Syrian refugee crisis: a call to compassion

By Pooja Mishra

Note: This article was written before Paris attacks. It is important to have in mind that the refugees are running away precisely from those attackers. Pray for Paris!

What do you do when your house gets assaulted as part of a widespread destruction? You run right, without thinking what are you leaving behind, what you want to take with you except your children, where you will go or what you will do. At that moment all that matters is the safety of you and your family.

And, from here another chapter of life starts. We have seen this situation with millions of Syrian refugees who have been dealing with such hard insupportable conditions since March 2011. The conflict that had begun with anti-government protests is now a full-blown bloody war.

The hard winter is on its way and Syrian refugee crisis is getting worse day by day. Millions of Syrian’s are fleeing from deadly civil war. More than 12 million Syrians have fled their homes in four-and- half years of conflict.
They have very limited basic resources to sustain their lives. They don’t have clean water to drink, no sanitation facilities. They need food, warm cloths, blankets, heaters and shelter to survive in this cold winter. Every day thousands refugees try to cross border; most of them are women and children.

Children, who are a nation’s hope for a better future, have lost their families, their loved ones, witnessed violence and cruelty. At an age where they should play, get education, dream for their future; they are dealing with disease, malnutrition, sexual abuse, exploitation.
It’s time to come along and help all the souls, who have nothing left except homelessness, limited clothes on their body and void dreams, and provide them with basic needs and accept them with open heart.


Sustaining Rio+20

By Luisa Cristini, PhD. University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In a month, on 20-22 June 2012, the countries of the United Nations (UN) will gather at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference is a historic opportunity to define a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous future for all the people living the Planet. The meeting is taking place 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit, in Rio as well, where the member states first adopted a development agenda (Agenda 21) to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

Indeed, economic development, social development and environmental protection are the three pillars upon which long-term global sustainable development can be built. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the possibility of future generations to meet their own needs.

Two main themes will be discussed by the thousands of participants from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector:

(a)    a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, i.e., how can we build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty;

(b)   the institutional framework of sustainable development, i.e., how to improve the international coordination of sustainable development.

In the context of theme (a), sustainable development emphasizes strong economic performance as well as intragenerational and intergenerational equity, that is, equity among people of the same generation and of different generations. Sustainable development rests on integration and a balanced consideration of social, economic and environmental goals and objectives in both public and private decision-making. The concept of green economy focuses primarily on the intersection between environment and economy.

The discussion around theme (b) aims at fostering coherence of implementation, initiatives and partnerships among the nations towards global sustainable development. Progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 and in the implementation of the commitments will be examined.

Seven priority areas have been identified as in need of particular attention and will be considered in the meeting:

(1)   Jobs. Economic action and social policies to create gainful employment are critical for social cohesion and stability. It’s also crucial that work is geared to the needs of the natural environment. “Green jobs” are positions in agriculture, industry, services and administration that contribute to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment.

(2)   Energy. Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today. Sustainable energy is needed for strengthening economies, protecting ecosystems and achieving equity.

(3)   Cities. Many challenges exist to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs and prosperity while not straining land and resources. Common city challenges include congestion, lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing and declining infrastructure.

(4)   Food. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment. But right now, our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity are being rapidly degraded. Climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on.

(5)   Water. Due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition.

(6)   Oceans. The oceans drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Careful management of this essential global resource in order to decrease human-induced pressures on the marine ecosystem is a key feature of a sustainable future.

(7)   Disasters. Disasters caused by earthquakes, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tsunamis and more can have devastating impacts on people, environments and economies. But resilience, i.e., the ability of people and places to withstand these impacts and recover quickly, remains possible. Resilience depends on the choices we make relating to how we grow our food, where and how we build our homes, how our financial system works, what we teach in schools and more.

During Rio+20, participants are expected to adopt clear and focused practical measures for implementing sustainable development, based on the examples of success seen over the last 20 years. A more sustainable future is possible and is in our hands.


Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development:

Literary summary critique for, “Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo,” by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

By Jeff Kidd

Babylon’s Ark is the incredible true story of South African Conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s work to save the Baghdad Zoo, and the animals who lived there during the Iraq War. Anthony outlines his adventures and efforts in several phases in the book.

The first phase takes place on the Kuwaiti-Iraq border. Lawrence Anthony entered Iraq with two Kuwaiti Zoologists (Husham and Abdullah Latif) who were both from the Kuwaiti Zoo. The journey from the Kuwaiti border to the Baghdad Zoo was a ten hour trip (in their Toyota rental car) without a military escort or defensive weapons. Mr. Anthony and his Kuwaiti counterparts took precautions to avoid any elements of Saddam’s army, and the fedayees gangs who were fanatically loyal to the overthrown dictator. To get to the Baghdad Zoo they first had to enter the Al Zawra Park which is located in the center of the war torn city. Even after the Iraqi War had officially ended, fire-fights were raging against the Ba’athist terrorists who were loyal to Saddam Hussein.

