Tag Archives: refugees

#Gaza5K – where every step and $$ counts

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In a couple of weeks I’ll be walking, not running, in the #Gaza5K to raise funds for UNRWA-USA to support the Gaza mental health progran for Palestinian refugees.  This will be my 3rd year and I’m really looking forward to it.

My goal is $1000 this year.  As of August 21, I’m 1/4 of the way there so I really need to focus on my fundraising and would appreciate any donation of any size. Donations are tax deductible, and I’m confident that the funds are spent wisely.  Please check out my story here.   And here’s my story and photos from the #Gaza5K last year when I exceeded my goal of $2,000. To make a safe and secure donation, please click here.  Thank you!

 

 

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Refugees deserve dignity!

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News on local TV channel in Greece

They’re stripped of their country, their livelihoods, their homes, possessions and often their families, but they shouldn’t have their dignity stripped from them too.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, estimates that as of 2015, there are approximately 21.3 million refugees worldwide, more than half of them under the age of 18. UNHCR’s database is a sobering reflection of the magnitude of the refugee crisis now, as well as over time.

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Afghan refugee in a camp on the mainland of Greece

I abhor the notion of disaster tourism, and had to think long and hard about my motivation for traveling to Greece to witness this unfolding tragedy. When the opportunity came to join a small group (Operation Refugee Child) that was distributing donations from the U.S., I decided to join them, not to gawk and snap a ton of photos, but to learn about the realities of this crisis and share what I learned with others. Maybe together, we can all make a difference. (Read my ideas for making a difference at the end.)

There are approximately 45+ official refugee camps across Greece, and likely many unofficial encampments. I visited 5 very different camps on the mainland. The common denominator among each was the large number of children.

An alarming number of children are traveling alone. If they survive their harrowing journey, most will miss at least 2 years of school, maybe more, which will have serious long-term impacts on this generation.

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Each refugee has a story to share and most want to share and be heard.

The NGO organizers in one camp we visited are hoping to bus the children to the community schools in September to help them learn Greek and get acclimated with Greek children and the Greek educational system. In 2017, their goal is for these children to attend school full-time. I suspect this particular camp sets the gold standard in planning for the children’s educational needs. Although education is a basic right, most refugee children will not be so fortunate.

Some camps appeared more organized than others, even conducting elections for representatives to the “Resident Council” – a sort of democracy under a dictatorship one person explained, but all of the camps are a work-in-progress. Most have just opened in recent months, and there was a definite feeling that each is struggling with growing pains. I learned that there are international standards for the construction of refugee camps, but I have no idea how these camps in Greece measured up against those standards.

One camp was located on acres and acres of concrete without a tree or any vegetation in sight. Hundreds of shipping containers were lined up row after row, and the refugees were queuing to await the distribution of food boxes, very near to a huge pile of food scraps. The place was filthy and many people (old and young) had skin rashes. Refugees have reported problems with mosquitos and snakes. A refugee told me the care at the clinic onsite was very poor. A Syrian dentist said he would like to help but he needs basic dental equipment.

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A smaller refugee camp was spread out beneath the shade of trees with tents self-organized into smaller blocks of “neighborhoods.”  As we arrived, a truck was delivering porta-showers and porta-potties. A big improvement over the situation in the early days of the refugee crisis last year when thousands of refugees arriving on Lesvos Island had no facilities and were living, eating and defecating on the streets in Mytilene. The Greek government was very slow to respond. A local resident told me that the international NGOS and volunteers were the best first-responders to the crisis.

Many of the refugees have spent months in little tents and I wonder how the loss of privacy and stability has impacted them. I sat with one family whose newborn (only 45 days old) was laying on a blanket on the floor next to a small fan. The mother gestured around to the disheveled contents strewn on the floor gently chewing out her husband for bringing strangers to their tent under these conditions.

The controversial EU-Turkey deal signed on March 20 has slowed the number of refugees arriving in Greece, but they’re still coming and the needs remain as urgent as ever.

