Issues & Analysis
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ON THE MEDIA: Are humans evolving beyond the need to tell stories?

By Will Self, www.theguardian.comNovember 25th, 2016

Neuroscientists who insist technology is changing our brains may have it wrong. What if we are switching from books to digital entertainment because of a change in our need to communicate?

A few years ago I gave a lecture in Oxford that was reprinted in the Guardian under the heading: “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)”. In it I argued that the novel was losing its cultural centrality due to the digitisation of print: we are entering a new era, one with a radically different form of knowledge technology, and while those of us who have what Marshal McLuhan termed “Gutenberg minds” may find it hard to comprehend – such was our sense of the solidity of the literary world – without the necessity for the physical book itself, there’s no clear requirement for the art forms it gave rise to. I never actually argued that the novel was dead, nor that narrative itself was imperiled, yet whenever I discuss these matters with bookish folk they all exclaim: “But we need stories – people will always need stories.” As if that were an end to the matter.

Non-coincidentally, in line with this shift from print to digital there’s been an increase in the number of scientific studies of narrative forms and our cognitive responses to them. There’s a nice symmetry here: just as the technology arrives to convert the actual into the virtual, so other technologies arise, making it possible for us to look inside the brain and see its actual response to the virtual worlds we fabulate and confabulate. In truth, I find much of this research – which marries arty anxiety with techno-assuredness – to be self-serving, reflecting an ability to win the grants available for modish interdisciplinary studies, rather than some new physical paradigm with which to explain highly complex mental phenomena. Really, neuroscience has taken on the sexy mantle once draped round the shoulders of genetics. A few years ago, each day seemed to bring forth a new gene for this or that. Such “discoveries” rested on a very simplistic view of how the DNA of the human genotype is expressed in us poor, individual phenotypes – and I suspect many of the current discoveries, which link alterations in our highly plastic brains to cognitive functions we can observe using sophisticated equipment, will prove to be equally ill-founded.

The neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has been prominent in arguing that our new digital lives are profoundly altering the structure of our brains. This is undoubtedly the case – but then all human activities impact upon the individual brain as they’re happening; this by no means implies a permanent alteration, let alone a heritable one. After all, so far as we can tell the gross neural anatomy of the human has remained unchanged for hundreds of millennia, while the age of bi-directional digital media only properly dates – in my view – from the inception of wireless broadband in the early 2000s, hardly enough time for natural selection to get to work on the adaptive advantages of … tweeting. Nevertheless, pioneering studies have long since shown that licensed London cab drivers, who’ve completed the exhaustive “Knowledge” (which consists of memorising every street and notable building within a six mile radius of Charing Cross), have considerably enlarged posterior hippocampi.

This is the part of brain concerned with way-finding, but it’s also strongly implicated in memory formation; neuroscientists are now discovering that at the cognitive level all three abilities – memory, location, and narration – are intimately bound up. This, too, is hardly surprising: key for humans, throughout their long pre-history as hunter-gatherers, has been the ability to find food, remember where food is and tell the others about it. It’s strange, of course, to think of Pride and Prejudice or Ulysses as simply elaborations upon our biologically determined inclination to give people directions – but then it’s perhaps stranger still to realise that sustained use of satellite navigation, combined with absorbing all our narrative requirements in pictorial rather written form, may transform us into miserable and disoriented amnesiacs.

When he lectured on literature in the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov would draw a map on the blackboard at the beginning of each session, depicting, for example, the floor plan of Austen’s Mansfield Park, or the “two ways” of Proust’s Combray. What Nabokov seems to have understood intuitively is what neuroscience is now proving: reading fiction enables a deeply memorable engagement with our sense of space and place. What the master was perhaps less aware of – because, as yet, this phenomenon was inchoate – was that throughout the 20th century the editing techniques employed in Hollywood films were being increasingly refined. This is the so-called “tyranny of film”: editing methods that compel our attention, rather than leaving us free to absorb the narrative in our own way. Anyone now in middle age will have an intuitive understanding of this: shots are shorter nowadays, and almost all transitions are effected by crosscutting, whereby two ongoing scenes are intercut in order to force upon the viewer the idea of their synchrony. It’s in large part this tyranny that makes contemporary films something of a headache for older viewers, to whom they can seem like a hypnotic swirl of action.

