Month: June 2014

Choice vs Risk

If you have ever taken a 100 or 200 level International Development course with Dr. Larry Swatuk you will know that development = maximizing choice and minimizing risk. The cycle of poverty puts people in between a rock and a hard place. It forces people to do what they would not do under ‘normal’ (whatever that means) circumstances – usually in pursuit of their own, and their family’s life.

Drugs of all kinds are a daily fact of life in the favelas of Brazil. A Channel 4 news reporter wanted to meet the individual providing much of the community with these drugs. To his surprise it was a middle-aged mother of three. She sells everything from glue to crack-cocaine.

When asked about her clientele she says age doesn’t matter. She sells to everyone. Later on, however, between tears she says that she often turns down the young kids asking for crack-cocaine because all she can think about is someone else doing that to her kids. She couldn’t imagine someone selling drugs to her children therefore she can’t do that to someone else’s child.

This mother of three says that the very drug she sells to feed her children is “the devil’s drug. It came for three reasons: to kill, to steal, to destroy.” She is between a rock and a hard place; her risk of not being able to provide is high and her choices to diversify means of provision are limited.

Choice is something us Westerners seriously take for granted. I’m not much of a foodie so I always remark when others can discuss food (I mean cupcake flavours, not the unequal distribution of food resources in corrupt countries, for example) for a sustained period of time. Some days I feel like our (Westerners’) largest daily dilemma is if we should get the main entrée or just a burger for dinner. I mean, the Watson’s Eatery (the cafeteria here at the St. Paul’s University College) menu gets taken seriously here, folks.

I’m not saying it’s bad to discuss or care about what we will eat. I think it is a sign of a healthy relationship with food, which is very important. But I think we take our choices for granted and in that, can lose sight of the realities of the world that we live in. As much as I’d like to, I cannot change the global risk versus choice equation to eliminate poverty. But, I can be aware of them and at least for the rest of the day be absolutely grateful for the choices I have at my fingertips and the minimum risks I have to take to attain them.

What’s the ‘riskiest’ thing you’ve done lately?

…Post script: I can’t help but remark how even this question exposes how much choice I have because I was going to use the word today instead of lately, but thought “that’s too often, we don’t have to expose ourselves to significant risk everyday!

…Much of the 100% does.

A Guarani child embraces a dead rat.

A Guarani child embraces a dead rat.

“It’s not a good life.”

My last blog touched on how statistics about the sex industry during large sporting events are exaggerated. Human trafficking and sex working, however, are still issues in need of attention. Several organized social justice advocates have collaborated to create the It’s A Penalty Campaign. The initiative is to reduce sexual exploitation of children during the World Cup.

The campaign takes a legal approach. The main message is to fans and foreigners, reminding them that sex with a minor (under 17 years old) is illegal, or offside. Prosecution can take place in Brazil and in an offender’s home country.

Although the campaign is backed by: the Metropolitan Police, the Football Association, the British Prime Minister, the UK and Brazilian Governments and the Brazilian Federal Police, I’m not convinced it will be effective. Legal backing is necessary. A lack of legal intervention is often a significant contributor to the prosperity of the sex trafficking industry.

The campaign is just another Band-Aid solution. It doesn’t reach the problem at the root but at a fast-paced, high-energy event like FIFA, I think it is a good approach.

The campaign raises awareness about sex trafficking. This is a warning to foreigners looking for a “good time”, it encourages strict legal enforcement and focuses its attention on the offender rather than the victim, as I mentioned in my last blog.

Susan Ormiston of CBC News says that some food vendors at the World Cup sell more than just food. Some have resorted to putting their children in the sex industry to make a quick profit. The situation gets more complicated when children become victims at the hands of their own parents – where they should be the most safe. While I don’t believe any parent would want to do that, they do. There is something very wrong with the economy (and I don’t mean how much it is or is not growing) when this is how people are making a living.

To add to the objectification of human beings, taxi drivers in Brazil have a menu of girls where buyers can take their pick based on size, age and hair colour. A counselor with Happy Child International (one of the organizations partnering to operate the It’s A Penalty Campaign), Rubia Uchoa says, “It’s sad. This is a system.” Hopefully one that is weakened by a more strongly enforced legal system.

Economic activity and tourism have evidently increased in Brazil, but with all problems development, the vulnerable population remains the most vulnerable. Their opportunity at economic activity is a few new faces to turn tricks for – hardly an opportunity.

Susan Ormiston was talking to people working in the sex industry. One girl, called Jeanne, was originally too timid to share any of her story. She did have something she felt was worth sharing at the end of the interview however, “tell the girls in Canada not to get into this. It’s not a good life.”

