Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Waypoints and Journeys: It was bigger than a dream

Written By: David Denton
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Virginia State University
Published: 8/30/2016
Many people look back in time to find the moment of their initial inspiration. Some people have known what they wanted to be for so long they do not even know what originally inspired them. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to make a difference in the world. The idea of meeting people and positively impacting their lives appeared to be spiritually rewarding.

I grew up in one of the worst parts of the Bronx where changing the world was not realistic. As a result of being surrounded by limited resources, I was only given a few options in life. I wanted to prove that no matter how bad one’s environment is or how many times people try to discourage you, with a little hard work, dedication and a dream, anything is possible.

During high school I began to volunteer in under served communities. These same communities reminded me of home because they were full of my first memories of public education… struggle and vice, the crippling rapture of social inequality, and the blight of poverty.  Growing up Jamaican-American in the projects reminds me of the blues.  You can trade suicides for homicides, gang violence for police brutality, childhood pregnancy for mental illness, rats for roaches and wet books from leaking ceilings for substitute teachers quitting at lunch hour. I thought that I was impacting the world but as I read the news, I realized these issues were much greater than the issues I experienced at home. During college, I embarked on many career-defining moments. As I studied biology, I developed a love for public health in conjunction with my innate interest in resolving community and global issues that impacted the youth. Despite all of my progress, I was still confused on the where? and the how?
It happened…

In June of 2010, I received an email from my brother in law with the subject line stating "Peace Corps". He introduced me to an excerpt from Machiavelli's, The Prince, written 1513: "[one] should think about the adventure that one can bring to the world. Chapter XXV- Fortune is the arbiter of one half of our actions…. (Destiny or fate). Preparation, caution, patience, discipline, It is better to be adventurous than cautious."

At the time, I was stubborn focusing on life at a smaller scale and I didn't see how relevant the content in that email was to my future. A handful of emails later, the content from June 18th was forgotten, a lost thread that lingered. I continued to work on changing the lives around me in hopes that I would fulfill my purpose on this earth. Little did I know that life's circles would bring me back to that email years later.

After graduating college, I landed a job in Atlanta, GA as a case manager promoting public health education, psychoeducation, substance abuse awareness and suicide prevention. I loved the work I was doing but the idea of wanting to change the world was still on my mind. As time passed, I was fortunate to travel to Brazil as a Global Leader Fellow. There, I connected communities and provided access to transformative learning experiences for high school students by linking them to resources within the United States. I knew I was coming closer to achieving my life-long dream. It was at that moment when so much of what I had been told for years, and what I knew to be true, actually clicked. I remembered that email my brother in law sent me. I finally applied and was accepted to serve in the Peace Corps in Fiji.

Continuing the process..

After receiving my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps in the health and youth development sectors, I decided to be as proactive as possible. I immersed myself into learning more about global issues. I began reading articles and researching different seminars to obtain more knowledge about the impact of these issues. During my search, I stumbled upon a yearly annual Global Health Summit hosted by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta. This year’s summit was focused on health and refugees, which I found to be relevant and impactful because 2015 had the highest number of refugees and displaced people throughout the world.

I wanted to continue to enhance my understanding of critical world issues. After discussing my background with the program manager, she did more than just invite me to the summit, she provided me with an opportunity to intern during the summer. This couldn't have come at a better time. My strategy was to remain open minded and as a result I found interest in more than just public health issues.  I realized that that these issues were influenced by politics and policies. The program exposed me to ambassadors, policy advisers, and other experts in this space.

Working with an ambassador who was full of life, humble group leaders and other dedicated interns influenced my adventure at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta to be extraordinary. We were a very unique and diverse bunch. I met some great people during this experience, learned a ton, and spent the majority of my time engaging with others in a light-hearted and humorous manner. There were never any dull moments during my internship. I learned more about myself, and the values of our global community than I could have ever imagined. Overall, this experience gave me a new perspective on cultural differences, beautiful, gratifying memories and newfound friends.

Finally, I understood why spreading awareness was important. While working as a case manager I went door to door and helped under privileged kids and adults understand more about the things that impacted their neighborhoods, schools and families. It was very personal for me because of my upbringing. By interning at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta I became more aware of global issues. I learned about the impacts of development aid, global health issues like Zika and refugees, trans pacific partnerships, and globalized sports to name a few. The internship reminded me of when I was in high school; I realized that there were issues far greater than the ones I experienced in my housing projects. I realized that global and domestic issues go hand in hand. As Nelson Mandela stated "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  As I travel to Fiji this August I will keep all of these experiences in mind and spread awareness on why it is important to inspire our youth to be the global citizens and international leaders of tomorrow.