On MARCH 20th the European Union signed a deal with Turkey which was meant to help stem the flow of refugees making their way to Europe. As part of the agreement, any “new irregular migrants” who arrived in Greece after that date would be sent back to Turkey. In return EU member states will accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every one sent back, and speed up visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals.

I heard some animosity about the EU-Turkey agreement from refugees, volunteers and even Greek citizens. It’s certainly not popular. I met a young man from Pakistan who said his brother had been returned to Turkey and is now sitting in a jail there.

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Charging cell phones is a 21st century necessity.

Who is in control?  That’s the question I tried unsuccessfully to answer during my short visit to Greece. We entered a couple of refugee camps and found no one in charge, although the UNHCR signs were visible. The Greek military was ostensibly in charge at one camp, sitting lethargically in a military jeep observing the food distribution line, but it was difficult to rouse them to respond to a riot breaking out on the other side of the camp.

At another camp, there were some Greeks wearing official-looking vests sitting around smoking, but a refugee came up and told us that if we handed over our supplies to the Greeks, the refugees would never see the donations. Corruption, at least at that camp, was a problem.

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An American woman, Director of Operations for DoYourPart.org, is the matriarch of one of the smaller camps we visited. She stressed that Colonel “SomeoneorOther” was actually in charge but the residents (not called “refugees”) in the camp were like her family. She clearly was a professional and knew what was needed and how to get it done. If she could be cloned and sent to every camp in Greece, I suspect many of the problems we saw would be remedied.

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In my last couple of hours on Lesvos Island, I ducked into a neighborhood bar-cafe to escape the brutal sun. Four young men in the corner were also cooling off and recharging their cell phones. I walked over and asked if anyone spoke English. They all nodded, and I asked if I could sit down and talk with them. They’re from Pakistan but only met each other on Lesvos Island. They shared their treacherous journey from Pakistan to Iran to Turkey and finally to Lesbos. One man said he only ate 4 of the 21 days of his journey. They showed me pictures on their cell phone of people crammed into the trunk of a car. Now they’re waiting for their papers so they can move on.

I walked to the Port and boarded my ferry back to the mainland.  I watched as the security personnel checked every vehicle, underneath, on top and inside, for stowaways. They caught four refugees, handcuffed them and put them into a paddy wagon before being deported. I’ve learned about the harrowing risks that many refugees take, and I’m outraged about how our refugee system is failing the most vulnerable when they need our help the most.

What can Americans do? 

Many of us want to help but the magnitude of the crisis might seem overwhelming, and whatever we might be able to do is but a drop in the ocean. But remember what Mother Teresa said: “It’s a drop in the ocean, but after this drop the ocean will never be the same again.”

I put that question to a bookstore owner on Lesvos. When she saw the flood of refugees on the streets of Mytilene, she wanted to do something for the children. She set up a Facebook page asking for donations of toys, and soon had boxes and boxes of toys from all over the world arriving at her doorstep. She and a couple of friends distributed the toys directly to the children, and received tons of smiles in return.

She had to pause and think. What can Americans do to help? Then she told me that Americans should be pressuring their government to end the wars in the Middle East. We need to look at the root cause of the problem. What’s driving millions of people to flee their homes and risk death?

  1. Educate ourselves about the refugee crisis and the root causes; then educate others, and then urge Congress and the President to end America’s involvement and support for wars in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. We should also be pressuring the U.S. government to accept a greater number of refugees seeking asylum.
  2. Support others who are working on the ground in the hotspots like Lesvos Island and in the camps on mainland Greece. One such organization is DoYourPart.org. Another is Operation Refugee Child. Be careful. Not all NGOs are created equal.
  3. Volunteer your time and talents on-site. Review this orientation document prepared for people who are thinking about volunteering. Check this list for specific tasks and experience needed. If you’re a lawyer/advocate, consider volunteering your services to the refugees seeking asylum. Check out Advocates Abroad.
  4. Pray or meditate in whatever tradition works for you. Keeping these refugees, especially the children, in our hearts and minds will help focus energy and goodwill on this crisis. (I know this sounds crazy to some but I believe there’s power in our hearts if we’d only learn how to tap into it.)