It will come as no surprise to Gutenberg minds to learn that reading is a better means of forming memory than watching films, as is listening to afternoon drama on Radio 4. This is the so-called “visualisation hypothesis” that proposes that people – and children in particular – find it harder not only to remember film as against spoken or written narratives, but also to come up with novel responses to them, because the amount of information they’re given, together with its determinate nature, forecloses imaginative response.

Almost all contemporary parents – and especially those of us who class themselves as “readers” – have engaged in the Great Battle of Screen: attempting to limit our children’s consumption of films, videos, computer games and phone-based social media. We feel intuitively that it can’t be doing our kids any good – they seem mentally distracted as well as physically fidgety: unable to concentrate as they often look from one handheld screen to a second freestanding one, alternating between tweezering some images on a touchscreen and manipulating others using a remote control. Far from admonishing my younger children to “read the classics” – an utterly forlorn hope – I often find myself simply wishing they’d put their phones down long enough to have their attention compelled by the film we’re watching.

The Great Battle of Screen … a teenager triple-screening. Photograph: U Baumgarten via Getty

If we take seriously the conclusions of these recent neuroscientific studies, one fact is indisputable: whatever the figures for books sales (either in print or digital form), reading for pleasure has been in serious decline for over a decade. That this form of narrative absorption (if you’ll forgive the coinage) is closely correlated with high attainment and wellbeing may tell us nothing about the underlying causation, but the studies do demonstrate that the suite of cognitive aptitudes needed to decipher text and turn it into living, breathing, visible and tangible worlds seem to wither away once we stop turning the pages and start goggling at virtual tales.

Of course, the sidelining of reading narrative (and along with it the semi-retirement of all those narrative forms we love) is small potatoes compared with the loss of our capacity for episodic memory: would we be quite so quick to post those fantastic holiday photographs on Facebook if we knew that in so doing we’d imperil our ability to recall unaided our walk along the perfect crescent of sand, and our first ecstatic kiss? You might’ve thought that as a novelist who depends on fully attuned Gutenberg minds to read his increasingly complex and confusing texts I’d be dismayed by this craven new couch-based world; and, as a novelist, I am.

I began writing my books on a manual typewriter at around the same time wireless broadband became ubiquitous, sensing it was inimical not only to the act of writing, but that of reading as well: a novel should be a self-contained and self-explanatory world (at least, that’s how the form has evolved), and it needs to be created in the same cognitive mode as it’s consumed: the writer hunkering down into his own episodic memories, and using his own canonical knowledge, while imagining all the things he’s describing, rather than Googling them to see what someone else thinks they look like. I also sense the decline in committed reading among the young that these studies claim: true, the number of those who’ve ever been inclined “to get up in the morning in the fullness of youth”, as Nietzsche so eloquently put it, “and open a book” has always been small; but then it’s worth recalling the sting in the tail of his remark: “now that’s what I call vicious”.

And there is something vicious about all that book learning, especially when it had to be done by rote. There’s something vicious as well about the baby boomer generation, which, not content to dominate the cultural landscape, also demands that everyone younger than us survey it in the same way. For the past five years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels that aim to map the connections between technological change, warfare and human psychopathology, so obviously I’m attempting to respond to the zeitgeist using this increasingly obsolete art form. My view is that we’re deluded if we think new technologies come into existence because of clearly defined human objectives – let alone benevolent ones – and it’s this that should shape our response to them. No, the history of the 20th century – and now the 21st – is replete with examples of technologies that were developed purely in order to facilitate the killing of people at a distance, of which the internet is only the most egregious example. Our era is also replete with the mental illnesses occasioned by such technologies – sometimes I think our obsession with viewing violent and horrific imagery is some sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder.