Monday, August 22, 2016

New York, New York…

Written By: Clarissia Bourdeau
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Georgia State University
Published: 8/22/2016
This past March I had the honor of representing Georgia State University at the National Model United Nations Conference (NMUN).  My experience as emulating a delegation from Indonesia showed me how important diplomacy, negotiation, understanding, and creating a win-win situation play pivotal roles in resolving some of the world crisis. My discussion with other delegations not only allowed me to gain new perspectives, insights and ideas as I discussed international politics with students from all over the world, but it also showed me how every country plays a part in creating a safe and sustainable world for future generations. Within that week, due to discussions with people until midnight, debates, and ideas coming to me while sleeping, I along with my fellow teammates was able to create comprehensive resolutions for the issues that the world was facing. NMUN not only allowed me to meet new people, but it also encouraged me to increase my confidence, and ultimately diminish my fear, in public speaking, create new connections and to always be a mediator.

The months leading up to NMUN I had to undergo training. This training allowed me to strengthen my public speaking skills, increase my awareness of what my fellow committee members might want and to understand the importance of trying and getting the best deals for everyone. With the support of my advisor and team members I was not only able to face my fears and realize how important public speaking is to making your opinions, thoughts, idea and goals known, but how it is also a powerful resource in a committee with hundreds of other students. It can create a pathway to open up discussions and create dialogues on some of the most sensitive topics in the world. By the end of my week in committee, I truly learned why speaking up and solidifying that your ideas are known is not being combative, but creating a platform for a discussion on your thoughts to begin.

My internship at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta allowed me to gain more insight into the international community. As a Political Science major with a concentration in International Affairs, this internship has given me front row access to an intuitive discussion on things that are going on the world. The information that I have learned from the programs I have attended and people that I have met has allowed me to combine the information I gained at the NMUN conference and my internship and has given me a better perspective on global crisis and how the international community and individual countries are trying to handle the situation.

As I reflect upon the last several months I have come to realize how attending NMUN and getting this amazing internship; I have evolved. When I began this internship, I started to think about what I wanted my role in the international community to be and what my ultimate goals are, by the end I have sealed my career path and have decided that opening discussion, dialogues and being a mediator are what I want to do.  My week in New York allowed me to realize the international community collective goals were and how they were meeting, but my internship allowed me to understand what I needed to do to ensure the international community succeeded in their mission.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Trip to India

Written By: Jarred Schmitz
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Georgia State University
Published: 8/16/2016

As the automatic doors open leaving the airport in Mumbai I am hit with the ever present humidity of South Asia. The smell of curry, masala, and incense fill my nose while I get my first taste of the loud crackling Hindi music playing in the background of the entire country. While I try to cope with the overwhelming stimulus of this new world I have entered, I look out at the mob of people searching for my friends’ mother who is there to pick me up, and as soon as I find her in the crowd the reality hits me…. I am in India! 

When I accepted the offer to accompany an Indian-American friend on a trip to this incredible land I had no idea what was in store.  A simple invitation of “would you like to go see my niece’s wedding” extended by his mother resulted in boarding a plane five months later preparing for a month-long adventure discovering this wonderful country in South Asia.  I distinctly remember riding in a taxi home from the airport and looking out at the dense throng of people in this huge city of Mumbai where in the middle of the night the roads were packed with traffic, people out walking around, stores still open selling products all night long.  The biggest shock of that first car ride was the livestock in the middle of the road in the world’s third largest city standing next to luxury cars like BMW’s and Ferrari’s!  I rode for probably forty-five minutes with my jaw dropped at how crazy this new world was I had just landed in.  I quickly learned that India is a country of incredible paradox.  There is extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme conservative traditionalism and extreme progressive liberalism, extreme nationalism and extreme regionalism, and everything in between.  I was floored at the vastness of society, never before had I seen such wealth and such poverty living next to one of the world’s fastest growing and largest middle classes.  Many people go to India and come back having seen the poverty and think “wow, what a shame”, I finished my month in that country coming back saying “wow, what opportunity!”, it wasn’t long ago there was almost no middle class, and society was truly divided between the haves and the have-nots. 