An American architect has designed and presented a plan to the United Nations and the Greek government to build sustainable, short-term housing for the refugees.  I saw his presentation at a conference in Rome in June.

An innovative project to help manage the refugee crisis has recently been proposed by Richard M. Economakis, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, and is now under consideration by officials of the United Nations, the European Union and the Greek government.

Economakis proposes the creation of temporary refugee villages on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kos and other Mediterranean sites where refugees first arrive in Europe. The buildings would be constructed of sun-dried brick — or adobe — which is inexpensive, locally available and easily and quickly produced and assembled. A typical village, arranged in pinwheel fashion around a central square, would include 800 housing units, each accommodating up to 10 people, making for a total population of some 8,000, approximately equivalent to the number of refugees now arriving on Greek islands daily.

Refugee Brochure, English - Adjusted

We can each make a difference. We must try!

 

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4 observations after 3 days in Greece

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Young men watching soccer (futbol) game in Patras, Greece.

Three days in Greece is not enough time to draw any conclusions about the refugee crisis or even much about the state of affairs in this economically bruised and battered country. So I’m only sharing observations.  Opinions and conclusions will come later.

Observation #1 — Every other block in central Patras has an empty storefront. Patras is the 3rd largest city (pop. over 200,000) in Greece and a major commercial port tying Greece to Italy and Western Europe, but there’s a tangible feeling of melancholy hanging over everything. I rode a city bus out to the city’s southern neighborhoods and found the same. At least one vacant storefront on nearly every block. There was also evidence of alot of deferred public maintenance visible along the sidewalks, streets, parks and public plazas. On two different occasions, a young child came up to me asking me to buy their trinkets. Old men were walking around selling what looked to me to be lottery tickets. I saw many men and women in my age bracket (60+) out in the public spaces hustling their fellow Greeks, not tourists. I couldn’t understand them, but their despair was clear.

Observation #2 — The Communist youth group in Greece opposes the government’s plan to legalize cannabis for medical/health purposes. Why? Because they believe the government’s motive is to make the citizens stupid and control their heads. The pamphlets they distributed included information about the growing movement in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. One organizer told me in her broken English “Capitalism is bad” and I sensed from her perspective that if the U.S. was doing it (legalizing marijuana) then it must be bad. I watched members of the group making their signs, setting up the sound speakers and trying to organize a rally with music and speakers. Their youthful enthusiasm reminded me of Occupy Wall Street, but without the critical thinking. It was such a dismal affair, with very little interest from the public and the musicians didn’t know how to do much more than strum a few bars and do “mic check” for more than an hour. I decided to take a bus ride and return later, but by 9:00 pm I called it quits.

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Mural in Patras, Greece

Observation #3 — I met a young Greek man (29) back home on vacation from London where he’s living now and cooking. He’s a trained chef. He says he can make good money in London, even after paying rent and “living with dignity.” He’s saving money and wants to return to Greece in a better position. The current economic crisis in Greece is “very complicated” he told me. A combination of corrupt Greek politicians and civil servants who defrauded the citizens, as well as Germany and the EU blaming Greek citizens for being lazy and stupid to elect such idiots in the first place. Now the pensioners have been hit hard, their monthly stipend from the government has been greatly reduced forcing many into poverty.  (This report from Sept. 2015 – Greece: A Perfect Storm – confirms the pensioners’ hardships.) When I asked him what he thought about the future, he said he doesn’t know, but he has to be optimistic. He loves his country. We were sitting on a bus riding from Patras to Athens on the second most dangerous road in the country, he said. Every few miles there was more road construction work. “We’ve paid for this dangerous road to be fixed for many years from our taxes, but it was never fixed. The politicians stole our money and didn’t fix anything.” I asked him where those politicians are now. He smiled and shook his head. “Probably hiding somewhere.”

