meant, she understood what her body had gone through. And thus began her quest for cleansing it.

“I couldn’t have garlic or onions for eight straight weeks,” the two most essential ingredients one cannot imagine cooking desi (slang for Pakistani) food without, she told IPS.

Two years ago, Chughtai decided to turn her food journey into a small side business.

“I got into this because there was a personal need for clean desi food without the bad oil, chemical-laced spices and food colouring,” she said. Today her fight is against processed food which she believes is the reason behind the multitude of ailments in people, and she swears by “heartily grown vegetables and fruits”.

“But it’s not a solo ride,” she said. For a well-oiled business to run successfully and expand, the pair have divided their tasks. While Chughtai oversees the day-to-day operations and “menu ideation”, Mahesar looks after the background logistics.

Surmai (fish) korma and rice with crispy okra and fried chillies on the side. One of the balanced dishes found at Aur Chaawal. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

While navigating the ‘farm to fork’ path, trying to find the balance between sustainability, nutrition, and access, Mahesar said they try their best “to use locally grown, locally made products”.

In turn, the duo has become acutely aware of fairer returns for small businesses and farmers.

“Ours is a small business, and we are all for supporting other small businesses,” said Chughtai’s partner.

The pandemic also acted as a catalyst for many Pakistanis to think and produce locally.

“We try to source as much as possible from around Pakistan, including the different types of cheeses and even the pasta,” he said.

But looking for quality produce requires quite a bit of research, which they both enjoy doing.

“We get a month’s supply of spices from small towns in Sindh; a certain species of chillies from Muzaffarabad, in the Punjab province; saffron and buckwheat from Hunza, in Gilgit-Baltistan region and saag (mustard plant) from Lahore, also in Punjab. They substitute ghee (a type of clear butter) for oil to cook in, which they get from Matiari, also in Sindh, weekly.

Fayza Khan, president of the Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Society (PNDS), strongly feels those in the food business must preach and practice healthy and sustainable eating, advocate for science-based diets, recommend reduced intake of meat and highly processed foods and demand from the government better labelling on packaged food.

To “reduce the burden of malnutrition and non-communicable diseases”, those in the food business should “play their part” in promoting healthier ways of cooking food and minimizing food waste.

Frowning upon overconsumption of fat-laden food, including bakery products, fast food, and sweetened beverages, she said: “Nutrition and lifestyle-related chronic diseases in Pakistan among adults as well as in children including the prevalence of obesity and an onset of diabetes in young age is spreading fast.”

Khan, therefore, recommends “traditional foods” which are healthier if “home-cooked with better cooking techniques”.

Finding the balance between food systems and the planet. Credit: BCFN

And that is what the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) advocates: that healthy diets, especially traditional foods, play a significant role in food sustainability as they have a low environmental impact.

For example, the Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish rather than red meat, and cereal-based products, such as pasta, and cooked in olive oil, help prevent heart disease. Little wonder Italians are ranked healthiest in the world. Italy has the highest number of centenarians in Europe.

As Chughtai and Mahesar fine-tuned their business model, they have increasingly understood the integrity of sustainable food strategies and started employing caution to minimize any environmental or climate impact it may be causing.

“As an entrepreneur in the food business, it is our responsibility to reduce greenhouse emissions, of animal welfare and protection of small farmers and workers in the food business,” said Chughtai.

“We initially used bagasse bowls and containers,” she explained but had to opt for cheaper recycled packaging boxes because bagasse was too expensive.

“We use regular reusable plastic boxes which we refill with food for 10% discount on the food,” she said, adding: “People don’t want to pay higher costs for desi cuisine!”

They also compost their wet kitchen waste and use it as manure for their vegetable roof garden, where they grow their red bell peppers, chillies, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, gourd, and some herbs.
But Chughtai, says Aur Chaawal, is not just a business; it is a quest for “clean food”.

It took her several years to find out that the root cause of her stomach issues, said Chughtai and said everything pointed toward the pre-packaged spices with their overdose of flavourings and colours. Averse to them, at Aur Chaawal, they use the old-fashioned pestle and mortar to pound fresh garlic, smash the ginger or chillies or grind the whole spices into powder.

“Our cooking may be labour intensive, alright,” she admitted, but insisted it was “clean and healthy”.

Chughtai may not be aware of it, but Aur Chaawal has uses Barilla Foundation’s Double Pyramid model of placing the health and climate pyramids side-by-side, encouraging healthy eating for humans and remaining respectful of the planet.

In a city like Karachi, which has a deluge of caterers, food joints and restaurants and a huge population of discerning gourmands, securing 10,000 followers on Instagram, and a steady daily clientele of between 35-45, in just two years, is no mean feat.

“We have to be innovative,” said Mahesar, but puts their success down to the awareness among their regular customers (that include many working women who want her to cook for their family), that the Aur Chaawal menu will be nothing but wholesome.

The business also caters to those who are counting their calories. But Chughtai insisted a one-size-fits-all formula does not work for here.

On average, she said, every body’s plate should be 1/4th filled with protein, 1/2 with greens and 1/4th with complex carbs”.

But she emphasized: “Everyone is different; you have to eat according to your health needs.”

For instance, on her plate, the portion of protein would be 1/3rd protein since she was low on iron. And this, she said, was the mistake many nutritionists in Pakistan make.

“You cannot apply the 1400/1500 calorie rule to everyone!” said Chughtai, who was fortunate to train under Adrian Leung, a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer and who helped “reconfigure my brain about good food and bad food”.

One day, when her inner writer gets restless, she plans to document her “journey”. She intends to travel from the coastal villages to the mountain peaks and include recipes she picks up “of the unconventional eats and the ones we’ve adapted because Karachi is such a smorgasbord of ethnicities” in a “beautifully designed” compilation.

Till then, having brought up eating home-cooked food made by her mother, she said, Aur Chaawal will continue serving “clean” meals using the healthiest, organically grown produce and spices for their customers.

 


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