Saturday, April 11, 2015

The deepest circle of hell

Yarmouk refugee camp was a thriving community just near city center of Damascus, Syria. After the civil war started, it was surrounded, besieged and bombed. Those who could leave, left, and those who were too late or who did not have anywhere else to go, became the prisoners of this perhaps the largest de facto prison in the world.
The situation is so bad, that the UN Secretary General said recently: "In the horror that is Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell".  According to UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of humanitarian assistance to the camp, as an average, in 2014 camp residents received 400 calories in food aid. Just for the record, minimum for emergencies for an adult person is 2,100 calories. This situation is nothing less than starvation. From an initial population of over 160,000 Palestinians, about 18,000, among them 3,500 children, remain stranded, with no way out and no safety inside.

When starvation and violence is the beginning of the end of every day, life becomes hell. Not just difficult,  but hell. This situation is brilliantly and accurately in a video "Please, please take me out here", done by BBC´s Lyse Doucet, who at one point (watch at 2.40) needs to cross the line as a journalist, and comforts the person she is interviewing.
I have nothing much more to say. Watch it for yourselves. And share it widely among your networks. And remember, at the sunset of today, this will be the end of another day of hell at Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The domino effect

This is a photo of a Youssoufa, an 11 year old boy who was separated from his parents and sister during the violence of the Central African Republic. Youssoufa did not recover from his sadness and he died shortly after this photo was taken by UNHCR, who writes, (...) "Youssoufa died last week of severe manutrition, desperate to escape a virtual prison and reunite with his parents. Youssoufa was one of the latest victims of the bitter inter-communal violence and terror that has plagued his homeland since March 2013, when predominantly Muslim anti-government Seleka forces took power in Bangui and indulged in gross rights abuses, triggering a bloody response by Christian-linked anti-Balaka militia groups " (...) Since this conflict with all its many layers erupted last year, we have also seen how Boko Haram has displaced about a million people in neighbouring Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.  One could wish the violence affecting these countries is limited to the limits inside their borders, but reality tells us different things. An essential observation on how urgent it is to succesfully address the situation of Central African Republic, is said by Dr. Beyani, the UN Special rapporteur on human rights of internally displaced people, who says: "The one critical message to give to the world is about the risk of radicalization in the CAR, given the grievances expressed by the Muslim population about being marginalized, the lack of development in their areas for decades, and not being treated as equal citizens and with respect. If this is not dealt with, then we will see another front by Nigeria's Boko Haram or a similar group. That needs attention and it should grab the headlines. We have to take steps now." In a paper called "The domino effect: why a wide lens is needed to address displacement in central Africa" the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reminds us that the regional complexities are enormours:  as by July 2014, in addition to Central African Republic, also Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Sudan hosted an estimated 7.15 million internally displaced people (IDPs), forced to flee their homes by conflict, violence and human rights violations including the intentional targeting of civilians and in some cases the use of displacement as a tactic of war.  Without having regional policies to address the underlying causes for violence, conflict and displacement, the number of fates as of Youssoufa is regretfully going to increase. 


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fatimatu Yamsa knew she was going to die

The text below this photo by Reuters Sigfrid Modola is straightforward and clear in its simple brutality: (...)  "A mother holds her child while attempting to take cover as repeated gun shots are heard close to Miskine district during continuing sectarian violence in the capital Bangui today January 28, 2014. At least 13 people were killed in Central African Republic on Monday as the top U.N. human rights official warned of escalating reprisals against Muslims and urged foreign governments to do more to stop the country being torn apart". (...)  Unfortunately, the international media attention is looking in another direction, bringing you news about music awards, drunk pop stars and the latest about fashion. This was pointed out in a very eloquent way by ambassador Power, who in this tweet makes her point in a very poignant way:

But there are good reporters out there, telling the story, such as Sigfrid Modola from Reuters, or Thomas Fessy from BBC, or Marcus Bleasdale. They are taking risks and doing their job, to show the rest of us how war is changing the human landscape of Central African Republic.  Why we don't see more journalists on the ground, it's difficult to say. Perhaps of fear. Perhaps of lack of funding or support from their bosses. And I also understand journalists who are not traveling there. I do find it difficult stop looking at those eyes, that fear of mother and child: One cannot go back to write about banalities after witnessing images like the photo above.

Another kew witness to what has happened in Central African Republic is Peter Bouckart, from Human Rights Watch. In his dispatch "We will take our revenge" I found a story that I found extremely important, not only because of its sadness, but because some people are still doing the right thing, even though hate and revenge is drowning the hopes for peace.

