From isolation to inclusion

Jared talks with Renata Cosic, organizer and activist for refugees and immigrants in Saskatchewan, and Don Kossick on Making the Links, on the Canadian health crises of social isolation and economic exclusion.

(Recorded by Don Kossick at CFCR studios; edited and published by Jared for Upstream).

Vote for Health in #Elxn42

Canada’s forty-second federal election is nearly upon us, and already we’ve seen record numbers of voters coming out for the advance polls. It seems like the health of our democracy is definitely on the rise… but are we any healthier than we were last election? Today we talk about how your vote at the ballot box might mean a lot more for your personal and community health outcomes than you may have thought.

(Recorded, edited and published by Jared for Upstream).

Seeking a cure for poverty

Poverty is incredibly complicated, and has all sorts of causes and factors. That’s why the Saskatchewan government last winter appointed an advisory group to examine what opportunities we can seize to raise people out of poverty. Just this week, the advisory group dropped a list of recommendations for what we should do.

(Recorded, edited and published by Jared for Upstream).

Diving to new depths of human rights

ZANZIBAR – Working for human rights is not the exclusive domain of the 30 per cent of our world that is dry land. In the remote beach community of Nungwi, a handful of pioneers dedicate their lives to protecting life and fighting discrimination at sea.

Khamis and Juma Ame are just two of the many young men who have found a life’s purpose, a livelihood to support themselves and their families, and a means to positively impact their community and support human rights… through diving with self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses, better known as SCUBA.

Khamis, 31, is a father of two and a diving instructor at Scuba Doo, on Kendwa beach near Nungwi. He’s also a rescue diver, who participated in operation.

Khamis

“It was very difficult. It was as after the Spice Isle ferry disaster last summer, among many other rescue missions.

“It was after midnight. We took a long time to look for them. The other boats gave up and went back, but we stayed all morning,” Khamis says.

They finally found a large group of survivors with their night-diving torchlights. “We saved so many people. But we found so many more dead ones. Finally, I ended up crying. It’s not a normal thing to see hundreds of people dying at the same time. Especially women and children,” he remembers, obviously struggling with the retelling. “There were other people collecting stuff, they don’t care about peoples’ lives. Collecting mattresses, televisions, they don’t care about the people.”

He came to the organization as a boat captain who didn’t know how to swim.

Founder Christian Moorhouse-Chilcott came to Zanzibar thirteen years ago, and founded Scuba Doo with intentions of positively affecting the local communities – but it took five years for anyone to work for him. “There’s a lot of boys that come into the tourism industry, and they basically get destroyed,” Moorhouse-Chilcott says. “They get sucked into becoming womanizers, or materialists, and you’ve got two sides to tourism.” He says nowadays the village elders routinely bring youth to him, to help them improve both the community and their own futures.

And there’s more work to be done above the surface.

The Panji project is a locally run NGO working with the local life guarding organizations, as well as Scuba Doo because of their rescue work. Their studies show that in even in the whole of Tanzania, more people die of drowning than malaria. They organize training, and determine who needs training. But Moorhouse-Chilcott says members of the local organization, and members of the community, often operate on traditional Muslim values. Many don’t think young women should, or need to learn how to swim.

Moorhouse-Chilcott was recently out on a rescue diving mission with one of his diving instructors, Hamisi, helping after a boating disaster. It made this issue of gender discrimination really hit home for him.

“Their boat was full of survivors that they’d picked up, and we were taking them to the other ferry,” he said. “

“There were a bunch of ladies floating on a mattress, and we just didn’t have room to take them. We went and took them to the boat, and came back, but by the time we came back they’d drowned, because they couldn’t swim. So when someone says ‘no, women don’t need to learn to swim’, it hurts even more. Because people like that didn’t need to die, if they even knew the basics.”

Moorhouse-Chilcott is optimistic, however, that these attitudes are beginning to change. He and his wife Tammy Holter have, largely through the training and empowerment of local community members, done their share to work against it as well. Moorhouse-Chilcott proudly reports training Muslim women to scuba dive, strapping the gear over their burkhas.

Four local Muslim clerics all refused to go on record. They uniformly expressed regret at the lost lives of their spiritual sisters, but remained adamant that upholding their religious beliefs and cultural traditions are paramount.

Juma AmaIt’s the next generation that people like Moorhouse-Chilcott are pinning hopes to, like the young Juma Ame, 20. In Spring 2012 he didn’t know how to swim. By Autumn 2013 he completed his hundredth dive, well on the way to becoming an instructor, and working on becoming a rescue diver.

“I feel at peace down there,” says Ama. He’s already begun sharing his love of the ocean with his fellow community members.

“Now he can be the one to help train local people to swim, so that if there is a problem at sea people don’t lose their lives,” says Holter of Ama’s progress. Along the way she’s helped him become a hyperbaric chamber operator and a lifeguard instructor, spurred on by tragedies like the Spice Isle disaster.

Ama, Khamisi, Holter, Moorhouse-Chilcott and the rest of their organization say they will continue their efforts against any obstacles that may come, to support local development and ensure against future, preventable disasters.

Art and environmentalism, haven for local youth

ARUSHA – Environmental pollution is a burgeoning problem in East Africa, from toxic landfills to widespread littering. Recycling seems like a pipe dream. But a new grassroots movement looks to change all that.

Active Green Society was formed less than two years ago by Mohamed “Brother Dee” Salim and Godlove Tenga, but it’s already taken off with popularity, featuring prominently last week at the Sanuka concert in Dar Es Salaam. Music is just one of many mediums of artistic expression woven into the group’s message.