Over the next month I visited temples, historical sites, and ate so much different food I couldn’t keep track.  The first two weeks were spent in south India, experiencing the distinct south Indian culture and cuisine.  In this tropical climate, I ate shrimp curry, and tried coconut prepared in more ways than I thought possible.  I listened to the south Indian dialect, and was eventually able to distinguish it from the northern regions like Punjab, where I spent the last half of my trip..  My friend’s family was able to show me the northern culture and ways it differed from the southern.  There were distinct cultural differences in northern India, and the Punjabi food seemed to be much more flavored.  My taste-buds were overwhelmed! Sweets were almost over-sweetened, and spices were almost too spicy for me to eat.  I was told this is the Punjabi way of preparing meals, and while it was overwhelming, I loved every minute of it.  

On my last day in this country I boarded a bus to take me from Chandigarh to Delhi.  I rode for almost nine hours in this bus taking pictures of the beautiful Punjabi countryside as we exited and entered New Delhi.  At the bus stop, I found a taxi driver to take me to a few more places I wanted to see in New Delhi, then another to take me to the airport.  As I had a few hours before check-in at the airport, I asked the man to show me “his” Delhi.  He was kind enough to give me a driving tour for two hours, taking me to every part of the city he could get to, we bought chai, samosas to eat, and chewed paan, a spiced tobacco popular in south Asia.  When we pulled up to the airport and I walked inside, I was once again floored at the paradox of this incredible country.  After riding in a taxi cab for two hours through the city I walked into one of the most modern and advanced airports I had ever seen.  I sat down on a bench eating food from a corporate-owned chain restaurant then boarded the plane.  As the plane left the ground and I was able to relax knowing I had nowhere to go for sixteen hours, I reminisced on a mind-blowing month.  I thought about how wonderful my friends Suraj and Rey had been to allow me to live with their family and about how hospitable everyone had been.  While it was time to go home, (mainly because I ran out of money) I looked out the window knowing I would be returning someday soon, hopefully for longer, understanding that I had not scratched the surface of what this wonderful country had to offer.

Disability Rights – Worldwide

Written By: James Seidl
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Oglethorpe University
Published: 8/16/2016
In 2016, everything is supposed to be easier. If you want food, you go to the store. If you need water, you turn on a faucet. If you need to go somewhere, you get in a car, or take a flight. In many developed countries in the world, particularly those with a high standard of living, daily activities are relatively easier, and the quality of life is better for just about everyone. This quality of life may not translate to the majority of the disabled population. Surely in countries like the United States that passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, which “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation,” have substantially better lives. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.
Even within the U.S., there is a stigma associated with being disabled, not all facilities are ADA compliant, and even the ones that claim to be compliant, are barely over the margin. For example, consider a convenience store The disables are forced to circle the building to enter through a back service door, only meant for employees, just to make a purchase. A viable option would be to have an accessible entrance with a ramp. If a disabled person is graduating from school, have they not earned the right to cross the stage, and to take the same route as everyone else who is graduating? Apparently, my county did not think so. There were stairs on either side of the stage, and while there was a ramp on the back of it, it was steep, dark, and invisible to the crowd and my family. It was unfair that I was unable to walk with the rest of my class. No one enjoys being different from everyone else solely because they have a condition.

In China, the social stigma associated with being disabled is far more negative there than in the U.S. If you were to look at China solely by its laws, you would assume that China is the global example for disability rights. Introduced in 1990, their ‘Laws on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities’, offer a strong and wide-range protections for the civil rights of the disabled. In principle, these protections include: guaranteed employment, education, welfare, and accessibility. Unfortunately, despite these progressive laws, Chinese cities make few concessions to disabled people, showing little to no effort to act in accordance with the laws, or they are implemented in a way that accommodates the needs of the disabled. For example, sociologist Yu Jianrong documented raised pathways for the blind often lead into dead ends, bollards, trees or open pits, or even spiral decoratively, but misleadingly. Outside of Shanghai and Beijing, wheelchair access is non-existent. Guide dogs are effectively forbidden from most public spaces, despite the authorities’ repeated promises of full access. The Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games was nothing but a hastily built fa├žade. As a bus driver told the Global Times in 2012: “We never allow guide dogs on board, except during the 2008 Olympic Games,” Ramps were hastily installed at hotels and stadiums. Meanwhile, beggars, including the disabled, were cleared out of the streets for the duration by police unwilling to let the capital’s face be blemished.