Fatimatu Yamsa was a young Muslim woman. She wanted to leave the city of Boyali,  escaping from the violence which has changed everything in a matter of days in Central African Republic. With her was her 7 month old baby.
Knowing that she was going to die, desperate to save her baby, Fatimatu asked the Christian woman sitting next to her in the truck, to take the baby and pretend it was hers. Fatimatu wanted her baby to live.  Fatimatu and two other Muslim women and their four children were taken out of the truck. One child managed to escape, but the others were taken into the local Mosque by the Christian militias. These three women and three children were hacked to death with men - and children - all blinded by hate.

Often when tragedies like this happen, we are paralyzed by its terror and maybe we may feel somehow content that it's far away, it's not close enough, we don't care, we may even don't know where that country is. It's difficult to stop these crimes to happen. It's then difficult to see how the social fabric, that intricate bond between groups of people can mended, when violence is changing everything around us. If we don't have enough observers, those who can find the stories of cohesion, then there will be one single narrative, and that is a dangerous thing, because it can leave violence alone, to continue its devastating force. We know from the story told by Peter Bouckart, with the tragic example of Fatimatu Yamsa, that there are people in times of war who are not murderers. There are people who have saved people from the other side. There are people who have done their best to work for peace, but their voice is too lonely, too weak, too seldom. We have to find them, and we have to give them a powerful microphone, and to amplify the message of compassion, solidarity, love for life. It should not be that difficult. And we need both more journalists on the ground, and we need agencies who are willing and able to support the reconstruction as soon as possible of the social fabric in Central African Republic.

And yes, Fatimatu's baby was saved. The Christian woman did the right thing, and reunited the baby with Fatimatu's family. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hope is not an anchor; it's a sail

”Imagine if governments could tell people: What is happening to you is not right! What is happening to you is unfair! But the situation at the moment is not like that. Internal displacement is a betrayal. It’s a betrayal because someone is displacing you. And the country you are a citizen of is not protecting you. Imagine then there is a legal framework that says ”in spite of something terrible happening to you in our country, we are going to help you, because that is my right and duty as a government. That is my duty as a citizen, as a fellow brother and sister. That is hope. Hope is a sail. It can bring you somewhere. When you move forward you change something. You change what you had before, you change where you are going. And that, friends, is development. 

What was that all about?

A month ago, I was invited to do a TEDx in Arendal, Norway. And you know, it's a TED talk, so first, one goes flattered, then one goes terrified. There are strict rules for how such a speech is to be done, and one of the important rules, is that the speech has to be memorized and not read from a script. So I accepted the challenge and started the process of writing. 17 drafts later, with good inputs from my team at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center as well, and some last minute improvisation, here is the result: 

I tried to tell a story about what hope means for people in extremely vulnerable situations, starting from my own story from many years back. 
If you think this talk can be useful, feel free to share the video with your friends and network.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Inequality in America

This tweet by Jeffrey D. Sachs got me thinking. First I thought: wow. That is a frontal attack to a president who is not delivering at so many levels. Then, I thought: why has not this been an issue before now?  American politics is about money. Is not about ideas, is not about doing the right thing for most people; it is about providing the best possible space to a free market. If you disagree with me on this, have a look at this video about inequality in the US. In the video you will see that the average worker in the US, not the lowest paid, but the average worker, has to work more than 1 month to get what an average CEO earns in 1 hour. That is what inequality looks like. I welcome your comments and critique.
And here is what got me thinking today:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How a sandwich, a smile and good people got me into Harvard

Today, I will be graduating with a Master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. And I do remember where I started. It was 39 years ago, when my childhood ended, when I was 12 years old, on a spring day in Chile and my father was arrested and taken away during the military coup in Chile.

My father as a political prisoner in Arica, Chile, 1973. (5th from left)
I was alone on the streets for a while, living here and there, thinking of how to get my next meal. I slept in huts, right on the soil, covered with rugs, using my shoes full of holes as a pillow and awaken by a rat every morning. It started there, and it started also when I met a man who used to be one of my father's employees and who gave me money so I could continue living, and he said: "don't let them defeat you". It started also when a distant uncle, Manuel Zamudio Bobadilla, a cousin of my father, opened his home for me so I could live a normal life for a year. It started when Frode Nielsen, the Norwegian  ambassador to Chile, drove hundreds of kilometers to the city where my father was held in prison and interviewed him and approved him to come to Norway.