So, it may be that our instinctive desire to kill at a distance is a stronger determinant of our cognitive abilities than our need to tell other humans where the food is. Which would certainly explain why poring over a facsimile of Shakespeare’s first folio is being supplanted by first-person shooters. I’ve referred throughout this piece to Gutenberg minds, and I do indeed believe that each successive knowledge technology brings with it a different form of human being. It’s worrying that our young seem distracted and often depressed, and sad for those of us who have invested so much of our belief and our effort in print technology, that it – and the modes of being associated with it – appear to be in decline. But it may be the case that our children are in the larval stage of a new form of human being, one which no longer depends on their ability to tell the others where the food is. Why? Because, of course, they know where it is already, due to the absolute fluidity and ubiquity of bi-directional digital media. Indeed, there may not be any need to tell the others where the food is in the future, because in an important sense there are no others.

The so-called “singularity” proposed by tech gurus, whereby humans hybridise with machine intelligence, and form a new genotype, subject to evolution by natural selection, may not begin with a cosmic bang; rather, the whimpering of our children as they shoot at their virtual enemies, or are defriended, may be the signal that it’s begun already. Richard Brautigan, the great hippy writer, envisaged a “cybernetic meadow” in which “mammals and computers live together in mutually programmed harmony”. It sounds to me an awful lot like our own current state of storytelling, without, of course, the need for anyone to read poetry, which is the form within which Brautigan did his visualising, and we received his rather optimistic vision.

This is an edited version of a lecture delivered by Will Self as part of Scottish Book Week. His new novel, Phone, will be published by Penguin next year.

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ON MIGRATION: Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisis | Inter Press Service

This article speaks to how, with continued extreme economic disparity, migrants will migrate:

“Donald Trump will not stop me from getting to the U.S.,” said Juan, a 35-year-old migrant from Nicaragua, referring to the Republican president-elect who will govern that country as of Jan. 20. Juan, who worked as a street vendor in his country and asked that his last name not be mentioned, told IPS: “I got scared when I heard that Trump had won the election (on November 8). Maybe with Hillary (Clinton) there would have

Source: Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisis | Inter Press Service

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We Need Your Support to Continue to Empower Local Perspectives

Network News

Network news studio: centralized and isolated

In these post-election days of angst, confusion and uncertainty, I’m clear about one issue. Our news networks do not report from the local perspective, they are centralized and disconnected. That there is so much news and so little understanding of the concerns and state-of-mind of at least half of US citizens is very telling. Without good information we cannot develop informed and compassionate opinions or support equitable policies.

This experience has reaffirmed my commitment to strengthening our understanding of social and economic concerns – whether at home or abroad – from the local, grassroots perspective.

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Filming The Road Above, Aqeela Rezai, Afghanistan

Community Supported Film’s trainings and films demonstrate the power of local storytelling. Many people have told me at screenings across the country that it is the first time they are hearing from and seeing how Afghans or Haitians are dealing with their own issues.

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Film Still: Owned and Occupied by Bichara Villarson, Haiti

Most of the news looks at rather than from within the subject! We are made to experience ‘the other’ through the eyes and actions of outsiders, rather than connecting with our common humanity when we hear their voices directly.

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Film Still: Water Ways, Majeed Zarand, Afghanistan

Improving local capacity in documentary filmmaking and sharing their films empowers the maker and the audience. This is why CSFilm works so hard to demonstrate the power of local perspective storytelling.  It is why we tour the country sharing our view that “the messenger is the message.” In essence we want to help to take the foreign out of foreign correspondence.

To continue this work CSFilm needs your help! Your support has and will continue to educate the public about the importance of local perspectives, mentor local storytellers in the production of non-fiction films and share their important stories.

Please donate as generously as you can.

Thanks and very best wishes for the holidays,

Michael Signature

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Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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This is about the deep listening that needs to be done and that Community Supported Film wants to nurture and champion…

“The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that it is up to our political leaders to unify us. They can set the tone, but it is primarily in the hands of the American people to rebuild a basic level of mutual respect and dignity …
Hate and bigotry almost always grow out of fear.
Caring for those you disagree with is not the same as compromising your principles.
Emotional connections change everything; rational arguments don’t. …
1. Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win.
2. Decide you care what happens to them.
3. Reach out across that divide to start a real conversation. …”

The 2016 election highlighted divisions that run deep in American society. Here’s what you can do to help bridge them.