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Metro Station in Piraeus, Greece

Observation #4 – Many friendly people have helped me along my journey in Greece. I’ve been very fortunate traveling in this new territory, not knowing the language, and always finding my way. Today I took a bus from Patras to Athens (3+ hours), then a city bus in Athens to the Metro station, then a subway to one stop where I transferred to another subway, and finally to my destination in Piraeus. While transferring from one subway to another, there was a great deal of jostling as the doors were about to close. I sensed that something was not right, and pushed my way through. Fortunately, there were plenty of seats available. Then I noticed a compartment on my backpack was unzipped.  ++DAMN!++ My phone and glasses were still there, so I chalked it up as neglectfulness on my part. Some women sitting across the aisle from me were very agitated and talking loudly and rapidly. One was holding a small black bag that had been thrown through the subway window and landed on her head. She feared it might be an explosive. I looked at it and realized it was my camera bag!  Earlier I’d removed my camera to take some pictures, so the bag was empty. Without a camera, apparently the pickpocketer had no use for an empty camera bag and tossed it back into the train. The women told me that there’s alot of crime in Athens now because of the migrants. There isn’t enough security or police because the public payrolls have been cut. Just last week, one of the women had her cellphone stolen right out of her hand. They told me they were sorry it happened to me but this was a good lesson and didn’t cost me anything. They cautioned me to be careful with my things. I asked them how have things changed in Athens in the last 4-5 years. In unison, they each said crime has risen and the city public spaces are dirtier. They attributed both to the arrival of the migrants.

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Old men in Piraeus playing a board game — probably Tavli.

 

 

 

 

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A drop in the ocean

 

I’m sitting in a small loft in the old city of Brindisi, in the boot heel of southern Italy. Brindisi is a very old port city. The famous Appian Way from Rome ends here. The ferry will take me to Patra, Greece on Saturday. I’m going to Greece to learn about the plight of the refugees arriving there.

I don’t speak the language (any language except English) and I don’t know where I will end up. Trying to put myself in their place, which is impossible of course, I can sense the feeling of fear, isolation, and desperation just below the surface. If I had no home to return to, no U.S. passport to give me some measure of legitimacy, and no resources (credit card), I would panic. I don’t think I could be as brave as most of these refugees.

Thousands of refugees are dying in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make it to shore in Greece or Italy. Why? Why must men, women and children run such risks in this 21st Century instead of getting on a plane and flying somewhere safe? [I’m looking for the answer; haven’t found it yet.]

In April 2016, Pope Francis visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos Island. He returned to the Vatican with 12 Syrian refugees from 3 families, all Muslims. He acknowledged it was only a drop in the ocean, but “the ocean will never be the same again,” he said.

I met a newly-wed couple from Germany last week on their honeymoon in Rome. We talked about many things, including the large numbers of refugees coming to Germany. They believe Angela Merkel’s intention’s are good, but she hasn’t followed up with good planning or organizing to fully integrate the new arrivals into life in Germany. They told me about refugees setting fire to their camps out of anger and frustration. Germany has accepted more than a million Syrian refugees, a staggering number compared to the rest of the EU and certainly the US.  [Migration to Europe explained in 7 charts.]

The United States has accepted only 3,127 Syrian refugees in the past 5 years. Although President Obama promised to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, only 1,300 have made it through the tight screening process in the first half of 2016.

On September 20, 2016, Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis and urge “significant new global commitments to: 1) increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organizations, 2) admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways, and 3) increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work.”  I’m curious how he can call for such action when it appears the U.S. is not stepping up to the plate. [I want to research more about the U.S. actions on the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly since the U.S. is responsible for so much of the devastation forcing Syrians to leave their country.]