It started in so many meetings with good people who changed my father's life and my own in small ways, a smile, a sandwich, a word of encouragement. I am also thankful to the people who made this happen in pure practical terms, writing the letters of recommendation. You know who you are, and I am most thankful. It could never have happened without the generous contribution of the sponsor, the Kistefos Public Service Fellowship Fund in Norway. And what can I do to pay back? I could perhaps invite you to never stop doing what people did to me, when I was in need, 39 years ago, give someone a sandwich, hope, generosity.
I could invite you to continue believing that everyone can travel far and to support those whom you see are in despair, and when doing so, changing someone's life a moment at the time.

I know that every now and then, magic happens. And I know where it started. In moments like those when you give to someone who need a meal, a hug, a tender smile, a word of encouragement. It works. Other people's life can be changed. By people like you.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Imagine how much love

This week has been a sad week in Boston. First, two bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday 15th changed the life of many innocent people, of the victims and the families of those who were brutally killed or mutilated. Then, on April 18th, Thursday night, more violence occurred and shootings and explosions did shake the whole city, all due two single individuals who also seem to be the ones who carried the bomb attacks on Monday. Boston is closed today. People are staying inside, business and schools are closed upon the orders of city authorities. The life of millions of people are affected today because these two single individuals who with hearts and minds full of hate, are carrying out these actions.
I remembered the words of Helle Gannestad,a young Norwegian girl who shortly after the Oslo attacks on July 22nd 2011, expressed her thoughts on what we together are able to do in contrast to hate, and I thought that her words could also be applied for the events of this week in Boston (with some minor edits):
"If just two people have all this hate, imagine how much all of us have together".

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A school buss full of children

On December 14th 2012, in Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, a small town in Connecticut, a young man killed 26 people, 20 of them being school children. Soon after, many voices demanded the need for gun control, and at least, to ban semi automatic guns and large ammunition magazines. One of these campaigns is called Demand A Plan, a coalition of a number of US mayors, with many celebrities among their supporters. On the other side of the spectrum, the powerful National Rifle Association, came out with their version and need for exactly the opposite. More guns for the average American and armed guards in all schools across the USA. It is obvious that there will be no easy dialogue between these positions. What do we need? Actually, more people. And how do we get them to listen? One option is to get clarity on the numbers. We hear so often the and so many are victims of violence. And we stop listening. We just go "whatever" in our head. I think we need to be clearer. One way to do this is to explain the numbers in ways that make it so clear that it is irrefutable. We could, e.g say it as The Children Defense Fund is saying it. In 2008, the number of children killed with fire arms was 2,947. This number went down a little bit in 2009, but not much: 2,793 children killed by guns that year. These numbers made me think and I made this meme as you see here. 55 children are killed with fire arms every week. It is the same as one school bus full. Imagine that...a school buss full of children, every week. And we let it happen, because...? Where is your rage, people?

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I attended a lecture the other day, where we watched a speech by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. In a TED speech called "Why we have too few female leaders" Sandberg made her point that women should sit at the table, be more proactive and not timidly avoid positions of influence. I see her point, and indeed, it is important. Every person must raise up and walk her life by her own means. But saying just this it is just too simple. It ignores those structural forces, rules, traditions, policies, customs, culture that forces women - and men - into compliance with the traditional roles. Saying just "sit at the table and rule" has a certain similarity to when rich people say that the poor can stop being poor if they just try a little bit harder. Eloquently, and savvy, Sandberg avoids confrontational words, since she knows it is easier to make friends when speaking softly about self-empowerment, rather than pointing towards the hidden and not so hidden structures which creates these differences. As an example, I wonder, why is it so that women are more often we rather say "well done" to a guy, and "how did you manage" to a woman? Why are we surprised by the accomplishment of women and we take the same from a man as a natural thing? I think things have to said clearly in order to be understood, when the issues are beyond persuasion, but to be solved with negotiation, dialogue and concessions. A distant aunt of mine, Adela Zamudio, the Bolivian poet, the writer, the school teacher, the feminist, she said it as clearly as it can be said in the poem "Nacer hombre" (Be born as a man), which is a poem that makes me smile, knowing what havoc she created when speaking up about these matters in the conservative society that was her home at that time. And I fully see that sadly this is the situation still for many women across the globe. But the thing is that Adela Zamudio was listened to, not because she was silent, but because she spoke out, with a voice of rage and defiance and some things really changed. Without that clarity, that impatience, that intolerance to oppression, things will not change by itself.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

All things considered

This post is not going to be long. It is just a small expression of joy. Justice is coming 39 years after that the Chilean singer Victor Jara was brutally tortured and killed by military officers during the coup in Chile in 1973. A Chilean judge has ordered the arrest of 8 military officers who are responsible for his death.
Victor Jara's voice was, no, I should say is unforgettable.
All of us who have been in exile, have listened to his records.
We thought, we hoped, that maybe one day, justice would come.
And justice came, late indeed, but it came.
Here is my favorite song, Manifesto, with some images of those days which changed the life of millions.