Source: Divided We Fall, But Bland Calls For Unity Won’t Cut It Either

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ON THE MEDIA: Eight Ways to Strengthen Democracy Beyond Voting

Chuck Collins great post on the work to be done. Community Supported Film particularly encourages us all to evaluate the impact of his point #1 and #2. We must do some “deep listening,” as Christopher Lydon (Open Source) has been saying. We need to hear the perspectives of those we don’t know and don’t understand. The media is not doing this work for us and we must find a new way to hear each other. Community Supported Film is committed to empowering local voices.

‘Especially after the deeply toxic experience of 2016,’ writes Collins, ‘we all need to step up to protect our real democracy.’

Source: Eight Ways to Strengthen Our Democracy Beyond Voting

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HAITI: Haiti faces a ‘major food crisis’, its interim president says – BBC News

Haiti’s interim leader tells the BBC the country faces a “major food crisis” after Hurricane Matthew.

Source: Haiti faces a ‘major food crisis’, its interim president says – BBC News

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan May Have to Accommodate 1.5 Million Refugees in 2016

Strain of new arrivals adds to government’s challenges

Source: Afghanistan May Have to Accommodate 1.5 Million Refugees in 2016

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ON DEVELOPMENT, ON MIGRATION: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Development | Inter Press Service

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike.

Source: Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Development | Inter Press Service

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US Election Results Highlight Importance of CSFilm’s Mission

The Messenger is the Message: US Media’s role in election outcome has reaffirmed CSFilm’s commitment to strengthening the public’s understanding of social and economic concerns – whether at home or abroad – from the local perspective. News media is too centralized, top-down and isolated. Learning about ‘the other,’ whether it be Aghans, Haitians, blue-collar workers or new immigrants, is mostly done by the mainstream media through the eyes of outsiders.

Suggested reading:
Kill the Messenger – The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World, Maria Armoudian, armoudian.com

“What role do the media play in creating the conditions for atrocities…Conversely, can the media be used to preserve democracy and safeguard the hyman rights of all citizens in a diverse society?”

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ON THE MEDIA: Local Investigative Reporting – Nieman Reports

voiceofsandiego.org,

At the nonprofit voiceofsandiego.org, ‘From day one our job has been to fill the gaps between what people want from their local media and what they have.’

Source: Defining an Online Mission: Local Investigative Reporting – Nieman Reports

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HAITI: U.S. government quietly resumes deportations to Haiti | Miami Herald

As Haiti continues to struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the U.S. government has started to deport Haitians again.

Source: U.S. government quietly resumes deportations to Haiti | Miami Herald

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ON MIGRATION, AFGHANISTAN: Dying to Get to Europe | Inter Press Service

They are not just data or numbers for statistical calculations. They are desperate human beings fleeing wars, violence, abuse, slavery and death. They hear and believe the bombastic speeches about democracy and human rights and watch the many images of welfare and good life in Europe. They are so desperate that trusting the promises of human traffickers comes almost naturally to them. After all these human traffickers are the very people who lure them to

Source: Dying to Get to Europe | Inter Press Service

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Privatization Cure Often Worse Than Malady | Inter Press Service

KUALA LUMPUR and SYDNEY, Nov 3 2016 (IPS) – Privatization of SOEs has been a cornerstone of the neo-liberal counterrevolution that swept the world from the 1980s following the economic crisis brought about by US Fed’s sharp hike in interest rates. Developing countries, seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, often had to commit to privatization as a condition for credit support.