As with climate change, it appears that the frontline in responding to the refugee crisis is at the local level, and cities are taking the lead.  The March 18 EU agreement with Turkey is abominable and is evidence (at least to me) that answers will not be found at the state-level (whether in the European Union or the U.S. federal government).

At its core, the agreement aims to address the overwhelming flow of smuggled migrants and asylum seekers traveling across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek islands by allowing Greece to return to Turkey “all new irregular migrants” arriving after March 20. In exchange, EU Member States will increase resettlement of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey, accelerate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, and boost existing financial support for Turkey’s refugee population.

There is hope.  Even before arriving in Greece, I have learned of two examples which might be the bellweather for successfully responding to the refugee crisis. [I will know much more after I visit Greece.] Both examples come from the individual, not government.

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Somer Sood – Operation Refugee Child

Operation Refugee Child was started in 2015 by a small group of mothers in Orange County, California, USA. Since then, they have achieved the following:

  • Created an organization run entirely by a team of five volunteers.
  • Developed a network of local contacts throughout Europe and the Middle East.
  • Received in-kind donations from corporate partners including Nike, Patagonia, ClifBar, CubeBot, Happy Baby and LuminAID among others.
  • Raised over $250,000 for purchase and delivery of supplies to refugees.
  • Distributed 5,080 lbs of aid supplies in 2016 including:
    • 2,480 backpacks
    • 800 thermal underwear and wool sock sets
    • 311 winter coats
    • 192 LuminAID solar pillow lights

I’m hoping to meet up with them in Athens at the end of the month, visit the camps with them, help them distribute backpacks to the children, and learn.

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Pooya volunteering with Emergency Response Centre International on Lesvos Island

The second example is a friend of a friend from California who is currently volunteering on Lesvos Island.  Pooya is a rescue team leader with Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI).  Check out his gofundme fundraising site here.  I hope to meet him on Lesvos Island and learn.

My friends ask me why?  “Why are you going to Greece?”

The short answer is the same answer I gave when they asked me “Why are you going to Gaza?”

I want to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, feel with my heart, and learn about the refugee crisis on the ground. What I learn may only be a drop in the ocean, but the ocean will never be the same again.

 

 

 

 

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IMCL conference day #1

Rome is an excellent location for an international conference about making cities livable. If my first impressions are any clue, this city has a mixture of both what works and what doesn’t (yet) work as a livable city.

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Rome, Italy

On the positive side, I count the historical buildings, monuments and architecture, along with the great public transportation, delicious food, and very kind people. On the other hand, the graffiti is a big distraction (it’s on every surface visible to spray paint). The homeless sleeping under the bridges, and the urban poor are clear reminders of the inequities that exist. I rode a city bus to the end of the line on the far west side of Rome and saw poor neighborhoods that most tourists won’t see.

An Italian architect who helped make the local arrangements for this conference lamented that his colleagues didn’t even bother to show up. “They could learn so much from IMCL speakers,” he said, “but instead we [architects] are making life worse and worse in our cities.”

The four days are jam-packed with presentations. Participants (I’m guessing 100+) are a mix of architects, urban designers, planners, policy folks and elected officials from around the world, and the venue (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana, Vatican City) is well-equipped for the program.

I presented a paper about Gaza on the first day (more in a future blog post) but my two colleagues from Gaza are not here. Israel wouldn’t allow Yaser to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy wouldn’t give Eman a Visa to enter the country. (More here about the travel restrictions.)IMG_4555

Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, IMCL Co-Founder and Director, opened the conference with words that easily resonated with me about what’s wrong with our city-building today. There are two competing value systems at work, she said. The first is based on GDP, where the city is seen as an economic engine, and its function is to fuel growth and raise the standard of living; while the second is based on the Quality of Life. In this model, the function of the city is the “care and culture” (Lewis Mumford) of people and of the earth.