Rest now in peace, Victor Jara.      (For the lyrics in English, follow this link)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy New Year

Six months have passed since I started at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and now I am theoretically, half way to graduation, on May 30th. It makes probably no sense to even try to explain the Kennedy School experience in just one sitting, but I can say that it is like drinking water from a fire hose.

It is just so much, students are brilliant, our professors are excellent, learned people and willing to share. The logistics are optimal. And we get so many guest speakers that I would just like to be here to attend those conferences.

The start of this program was already indicative of what was coming. For all Mason fellows, and later for all Mid Careers, quantitative classes were compulsory this summer, before all students came in. That was just to bring us up to the zero point where we needed to be before the serious stuff started. I had 4,5 courses this semester. (We can take maximum five courses in one semester). One of the greatest surprises was my class "Politics and policies: what can statistics tell us" with professor Deborah Hughes Hallett. One of the success criteria for this class was surely that is an extremely well thought and planned class. Everything was applicable to real issues, and we learned through case analysis. If you six months ago told me that I would actually enjoy this class, I would have said you were too optimistic. Our professor, "Deb", for everyone, is a legend within her field, and she who brought the 80-something students in her class through a respectable amount of curriculum. We are probably not going to be statisticians, but we learn how to make some pretty good questions.
Do not misunderstand me, I have enjoyed all classes this semester, and I could say that "The Homeland Security Enterprise" with professor Juliette Kayyem was a particular new experience for me, understanding how the US thinks and organizes its internal security, and this class in particular has been useful to understand how difficult it must be to run anything of a national policy in a country with 50-something states and territories. Federalism is not an easy thing...and I feel tempted to say... it is like herding cats!
Another class, "Controlling Weapons Proliferation", with professors William Tobey and Matthew Bunn, was an exquisite piece of learning for anyone who wants to know more in a systematic way how to calculate how long time does it take for a nation to enrich uranium, or to understand some of the secrets of negotiating on nuclear issues based on facts with some tough counterparts.Role plays, essays, memos, presentations, all techniques combined to give us an impression on how things can be done in this field.

I had also the great pleasure of learning more about social innovation, in a class called "Sparking Social Change", with professors Archon Fung and Mark Moore, where we went through how to be or reinforce our identity as change makers in any given context, using among other tools,  the "Strategic Triangle", with concepts from different areas of planning, sociology and management. We pushed ourselves to think conceptually on what are we about to do, what is the public value we want to create, who or what is the authorizing environment and what is our legitimacy and support for this plan.

Finally, one of the highlights of this semester has been a course at Harvard Law School, with professor Bruce Hay, where a group of students gathered and discussed systematically several books and articles written by Hanna Arendt, the eminent German philosopher, starting with her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem". A full semester about Hanna Arendt! Imagine that privilege!

I am happy and I am thankful for this opportunity in life. Happy New Year to you all, my friends.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Herding cats

Now a month has passed since I started as a student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and the learning curve is a straight line...going up, up and up. It is indeed a privilege to have the opportunity to get inspiration and ideas from so many bright people here. Funny thing though that despite the high speed on the many things to do, write, read, assignments, etc, there is time to reflect a little bit and to think where I am coming from and where I am going, wondering on the path ahead and what kind of tasks am I getting myself ready to undertake.
One colleague made this amusing presentation on what it means to do coordination...and in many ways, although there are also many exceptions, it is as difficult as trying to advice and provide coordination to independent entities going their own way. I do not have answers for how to solve things like these, but surely I will be looking and thinking on ways for how to improve dialogue and trust between humanitarian partners.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A new adventure: Harvard

Three weeks ago, something extremely unusual happened to me. I got a letter from Harvard University, saying that I have been accepted as a Mason fellow, Mid-Career Master in Public Administration. Now, that letter alone would be one of the happiest moments in anyone's life, but it became better. A couple of weeks later, I received another letter, saying that I had been awarded the generous and prestigious Kistefos scholarship. In the last two weeks I have been all over the place. Happy, proud, smiling, and all the mixed feelings one can get when something spectacular happens in life. It is just a school. Just one year of work. It is just another huge amount of books to read and papers to write. It is just work, as it is normal in life. But it is Harvard! Yeah.