The first military officer who provided an escort to the Baghdad Zoo was 1st Lieutenant Szydlik. Upon Lawrence’s arrival he discovered that the zoo had been badly damaged during the war. Most of the damage to the zoo was caused by looters. The looters stole vital zoo equipment. In addition, they also killed any of the zoo animals that they thought were edible. Lieutenant Szydlik introduced Mr. Anthony to Husham Hussan who was the Deputy Director of the Baghdad Zoo. Initially the zoo was in horrendous conditions. The cages were damaged, and had not been cleaned for months. Furthermore, the animals were severely dehydrated, and dying of hunger. To make matters worse, the animals were also suffering from the traumatic effects of the bombing war. The biggest problem the animal’s had was getting water. The looters had stolen parts of the zoo’s generator. The generator was essential to operating the water pumps; therefore the zoo staff had to manually carry water buckets from the canal which was located adjacent to the zoo. Lawrence Anthony may have been depressed, and discouraged at times but he remained steadfast by never losing hope of  rescuing the Baghdad Zoo.

In his own words,” Here in Iraq, we would make a stand that would send a message to fellow human beings: that you don’t do this to other creatures. For the most part the zoo’s animals were killed by looters and soldiers. The zoo staff reiterated that they needed their jobs; their families were as hungry as the animals.”

Lawrence got the Iraqi zoo staff to focus on the following elements: food, water, care, nurture. He also instilled the following strategy to save the zoo: (1) feed the staff, (2) attain buckets to hand-carry water from the canal, and (3) fix the pumps as soon as possible. The first hurdle in this three part plan was the pumps. Husham informed Mr. Anthony that he needed batteries, and a dynamo for his generator to make the pumps operational. Next,Lawrence tackled the issue of  feeding the zoo animals. He ordered the zoo staff to buy or barter for donkeys. Once the donkeys were acquired  , they were slaughtered and utilized as food for the zoo animals.

Before the United States invasion of Iraq most Iraqi’s were on government subsidized food aid. Saddam used his food aid policy to make the people dependent on him. Looting resulted after the war errupted; this in turn caused the collapse of law and order. Through (U.S. Army) Captain William Sumner of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, the Bagdad Zoo had attained an accredited representative in the bureaucracy. A man with sergeant stripes loaned Lawrence two spare batteries for use in the water pump at the zoo. During one of Husham’s trips downtown he discovered, and purchased a dynamo for the generator. The pumps were now operational, and spraying water everywhere.

To obtain a professional position during the reign of Saddam Hussein a person had to be a member of the Ba’athist Party. Husham was arrested , and relieved of his duties due to his past affiliation with the Ba’athist Party. Lawrence Anthony continued to fight to restore the zoo. Anthony’s ultimate triumph occurred when Captain Sumner got the coalition forces to act on his proposal to restore the zoo with a tentative budget of  $250,000.

In addition to the zoo animals, Anthony worked to rescue the Hussein family’s collection of exotic animals. Dr. Barbra Mass, the chief executive of Care for the Wild International-(CWI) stirred up a controversy by announcing to the media that she planned on relocating the Hussein family lions to South Africa. Her unilateral decision angered the Iraqi government. The lions, and the zoo animals were eventually prohibited from leaving. The animals were after all the property of the Iraqi people.

In conclusion, Lawrence Anthony was successful at saving the Baghdad Zoo, since he was able to motivate, and lead the zoo staff in sustaining, and improving the animal’s health. In a nutshell, Lawrence Anthony was successful in his mission due to his perseverance, and his ability to: (1) Improvise, (2) Overcome, (3) Adapt at All Costs!


This post also appears on Allied Cultures Against Discrimination here.

The Story of the Land Part 3: The Schipper family learns from the land and the creation of Pigeon Lake

By Mieke Schipper

As told to a grade two class visiting Gamiing Nature Centre

25 years ago

It is 25 years ago when our family came here to this farm to live. We called it “Paradise Farms”, because we thought it was beautiful.  However, the land was rather barren, that means unproductive ; not much was growing there, except rocks it seemed, like large pebbles and small rocks.

We walked the land every day and went into a different direction each day.  And we began to wonder.  What has happened here?  Who lived here?  What did they do?  We had so many questions and we really didn’t know where to get the answers.

And then, one day, I got it. I thought, the land is telling us something.  But how can I find out what it is the land is telling us?

What do you think? How can we find out what the land is telling us?

Listening, that is good. But is the land talking? Well, yes, but the land is NOT talking like you and I can talk and listen to one another.

I had to learn to listen another way, in a way my friend Nancy listens. She is deaf, but tells me she listens with her eyes and nose and hands and mouth and smell. That is how she finds out what it is I am talking to her about.

So, I had to learn to listen like Nancy is listening,
with my ears –listen to the sound of the wind, the birds, the rush of water;
with my eyes – what is growing here and why is that not growing anywhere else, what kind of animals are living here;
with my nose – the smell of flowers, trees and shrubs, the smell of animals,the smell of the lake, which changes with the season;
listening with my hands – feeling the different barks of trees, grabbing a hand of soil;
and with my mouth – tasting what the land is offering me, like berries, lots of berries, roots of plants and young leaves of dandelions.

So when I had finally figured that one out, I started to walk the land in a very different way.
Why was it so barren and rocky?