Mohamed Salim (right) and Godlove Tenga (centre) founded the Active Green Society in 2012.

The AGS uses art for the spreading of awareness, in the form of badges, t-shirts and posters, and also for fundraising. They craft busts and other sculptures from clay, and sell them in order to fund their projects. Salim says the medium of clay is used out of an environmentally-conscious attitude to spare trees, and tribal symbolism in the sculptures is to inspire pan-African solidarity.

“We’re trying to make the connection from Kenya, Uganda, everywhere, to bring this thing together for the protection of our environment. Because that’s the only thing we have, we have nothing else. That’s our richness, that’s our future.”

‘Brother Dee’ Salim is just twenty-three years old.

The AGS motto is ‘our city, our nation, our responsibility.’ “It means we’re bringing in everyone in the society, because it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the environment clean,” says Salim.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect their brother, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make this country, and Africa as a continent, a better place to be and a safer place to live in.”

He admits the AGS has yet to go truly continental, but that they’re already making impacts in Arusha and throughout Tanzania. He says their main focus is youth mobilization.

“We see a lot of potential – maybe they’re too blind to see, or maybe they’re just not exposed to the chances that will engage them to achieve,” Salim said.

“If they join they’ll have employment opportunities in the recycling sector, and we do handmade products that will help them get income out of it. These youth will be active, and they’ll be positive instead of staying on the streets.”

He says that art has started to become an alternative to drugs for many of these kids, with no clear direction in life. AGS teaches them to channel their energies into something positive and productive, while giving back to the community at the same time through volunteer clean-up efforts at places like hospitals and water supplies, called ‘safisha safisha’ (‘cleaning, cleaning’).

“The young kids are spreading the message on their own now, how they want to protect the environment and stop cutting trees and stuff. It’s a really good thing, it’s what we’ve really wanted to see.”

Walking around his community, Salim says he can already see the positive impact. “I’m really grateful to see people talking about it. The impact is growing, and people are starting to understand about the environment.”

Salim’s real goal is that one day, these kids will grow up, and foster an aware and informed environmentalist society. That’s why, with Godlove and fellow members, Salim puts so much emphasis on the youngest members of the community. “If we’re going to invest in these young kids now, we’ll have a clean city, we’ll have a clean country. We’ll have a well-protected environment in the future.”

Brother Dee says it all starts mentality, and changing the way people think – to be willing to walk the extra 20 metres to a garbage bin instead of just dropping trash on the ground.

First published for Speak Magazine.

Memories of WWII refugees live on in Tanzania

ARUSHA – On the fringes of a small Tanzanian village called Tengeru lay buried 150 Polish war refugees, who did their best to make a life there.

Occupants of Tengeru village go about their daily lives.
The Third Reich invaded Polish territory 1 September 1939, without declaration. It was the beginning of the Second World War. The Molotov Pact of 23 August 1939 partitioned more than half of Polish territory to the Soviet Union, beginning a campaign of terror against the civilian population. Deportation to Siberia began 10 February 1940, following purges of the Polish civil elite. When German armies invaded in 1942, the Polish government sided with the USSR in exchange for the release of Polish deportees, as well as 47 thousand exhiles. Many were sent to United Kingdom colonies – of those, about 18 Thousand Poles were sent on to refugee camps in East Africa. There were six in Tanzania, the largest of which was in the village Tengeru, with 5,000 refugees.

The Polish “settlers” developed a life for themselves, running specialized farms, small businesses, and nearly a dozen schools. They raised clinics, hospitals, churches and one synagogue. In their history, it’s recorded as becoming a “scrap of distant homeland”.

With the end of the war, the refugees were able to return to Europe, but many had nowhere to go, and no one to go home to. Some were taken from regions lost to Poland in the Yalta Agreement. Others were too afraid of the Soviet proxy governments to return. For almost a decade, these wayward peoples dispersed across the world. About one thousand remained in their African settlements – 151 of those stayed in Tengeru.

Young Edward Wojtowicz, perched amidst fellow refugees.

Today hundreds of pilgrims come every year to the cemetery where 150 of them lay buried, the only vestige remaining of the refugee camp except for its sole survivor, Edward Wojtowicz, 94. He still lives in Tengeru, and one day he will be the last person ever buried there. His mother was buried in 1985, his grandmother in 1955.

Simon Joseph is a local Tengeru man who operates the cemetery all on his own, as caretaker, gardener, contractor and guide for the many who visit. He says most are descendants of the original 5,000 who lived there, come to trace back a piece of their own history to those difficult times.

“All people buried here are refugees. They suffered here from malaria and influenza,” Joseph recalls.

“Before here they were in labour camps in Siberia. They were forced into slave labour.”

He lives just five kilometers away with his wife, Rota, and six children. He says he loves his work, and knows the history inside and out, telling the story again and again for each new visitor.

In 2015 all of the graves are set to be renovated, paid for by the Polish government, who has funded the cemetery all this time since its first inhabitant, Michael Tchorz, was buried 23 October 1942. There are just five jews in the cemetery, buried separately near the wall which was erected in 2001. Joseph says the cemetery will be maintained in Tengeru forever.

The local villagers rarely come by, but they all know it’s there. The place where five thousand foreigners, abandoned by the rest of the world, made a little piece of home for themselves in the dusty plains.

Polish refugee settlers in Tengeru

First published for Speak Magazine.