I am here at this point because I have received the help of many who have supported the process. Such as my friend Diego Osorio, who suggested I should apply, and who gave me crucial information and guidance. There are also three important people who wrote their letters of recommendations, and I will not mention them here, but they know that I am most grateful. Thank you, my friends! Thank you!

In today´s Norwegian newspaper called Verdens Gang - VG, there is an article called "From being a refugee to become a Harvard student" telling the story from their perspective. They are also writing that I did not want to have my life in parentheses while living in Norway, that I wanted to live it fully. I am now perhaps too old to say that there my future is still out there, but I do believe that, indeed. Many challenges are there and there are plenty of things that a simple guy from a tiny little city in the Atacama desert can do. And I have to say it: this is just the beginning.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

About a text message from Darfur

After leaving Timor-Leste a year ago, we went to Colombia, as a ProCap Senior Protection Officer, to work on coordination of protection issues and hired by the Norwegian Refugee Council. It has been a good year, besides seeing Colombia again and watching how much and how little things have changed in the ten years that have passed since I used to work there. But back to the title of this posting...which reminded me of the fact that I should tell the story to those of you who wants to know about Darfur. Some weeks ago I got a text message from a IDP camp in South Darfur, saying. "Hello Alfredo, we are eating camel at the market and we are wondering if you still are a vegetarian". This message is hilarious and impressive in so many ways. First, it is amazing that technology is giving us access to the most remote and hostile parts of the world. It is also an interesting message because I envisioned my Darfurian friends sitting there, in the midst of a huge refugee camp, having camel meat for lunch, and thinking of that Chilean friend of them who used to work there...five years ago. It was nothing romantic working in this place, but I wonder how they are doing, what are the challenges and what kind of future do they have. I hope that peace comes soon, very soon to the people of Darfur.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Leaving Timor-Leste

A new year has started. After four years of hard work, the NRC office in Timor-Leste is closed, according to plans. Now my family and I we are having few days of holidays before returning to Norway. Indeed we are a little bit exhausted....It takes a lot of energy to start a mission but closing one is as challenging, if done right.
I have been abroad from Norway since March 2005, first two years in Darfur and four years in Timor-Leste.
There are many things to say about what happens in a job like this during six years. If I was to write a list of things I have learnt during this time, that list would be a book. And perhaps it should be, one day. But not to worry, it will not be something of the cheesy stuff or Hollywood material. If I was to write, I would write about the lessons of resilience that I have learnt, when listening to people in crisis and how they show how powerful people can be when survival is the most important thing to do. I will not forget the tears, the faces and the stories.
Something very beautiful happenned to me in the last weeks I was in Timor-Leste. In a ceremony in Dili on November 28th, at the celebration of the 30th anniversary for the proclamation of independence, President Jose Ramos-Horta awarded me with the Order of Timor-Leste, and I am most grateful. (For an article in Norwegian, click this link).The best thing about this award is that it has many shareholders, since there were hundreds of good people in NRC Timor-Leste who have done an exceptional work, while providing assistance and help to people in need.
My family and I leave behind in Timor-Leste many good stories, friends, experiences and our beautiful dog Pancho, who is now adopted by a good family.
When we first came to Timor-Leste four years ago, the situation was completely different and the challenges were everywhere. Situation has changed and now new opportunities and tasks lies ahead for those colleagues working with development issues. For me, first step is to return to Norway and we will see what comes next. After six years abroad, I look forward going for a long walk in the Norwegian forest.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

When important things go cyberforgotten

Some three years ago I was working in a place called Kalma IDP camp in Darfur, home to more than 90.000 internally displaced people (IDP). Very often they were on international headlines, due to their claims on abuse and violence, and sometimes due to violence inside the camp as well. Many reports and events have occurred since I was working there, and the situation for many of these families has not changed much, although it seems like the general violence has diminished, due to the presence of African UN forces on the ground.
Last month I was made aware of this footage and note aired by CNN, and the curious thing is that I did not know about this note. I remember the interview, but in the limelight of so many complicated events during those difficult months, I never saw it on TV. (For the record: my family name is misspelled at the beginning of the interview).
I realize that there so much information that is stored in places where we will never find them, and reality is still there, sometimes in our face, but we simply ignore it, due to so many reasons. Some of these reasons is the perception of an overload of information; sometimes it is because of political convenience, and sometimes, it is just because we think we don´t need to know everything around us. When finding this note last month, I thought I did not want to forget these people, as they do not forget us. So here they are, as I remember them from three years back.