Source: Privatization Cure Often Worse Than Malady | Inter Press Service

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ON THE MEDIA: Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorship | Inter Press Service

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has condemned the killing of more than 800 journalists globally since 2006. A measly seven percent of these murders have been solved. The protection of journalists and fighting against impunity is part of the UN’s 16th Sustainable Development Goal – to ensure public access to information and to protect fundamental freedoms. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has released their annual impunity index which ranks countries based on the

Source: Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorship | Inter Press Service

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100+ students and faculty for CSFilm presentation at Highline College, Seattle WA

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Photos by Michael Sladek
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Portland, OR – Screening and Presentation – Afghan and Haitian Films

flyer-universal-single-frontNW Documentary, 6 NE Tillamook St, Portland, Oregon 97212
(corner of Tillamook St. and Williams St.)

Thursday, October 27, 6-8pm, PDT

The Messenger is the Message-Local Perspectives in Film

Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film, will introduce and screen Afghan and Haitian-made documentary films.  Michael went to Afghanistan in 2010 and trained Afghan journalists, storytellers and writers in lived-reality documentary filmmaking.  During this process they produced ten short films that provide a unique view of Afghans’ daily efforts to address their challenging social and economic conditions.  Community Supported Film completed a similar project with Haitians at the end of 2014.

These films nourish an understanding of Haiti and Afghanistan that goes beyond the western media’s relentless focus on crises, conflicts and disasters.  It is CSFilm’s mission to take the foreign out of foreign correspondence by putting locals in charge of the storytelling about their community’s economic and social development issues.

$5 donation suggested at the door for event expenses

 

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ON DEVELOPMENT, IMMIGRANT/REFUGEE: What Happens When a Small Farmer Migrates?

Kenya – Maasai pastoralists, who participate in the Farmer Field School, taking their cattle to a local livestock market. ©FAO/Vitale

ipsnews.net, by Baher Kamal, ROME, Oct 13 2016 – Now that world attention is focused on the fast growing process of urbanisation, with 2 in 3 people estimated to be living in towns and cities by the year 2030, an old “equation” jumps rapidly to mind: each time a small farmer migrates to an urban area, equals to one food producer less, and one food consumer more.

Such an equation especially impacts developing countries, where small farmers produce between 60 and 80 per cent of all food.It also affects the living conditions in urban centres, with negative repercussions on the policies aimed at achieving the sustainability of world’s cities, which is scheduled to be top on the agenda ofHABITAT III conference in Quito, Ecuador on October 17-20.

IPS interviewed Dr. Peter Wobst at the United Nations leading agency dealing with food and agriculture, to assess the impact of rural migration on food production.

“Every smallholder moving out is one producer less – that’s for sure… But the reality is complex…,” says Wobst, who is senior advisor on the Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Dr. Peter Wobst

According to Wobst, migration (mobility of people, largely comprising of labour mobility) is a common phenomenon that occurs during the economic and social transformation of societies/economies.

“We want this to happen for economies and regions to develop. Today, in a more integrated world economy, more than ever. And the numbers speak for themselves – one billion people not living in the communities where they were born.”

Hence, as the rural areas (including agriculture) transform, new production systems require different compositions of skills, which in turn needs to be taken into account in the relevant education systems (basic education as well as vocation training), Wobst adds.

While some people find new opportunities in the changing rural economy, others are seeking opportunities in nearby towns or cities or ultimately move abroad. This is all fine as long as people improve their relative livelihoods condition, he says.

“What obviously we do not want to see is that people move because of economic distress, because they cannot cope with the changing rural (economic) environment and do not see any other viable livelihoods opportunity in their communities of origin. To be beneficial, migration should be a choice, not a necessity.”

Wobst then explains that “we at FAO are therefore working on ‘addressing the root causes of distress migration’, dealing with the socio-economic issues that drive people out of rural areas.”

Now, back to the farmer moving to the city. According to Wobst, for an individual, that “equation” seems obvious… But in a time continuum and over a large number of farmers it does not hold.

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Pakistan – People escaping flooded areas by tractor. ©FAO/Hafeez

Wobst goes further to explain why the equation “each time a farmer migrates to an urban area, means one food producer less and one food consumer more” does not necessarily hold.