Some of the highlights from her presentation:  Extreme capitalism creates a consumer society where we find hundreds of ghost cities in China; vertical sprawl in cities like Hong Kong (the least affordable housing in the world); and New York City with its “safe deposit boxes in the sky” (investors are stashing their $$ in high-rises, seen as good investments). In Tokyo’s housing, there are high levels of hikikomori — people who suffer from severe social withdrawal. Some estimate there are more than 700,000 hikikomori in Japan. Teenagers will not leave their bedrooms for days, weeks, even months at a time while their meals are left on trays outside their door. High-rise living can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and we see higher rates of obesity and related chronic diseases. Paris has a population of 20,000 people per square kilometer in 6 stories, but now is considering adding high-rises to its skyline.

Suzanne summarized the IMCL Principles of TRUE URBANISM: (as opposed to new urbanism?)

  1. Facilitate community social life. Key to achieving a high quality of life for all is the way we treat the public realm. The most essential task is to make it possible for people to come together, to form friendships and face-to-face social networks, and to develop social capital and community, but we seem focused on over-investment in private property and under-investment in the public realm.
  2. Facilitate contact with nature, including nature everywhere in our cities, and make nature accessible to children. My ears perked up when Suzanne mentioned community gardens. I wish my defunct community garden in Albuquerque was growing and active.
  3. Facilitate independent mobility. We must focus on balanced transportation planning that first prioritizes walking, second on biking, third on public transit, and lastly on the car. Living streets (“Wohnstrasse” designated by the international blue sign) have been traffic calmed and are safe for children and elders.
  4. A hospitable built environment that frames social life. Human-scale and mixed use environment instead of the mono-culture zoning districts in the U.S. which divide uses.

“Profit is privatized

Loss is socialized”

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Richard Jackson (r) and Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard (l)

 

Richard Jackson, a physician and professor of environmental sciences at UCLA, shared some provocative thoughts when he asked “will we merit gratitude from our grandchildren?” Dr. Jackson says the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has been right about everything it has projected for the past 20 years with the exception of one thing.  The pace of change is occurring much faster than the IPCC experts thought it would. He used many of the same climate change slides that I have used when I talk about climate change —- but one stood out for me.  The IMF tells us that the fossil fuels industry is subsidized to the tune of $10 million/minute!! Estimate of $5.3 TRILLION for fossil fuels, much greater than our total expenditures for healthcare.  (At that point, my blood pressure was rising.)  He said there are 20 Attorney Generals in the U.S. filing a lawsuit against Exxon, similar to the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.

Are we guilty of child abuse?  Maybe, but certainly we are guilty of child neglect by our acts of omission — our failure to protect our children and grandchildren from the ravages of climate change, and subjecting them to a life of inactivity, in large part by the way we’ve built our cities.  There’s a lot of research out about the impacts of the built environment on our children’s health. I’m going to look for the May 2016 JAMA issue when I return home. Finally, Dr. Jackson mentioned British Columbia’s carbon tax which has dropped carbon use by 16%.  It’s working and others should follow their example.

Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontificia Universita San Tommaso, Vatican City, addressed how the Pope’s Laudato Si relates to city planning.  I read the Laudato Si last summer when it was released, see here. Father Crosthwaite said The Holy See was shocked with the impact of the Laudato Si, especially among non-Christians. A number of good questions followed his presentation. Someone observed that the church hierarchy has been slow to teach and speak about the Laudato Si, another thought the Vatican needs a good marketing campaign to spread the word. Father Crosthwaite acknowledged that a lot more needs to be done and applauded the laity for taking the leadership around the world. The “structures of sin” didn’t come from outer space, they came from each of us as individuals, and so we need to do this both as a community and as individuals. Key for the Pope is “dialogue.” The Vatican city-state is now carbon neutral. They bought a forest to offset the carbon use within the Vatican as well as transitioning to solar energy. The Vatican also works closely with the United Nations, influences the meetings and discussions about climate change.