Pregnant teen smoking in one of Brazil's favelas.

Pregnant teen smoking in one of Brazil’s favelas.

Viva o FIFA!

Unless you’re living under a rock, you will know that the World Cup starts this Thursday. I am not a sports fanatic, but I do think it is a wonderful way to bring the world together. As I stated in a past blog, however, large sporting events such as these always cause me to question why such events are prioritized when there is so must injustice happening at the same time and usually at the same place. I am evidently biased in viewing sporting events this way but when it involves the emotional and physical freedom of a child, I do not apologize for that.

Human trafficking in relation to the World Cup has become a hot topic in the media since the 2006 games in Germany. Sonja Dolinsek, a blogger and PhD student sheds some objective and encouraging light on the subject.

Firstly, Dolinsek clarifies that human trafficking and sex working are not the same thing. Many sex workers migrate to areas of sporting events in hopes of finding more work. While this choice of employment offers much to be discussed, I will focus on trafficking. I believe individuals – no, victims, seriously,  let’s not overdo this political correctness thing- in the sex trafficking industry are not there by choice.

Statistics on human trafficking in relation to sporting events, Dolinsek found, have oftentimes been severely overestimated. Oftentimes this was just because the estimates were not based on sound data. There is no empirical link between sporting events and an increase in human trafficking.

As with many issues, development or not, there is a misallocation of resources. Here, the resources being media and the general public’s attention. Anti-trafficking campaigns, Dolinsek argues, have been more harmful at times than helpful. The priority given to trafficking has lead people away from the causes of trafficking related to sporting events – namely displacement and employment …or the lack thereof. When families are kicked out of their homes in attempts to ‘clean up’ the city people (children especially) are put in more vulnerable situations. This exploitation is due to the “structural factors that existed before sports event and will exist thereafter.”

These facts are difficult to hear but they provide encouragement to anyone interested, that progress is being made in the anti-trafficking struggle. It is informative because it gives people that are trying to make a difference in the industry of human trafficking a place to start.

Dolinsek argues that a good place to begin is to pressure the government for different policing strategies. Their increase in monitoring the industry puts sex workers in a more vulnerable spot and instead of working against sex-workers, they should be working for them. For their safety, and ideally help them find a source of income from something more fulfilling to the individual, the economy and society.

Statistics need to be presented based on reliable data. Misinformation distorts the situation and does not further a solution.

Lastly, the amount of exploitation during the World Cup is vast. The labour force needed for an event like this is made up of construction, food services, lodging and merchandise workers – among many more. Severe violations of human and labour rights are possible here just as much (if not more, based on what I just mentioned) as in the sex-selling industry.

Dolinsek’s article is a reminder to stay focused and realize what the issues being ‘solved’ are. She also provides hope that it is possible to at least further an end to human trafficking. That being said, I am excited to see the way this event brings different parts of the 100% together – in a completely pure, mutual, edifying way.

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Who are you cheering for in the World Cup?

Feeding Your Soul

I never understood the appreciation that students always seem to have for free food, until this term, living away from home. When I’m really hungry, it’s pretty difficult to focus on anything else. To get a satisfying meal for free just makes it that much better. Some may say there’s no such thing as a free lunch but there is at Soul Kitchen!

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Singer and restaurant founder Jon Bon Jovi inside Soul Kitchen.

It’s a communal restaurant founded by musician Jon Bon Jovi. There are no prices on the menu instead guests are encouraged to give what they can – whether in money or time. Volunteers get a nutritious meal and gain employable skills by trained staff that they may not have had before.

Some volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts, some volunteer because they have more time than money. The restaurant understands the financial struggle that many people go through and will therefore give priority to volunteers who are only able to pay with their time.

Community is another priority at Soul Kitchen. Guests are encouraged to share their meal with another customer whom they may have never met before to discuss the initiatives of the kitchen, the community and establish stronger relationships.

The restaurant uses fresh, local ingredients in their dishes. They have their own garden vegetable from which everything is organic. Their meals are three course containing an appetizer, main dish and a baked dessert as well as offering vegetarian options.

The restaurant is evidently a not-for-profit, therefore the people that are there are so because they want to be. Each dish is made with care and customers are treated like friends.

Soul Kitchen is a good example of development work. Development is complex but one step at a time is a good start. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs food is the first one. Not only does Soul Kitchen take care of that but also provides customers with a sense of community and relationship – the third need on the hierarchy. Development is also about people. Listening to their stories, their needs and meeting them where they are. When the little things are taken care of, the larger issues seem more approachable.

Food is a psychological experience as much as a physical one, as Soul Kitchen believes: “a healthy meal can feed the soul.”