“As economies undergo structural transformation, the movement of people in search of better employment opportunities elsewhere is inevitable. Farmers can migrate to an urban area, but also to other rural areas, and can do this on a short-term (including seasonal/cyclical migration) or long-term basis.”

However, even in the case of rural-urban migration, generally the “equation” (rural migration to urban centres implying less food production and more food consumption) does not hold, Wobst adds.

“If properly managed, safe and regular migration can reduce pressure on local labour markets and foster a more efficient allocation of labour and higher wages in agriculture.”

“Some farmers may find a much more productive occupation in urban areas. Some may still have a farm back home that they support to become more productive through the remittances they send as well as the new knowledge and skills they have acquired.”

Some of those remaining farmers in the rural areas become more productive over time (fostered by agricultural transformation, advancement in technologies, agricultural investment, better vocational training, extension services, etc.), says Wobst.

And adds that agricultural and rural transformation will lead to more integrated food systems, with further occupational opportunities up the value chain (including processing, packaging, transport, wholesale, and retail).

Wobst also explains that remittances from family members who migrated can relax liquidity constraints and foster investments in agriculture and other rural economic activities with potential for job creation in rural areas of origin.

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Burundi – Refugees fleeing civil conflict. ©FAO/Linton

“Further, migrants can acquire new knowledge, skills and networks which will allow them to engage in more productive and attractive employment and entrepreneurial opportunities linked to agriculture upon their own return or simply facilitate those opportunities for the remaining farm household or community members.”

IPS asked Wobst about the latest figures. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, including 150 million migrant workers. About one third of them are aged 15-34, he said.

Internal migration is an even larger phenomenon, with 740 million internal migrants in 2013. Around 40 per cent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, reflecting the rural origins of a large share of migrants, Wobst further explained.

Moreover, in 2015, 65.3 million people around the world were forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution.

Regarding the impact of migration, Wobst believes it brings both opportunities and challenges for countries of origin, transit and destination.

In countries of origin, diaspora, migrant networks and return migrants can foster the transfer of skills, know-how and technology, as well as investments to promote agriculture and rural development, he says. In countries of transit and destination migrants can help fill labour shortages.

“However, large movements of people present complex challenges. Rural areas of origin risk losing the younger and often most dynamic share of their workforce, while in transit and destination countries migration can constitute a challenge for local authorities to provide quality public services for migrants and host populations, and further strain the natural resource base.”

Hence, the FAO has been working to create alternative and sustainable livelihood options in rural areas, with a special focus on women and youth, and harness the developmental potential of internal and international migration.

“Hence, the FAO has been working to create alternative and sustainable livelihood options in rural areas, with a special focus on women and youth, and harness the developmental potential of internal and international migration”.

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ON THE MEDIA: A Twin Cities documentary filmmaking project helps local Iraqi refugees tell their stories

Jameelah Hassoon and Jamal Ali came to the U.S. in 2009.

In Baghdad, Jamal Ali was a U.S.-trained engineer who worked as a UPS manager. In Minnesota, he has reinvented himself as an interpreter — and, in recent years, a fledgling documentary filmmaker.

Ali is part of an annual project launched in 2012 that enlists Iraqi refugees to tell their stories on film. This year, he led a team that set out to highlight success stories in the small local Iraqi community and examine the idea of Muslim refugees as a threat. St. Paul’s Landmark Center will host a screening of the documentary and a discussion with the filmmakers later this month.

 “We just want to pass a ­message that [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] is not representing Islam,” Ali, the movie’s co-director, said. ISIL “has been denied and refused by all Iraqis.”

Funded with a state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant, the “Iraqi Voices” project is the brainchild of a local nonprofit called Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. Since 2007, the nonprofit has brought in visiting Iraqi professionals and supported clean water projects at Iraqi schools.

Ali says he and his family discovered the documentary project at just the right time. He was resettled in Minnesota with his wife and two adult children in 2009 after a stint in Jordan, among the first ­refugees from the Iraq war to arrive in the state.