 If you look at this land, right here at GAMIING, you will see many leftovers of the years when people chopped the trees down and tried to farm.

Here, we are on top of a hill. Down there is the lake and the lake is in a valley. The top of the hill is on the west side and the lake down below is on the east side. Most of the winds that blow here come from the west and they blow toward the east. So when the trees were all cut and the grass had not grown yet, what do you think happened to the soil? Yes, that all blew down into the valley. That is what we call EROSION, the soil was wearing off the underlying rubble.

That is how I found the land. Now there are some trees and plants and shrubs that can live on and between rubble. Christmas trees are a good example. So, I thought that is probably what the land would like, getting dressed up again, not laying so naked there.

baby christmas tree

So we planted hundreds of Christmas trees, spruce and pine, but also hardwood like maple and ash and walnut. The roots of these trees kept the soil in place so it stopped blowing away and under the trees other plants and grasses started to grow, plants that would die down in the fall, then rotted and that became a little bit more soil. Also the wind and the sand rubbed the rocks and that became soil. So after many years, there became more soil of the rotted plants and the scoured rocks each year and the trees started growing and birds came to the trees and they carried seeds from other trees with them and dropped them in the field and that started to grow and the wind blew in seeds and they started to grow.

And in the soil there were still seeds from long ago and they started to sprout and grow. So very slowly we are getting a forest back.

And then the animals came. They found shelter on the edges of the new forests. There is now white tail deer, foxes, coyotes, wild turkeys, grouse, pheasants and many other birds.

And the land is so happy. It gives us so much back every day. But we still have to help the land a bit because sometimes there are trees and plants that are just like bullies. They come in and grow and they want to take over, but they don’t belong here. So we have to make sure that that is not going to happen. We like to keep the land happy.

Now I want to tell you a little bit about a lake that used to be a stream.

Just a minute ago I told you about the wind that blew the soil in the valley. I did not say that it blew in the lake, because there was not a lake yet.

On this old map you can see where Pigeon Lake was and then there was Pigeon River.
Pigeon River still exists but now starts further south, near Omemee.

When the dams in Bobcaygeon and Buckhorn were built, the government went to the farmers along the Pigeon River and told them that their land would be flooded. And that is what happened. So much land along the Pigeon River was flooded that it no longer was a stream but now had become a lake. But remember, the soil that had blown in the valley, well that is now the bottom of the lake, and things started to grow there, cattails mostly.

Lots of people hate cattails and marshes and wetlands and weeds in the lake. But actually if you listen very carefully, marshes and wetlands are the very best thing that can happen to a lake. They work like a coffee filter. The water goes through it but it holds dirty stuff back, like the coffee grinds in the filter. The marshes and wetlands are also home to many different kinds of birds and ducks and blue herons and ospreys and fish. And there are many flowers growing in the marshes. The marshes and wetland here at  Gamiing Nature Centre are called Victoria Wetland and they are special. They are an Area of Natural and Scientific interest, a mouth full. Just call them ANSI wetlands but remember that they are special!

So next time when you hear someone complaining about the weeds in the lake, especially about the marshes and wetlands you can tell them that these “weeds” are doing a bang-up cleaning job keeping our water healthy and they are home to many plants and birds and mammals and amphibians.

So, that is to story of the land. I hope when you go out that you can listen to the land and learn from it too.

The Story of the Land Part 2: First Nations’ wars to the first European Farmers (1000 to 200 years ago)

Gamiing Arial photo 2010

Gamiing Land 2010

By Mieke Schipper

-as told to a grade 2 class visiting Gamiing Nature Centre

1000 years ago – 600 years ago

The Kawartha’s became an area were people fought a lot with one another:

The Ojibwas, Huron’s and Algonquin’s were coming from the north and north west and the Iroquois came from south. They canoed and portaged to the Kawartha’s because of the rich hunting grounds and they all wanted to live here.

400 years ago

About 400 years ago, European people came from France, England and Holland and they all wanted to become rich of the fur trade that the native people had set up. They played mean games with the native peoples. They said that the land was not worth much, so the native peoples sold the land for only a few furs and then they were pushed away unto reserves. Even today they are arguing with the governments to get their rightful lands back. Do you think that is right? What do you think should happen?

200 years ago

About 200 years ago, a man named Peter Robinson was sent by the government of England to this area. He had to divide the land up in rectangles of 100 acres or 50 hectares each. Then he sent for farmers from Scotland and Ireland and England and they had names like O’Neill and Perdue and Taylor and McDonald.

This land was still all forest, marsh and streams. But they came here, because they wanted to farm here. So they cut all the trees down. That took them a very long time, because they did not have chainsaws. And once they had felled the trees and used the logs to build their cabins, they still had to dig out the tree stumps. When they were finally ready with that, it had well taken them three years to clear one field. They found out very quickly that there was a lot of rubble in the soil (remember that the melting ice dropped pebbles and rocks and sand?) and that the layer of soil was very thin and that no matter how many times they cleared out the rocks, they kept coming up through the soil. Eventually they figured out, that this land was not good enough to grow barley and grain and wheat and potatoes, what they used to grow in the old country and that it was only good for some pasture.