Ambitious government pledges go unfulfilled across the country. While the law says that children with special needs are entitled to proper schooling, there are no provisions for funding. Local authorities regularly turn away children, telling them to go to ‘special facilities’ elsewhere that do not exist, or are far out of their parents’ financial or geographical reach. As a result, according to a 2013 report by Human Rights Watch, 43% of disabled Chinese are illiterate, compared with only 5% of the general population. According to Handicap International, only a third receive the services they need, and only a fifth get assistive devices, such as walkers, prosthetics, or adapted software. It is not uncommon for welfare funds to be stolen, delivered late, or altogether inaccessible. In the countryside, disabled children fare far worse. Often, they are confined within the house and kept away from outside eyes. Employees of NGOs tell horror stories of what they have seen. Most children are shut away from sight or sound, trapped in fear, malnutrition and neglect, left to moan like animals. Sometimes, they are even chained to prevent escape, or to “ease the pressure” on parents or grandparents already struggling under poverty and shame.

Disability rights is a worldwide dilemma, which cannot be solved until there is a higher level of empathy and awareness for the hardships that disabled persons around the world endure on a daily basis.

Sources: https://aeon.co/essays/what-is-life-like-for-disabled-people-in-china

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Friend or Foe: Exploring China’s motives for aid in Africa

Written By: Brazil Fagan
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, University of Georgia
Published: 8/4/2016
China’s growing influence in Africa has become a point of controversy and promise in the last decade. With critics citing that China’s aid with few conditions are just a method for China to extract Africa’s many natural resources. While supporters of foreign aid believe the China-Africa economic alliance is a partnership where both members mutually benefit. Critics contend that China’s loose; seemingly condition-free loaning is just a method to extract Africa’s valuable natural resources. Indeed, China has been friendly with a number of countries ruled by unsavory regimes. Supporters of China’s aggressive development, though, see China-Africa relations as a mutually beneficial partnership. A closer look into the details reveals that the majority of China’s foreign aid is in the form of concessional loans for infrastructure. Concessional loans stipulate that China, in return for its investment, will reap most of the financial benefits of the project or plant. Between 2010 and 2012, 55.7 percent of China’s foreign aid was in the form of concessional loans. Additionally, most of the loans were for infrastructure investments projects that ultimately benefit China’s evolving private sector.

China’s checkbook generosity in the form of charitable aid is another source of tension. Aid can be a blessing and a curse. If successfully reinvested, aid can reduce poverty, fund noble foundations, and provide relief for natural disasters and jumpstart a nation’s economy. If not, aid can be a drug to developing countries, creating a sense of dependency. Postdoctoral research fellow Roudabeh Kishi and professor of political geography Clionadh Raleigh explained when China gives aid to a particular country, the government tends to turn against their own people and also they become more violent against their citizens. Another factor in China’s expansion in Africa is that China is not proportionally hiring locals, but they are bringing their own task force.  Though these figures cannot be confirmed due to government to government deals, immigration policy, and other reasons, there are an estimated “one million Chinese migrants working across 54 countries” (Yoon Jung Park, Perspective). These migrants are no different from other migrants seeking a better life in a different country, but with some African countries’ high unemployment, this fact is daunting and unsettling.

Though China’s investments in Africa are complex, there is not significant evidence that China’s partnership is immoral. China has been quite pragmatic with its relations with Africa. A benefit of the partnership for African countries is that China does not have any interest in changing the sociopolitical culture of its partners. Since China is not a member of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), their donations do not come with clauses for democracy or social well beings.

Why is this a positive attribute of China’s financing strategies? Well, promoting democracy and social welfare can be an expensive task for a developing country. Cultural factors can also make promoting these conditions impossible. These factors are also one of the reasons why African countries are turning away from Western ones. Chinese firms have created jobs, improved local infrastructure, and created vocational education programs in Africa. South African President Jacob Zuma favors China-Africa relations and believes that their partnership can be a catalyst for economic growth. China will loan $500m to South Africa’s state power company to improve nuclear co-operation.

The impact of China’s aggressive development in Africa will not be fully seen until the future. However, China’s actions will either create a strong and formidable business partnership capable of setting new standards for the global economy or it will produce a debt filled maze that will burn China, exploit Africa, and destabilize the global community.