It was a challenging transition at first. Ali’s wife, Jameelah Hassoon, an anesthesiologist in Baghdad, struggled to come to terms with the realization she would not be able to restart her career because of education and licensing requirements. Getting involved with the project provided a good outlet.

Nathan Fisher, a Twin Cities filmmaker who had shot a documentary about Iraqi refugees in the Middle East, recruited the family to the project. They and other participants — a largely middle class bunch that included a former veterinarian, teacher and entrepreneur — shot three- to eight-minute documentary shorts about their lives. A middle-aged woman dreams of reuniting with her adult children, who couldn’t accompany her to Minnesota. A young man recounts narrowly avoiding a terrorist attack in an Iraqi barbershop during a visit to a barber in ­Columbia Heights.

 Ali’s son, Naser, in his early 30s, created a movie about realizing that not all Americans are rich and happy. The movies have been screened at the Walker Art Museum, on the Macalester College campus in St. Paul and in churches across the metro.

“We wanted to express our feelings to the Americans,” Ali said. “It helped us release some of the stress we had.”

This year, the group of 10 amateur filmmakers decided to collaborate on one longer film.

“This year’s film was about debunking myths about Iraqis: ‘We are here. We are not that scary,’ ” Fisher said.

The film features a family that runs a St. Paul neighborhood grocery with a diverse clientele, where they serve Middle Eastern food and cheesesteak sandwiches. It also highlights Hala Asamarai, an Iraqi-American who won election to the Columbia Heights school board earlier this year.

The Landmark screening Oct. 29 will include a Q&A led by Joseph Farag, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. The free event runs from 2 to 4 p.m.

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UPDATED: Hurricane Matthew – Support Haitian-led organizations

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If you would like to support recovery efforts in Haiti please donate to Haitian-led organizations.

Suggested Haitian-led organizations that CSFilm has experience with include:

Haitian Health Foundation, Working specifically in the hardest it area of Jeremie: The mission of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) is to improve the health and well-being of women, children, families and communities living in the greater Jérémie region through healthcare, education and community development.

SAKALA, Working in Citi Soleil, massive slum at the base of Port-au-Prince, dealing with disastrous flooding

Lambi Fund of Haiti, locally led long-term development work

Grassroots International, progressive US based organization with long relationships with Haitian-led organizations

ActionAid-Haiti – Locally led by a team of highly respected Haitians focused on long-term development and policy issues.

Partners in Health, Healthcare systems and response

 

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HAITI: ‘There’s Going to Be Famine Here’: Hurricane Matthew’s Apocalyptic Aftermath in Haiti

After traveling through the once beautiful, now devastated peninsula that bore the brunt of the storm, it is hard to believe there will ever be a full recovery.
JÉRÉMIE, Haiti — The roads were lined with Gordian knots of massive uprooted trees, twisted, severed palms, torn corrugated roof parts, crushed rural dwellings, schools, local shops. Mile after mile the scenery repeated itself; the devastation growing with an eerie intensity. Leafless trees and palms had turned black, as if scorched by the storm, and stood like frozen, shaven sentinels in a sea of flooded fields for as far as the eye could see. Destruction was everywhere.

A three-day trip through Haiti’s hardest hit southern peninsula revealed the still-unimaginable scale of suffering Hurricane Matthew left behind, and the long-term catastrophic impact the tempest will have on this Caribbean island. More than 1,000 people are believed to have died. Fears are growing of a cholera epidemic. And despite some long-delayed aid deliveries, hopes for the future are fading.

The colossal storm had hovered slowly, it seemed almost maliciously, over this agriculturally rich region, destroying everything in its path with an especially punishing blow to the region of Grand’Anse, Haiti’s breadbasket on the northern coast of the peninsula. Its final coup de grace: destroying the bridge over the Momance River, effectively severing the peninsula from the capital of Port au Prince and the rest of the country.

“It’s like a state of war,” said Hilaire Delence, a 28-year-old customs worker in the farming town of Torbeck on the south coast of the peninsula. Residents were desperate for any kind of help—water, food, medical supplies, shelters, anything. “The people cleared the streets themselves,” he said. “Every tree fell.” His family was one of the few that had several plots of crops and some cattle after decades of hard work.