The CNN note was published on January 26, 2007 — As seen on Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria. The Pulitzer Center Director Jon Sawyer traveled in early 2006 to Sudan, where he spent a week with African Union peace monitors in Darfur.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Growing in times of crisis

(Para leer en castellano, apriete aquí)

I have not blogged in months, busy as I have been working on the rural schools and also on the exit strategy from our mission here in East Timor. I will tell you more about this later. Today I wanted to write about what happened in Chile on February 27th, when an earthquake of 8.8 on the Richter scale did shake my beautiful country, changing the life for hundreds of thousands of people. After the initial fear and violence of the quake, violence, looting and the absence of a culture of solidarity inflicts another trauma. The Government has called in the Army to keep public order. There are already some voices raise up discussing the reasons behind the lootings, but from my point of view, some things are important to be said. Humanitarian assistance is almost always insufficient. It is not enough for everyone. Information plays a crucial role, and people must be told what is happening, and if there is no certainty, at what time more information might be available. It is important to tell what kind of help will be given, where, how and to whom. Humanitarian space is required in order to provide such assistance. This space is provided by the parties and these must ensure the safety of those who provide assistance. I know that I may be writing a lot of theoretical nonsense for many, but for me, in certain occasions, it has been a valuable help to do my job in a good manner and to save lives. I believe that when things are difficult it allows also to move the best parts of human beings and to improve our society. Maybe, we could start with the simple things: no civil servant in Chile – or in the neighborhoods – will fall asleep when trained on disaster prevention or Sphere standards, etc. I believe that in difficult moments of life people must be told the truth, the whole truth, but also give them a horizon and a calendar. And comply with the promises. And if you can’t comply, you must tell. And I have seen that this works, social cohesion is possible to mend. With the truth..

Monday, July 06, 2009

Going somewhere?

This last weekend Valentina and I went to see some of the schools we are working on in the hills of Manatuto, east of Dili (Timor-Leste). So far it could be taken for any excursion in any poor country, where you expect roads to be full of holes and so forth. But forget everything you know about bad roads. The roads we went through this weekend were no roads. It took us about 4 hours of driving to move 20 kilometers, and mind you, this is not the rain season! The drive was worth though, beautiful little villages, and we met these resilient and strong kids.
Click here to see Anicia, Alberto and Elias

The villages, abandoned and almost forgotten by anyone else outside their valley, but with strong parents, pushing for assistance, and now someone has listened. An example is that a german NGO is setting up a water post, pipes, tanks. Another example is our own work. We are setting up simple schools in a traditional manner, working together with the parents of these kids, using local materials (as much as possible) and local labour. So back to the headline, "going somewhere"? It was very funny when coming back to the main road (full of holes and nevertheless it felt like a six lane highway) we saw this traffic sign. And then, I thought of you. And I stopped and got the photo.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Eat Dog

Para leer en español, aprieta aquí.

It had never occurred to me before that my best friend had become someone's dinner. My friend was my dog, Beatriz, or Betty among her friends (look at those eyes!). It happenned one evening when she was figuring out how to play "I run away and you come and catch me" sort of thing, but nobody was actually looking at that moment. So when we started looking, we had no idea where she was. Many hours later, looking everywhere and asking everyone, Betty was still missing. For weeks we drove around with a poster of her in our car, offering a reward and nothing. After a while, an old man told us that he knew who did eat her, but he could not tell. I believe him. This is after all, one of the less atractive characteristics of East Timor (it makes sense though from a food security point of view, but nevertheless, it is not very nice). I have since then actively spread the rumour that eating dog meat is bad for your masculinity. I have no statistics yet if the rumor is functioning.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thinking outside the box

Some months ago we had the visit of the Norwegian scout federation, and they saw the poor education facilities and possibilities which are the reality for most of the children and youth in Timor-Leste. The scouts, as they are always ready, they decided to invite all children and youth in Norway to help kids in Timor-Leste, and that will be done through a national campaign later this year. The funds will go to one of the five youth centers the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has built in Timor-Leste, with education on life skills, numeracy, literacy and vocational training. We are already seeing the good results on how life is changing for many of the kids currently attending the centre. As part of their preparations, the Scouts have prepared this video about their project in Timor-Leste, distributed locally in Norway.