Richard Economakis, architect and professor at the School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, shared a presentation entitled “Streets of Hope: Outlining an Urban, Environmentally Responsible Approach to Housing EU Asylum-Seekers”. I want to visit some of the refugee camps on the Greek Islands and was keenly interested in how Richard proposed to meet the challenges presented by this “migration of biblical proportions”. He mentioned that IKEA is producing housing for refugees using PVC components, non-degradable materials and designed to last 2 years. The Swiss government rejected IKEA’s housing as a fire safety hazard.

Professor Economakis stressed the “principle of repurposability” – meaning that designing and building human settlements for the refugees should consider the future reuse or repurpose of the structures once the refugees have moved on. Richard and eight of his graduate students prepared a Master Plan for the creation of temporary Refugee Villages to serve as processing centers for the refugees seeking asylum in the EU. He was kind enough to give me a copy. I hope I can find a way to send it to my colleagues in Gaza.

Statement of Intent

Let us build modest homes to serve as temporary shelters for the dispossessed in those ports and towns of their arrival. We must do so responsibly, using natural materials which have no carbon footprint, and in such a way that buildings can easily be torn down when they cease to be useful, without significantly impacting the environment – or else they should be able to stand for generations. Let us arrange the houses to form real communities of hope, villages that dignify the waves of tired men, women and children while they wait for their asylum requests to be processed. When the crisis abates and the refuges have moved on to new places and new lives, these towns may serve the hosting nations by being converted into affordable neighborhoods, academic villages or resorts.

Are there ideas here that might be applicable to the Gaza Strip?  I think so.

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The Virtual Iftar Project

Cafe Rich in downtown Cairo

Cafe Rich in downtown Cairo

Three or four years ago, I met an American in Cairo who shared a novel idea with me over dinner one evening at Cafe Riche.   He wanted to use technology like Skype to connect people from different countries and cultures to share a conversation over a meal.  Honestly, I was blown away with the idea.

When do we have our most honest and intimate conversations?  When we’re sitting together around the table eating dinner!  That’s where we build understanding and trust.  Eric Maddox ran with his idea and The Virtual Dinner Guest Project was launched.

The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is a movement aimed at creating a global cultural shift in the way people view their relationship to news media, from one of passive consumption, to one of collaborative production, at the local level, and on a global scale.

I observed a virtual dinner between the Palestinians in Gaza, Palestine and the Native Americans in Oakland, CA in 2013. They sat thousands of miles apart while speaking with each other as though they were across the table from one another, asking questions, sharing answers, eating dinner in Gaza and breakfast in Oakland.  Maddox writes:

Imagine if we started utilizing emerging technologies to “connect” in the ways that actually make a difference. Imagine using our “connectivity” to bring things full circle and get back to where human connections first started, back to the world’s oldest and most universal social forum… back to the dinner table, and towards a new kind of media movement.

The most recent dinners and conversations were organized this year during Ramadan, in the Virtual Iftar Project.  “Iftar” is the meal that Muslims share when they break their fast at sundown. Find the Virtual Iftar Project on Facebook here.

Maddox and his team followed a path taken by many Syrian refugees in Europe. They traveled from Serbia, to Kosovo and Germany, all the way to the Netherlands. In this video (part 1 of 4) he connects people from Kosovo and Gaza over an Iftar meal. Then the participants go out into their communities and ask ordinary people questions raised by their dinner guests. The more we share their questions and answers, the more we’ll learn from each other.

I hope you’ll watch and stay connected with the Virtual Dinner Guest Project.  *This* is how we build a future of security, peace, safety and understanding, not in the board rooms at the World Bank or in the shuttle diplomacy of the elite diplomats. And certainly not with our drones and bombs.

 

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The Doha Debates on the Right of Return for the Palestinians

The right of return for Palestinians is likely the most contentious issue in any peace negotiations.  In this 46-minute debate (broadcast on BBC World on April 14th and 15th, 2007) the four panelists argue for and against a motion to give up this right of return.

Watch it and see if the arguments change your opinion.

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Filed under People, Politics, Video