“We’ve lost everything,” he said, walking through the rotten remains of their manioc field. “We were the only house left standing because we have cement walls. All the other houses in the community were destroyed. Our home became the only shelter as people ran from the fierceness of the storm towards the fields.”

Both of Delence’s parents stood on the porch, visibly shaken. “It started in the afternoon, on Monday and continued until Wednesday,” said Anne Marie Laurette Laurent, his demure 70-year-old mother, her voice quivering. “We huddled for three days here, we couldn’t move, we were shaking with fear. We just held on to each other. When we came out, we could not believe what we saw.” Delence said she had fainted.

His parents had farmed here for 60 years. “It will take five to 10 years to rebuild the coconut trees. Maybe 50 years for the big trees,” said Rosulme Gabriel Delence, his 68-year-old father, a proud Haitian farmer whose fixed stare betrayed the trauma he wished to hide.

The big trees bear the fruit called lamveritab in Creole and even âme véritable, meaning “true soul,” in French—the breadfruit that is prized by farmers for its multiple uses and the revenue it brings in.

“We [in the town] lost all our shops, too,” said Rosulme. “The books are gone. It’s the beginning of the school year. We owe credit for our loans. Now we have nothing, nothing.”

“I didn’t believe I would survive,” she said. “But I’ve lost all my resistance. There’s no hope to rebuild what we worked hard for.” Those who had sought refuge in the Delence house chimed in. A woman in the small crowd that had gathered around the porch cried, “All we have left to do is die.”

On Torbeck’s debris-laden main streets, young men had set up roadblocks in futile protest at the lack of help.

“No one, no one has come! Not the government people, not the international aid. We’re desperate,” said Don Duerviliyouyou, a young teacher. “This community is entirely dependent on agriculture and livestock, because there are no institutions, so no jobs. The only support we get is from the [Haitian] diaspora and that too is going to stop because of government corruption.” He had just summarized the situation of some 80 percent of Haiti’s poor. He paused and said gravely, “There’s going to be famine here.”

Down the road, heavily clad cops from Haiti’s Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre (CIMO) security forces chased other protesters, firing tear gas in all directions. The protesters were outside the Haitian-Taiwan Cooperation plant. Inside, local mayor Guidile Joseph was meeting with the plant managers about getting help for the community. Asked about why no officials from the government’s Civil Protection had come to Torbeck, she raised her voice: “Me too, I am angry like the protesters. We don’t have a government. We have the will but no one is hearing us.”

Joseph described the magnitude of crop losses—manioc, rice, corn, pit mil (made into a type of cornmeal), peas, and many banana plantations.

“The loss is devastating, not just for us, but for the whole country,” she said. “No one has come to help. We have not seen a single delegation from anywhere. We need the international help.”

The same macabre landscape of devastation lined the 86-kilometer road to Jérémie. Haiti’s most vulnerable, its poorest, were putting out mattresses to dry, using the overturned palm trees as laundry lines were every rescued piece of clothing hung. Others were trying to save the trunks that were not completely destroyed to burn charcoal for cooking, one of the main reasons for Haiti’s massive deforestation.

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There was not a dwelling standing. And no convoys of aid. At Camp Perrin, midway to Jérémie, 300 families huddled inside a rudimentary building that served as school and library in this mountain village. A man waived frantically at our car.

Fortil Wisman, referred to himself as the community representative, but is a lawyer by profession. “No one has come, you are the first person I’m describing the conditions to.”

They, too, had no food, no water, just a large tin bowl of beans. “We’ve been forgotten, no local official has inquired or come,” said Wisman. “This is an area that is home to nearly 100,000 poor Haitians.” A major downpour began. Wisman noticed the uprooted trees. “We have no shade to protect us from the harsh sun, but when it rains, there’s no protection for all the sans-abris, the homeless, everywhere. People are getting sick and there’s no medical help.”

Grand’Anse, the northern province of the peninsula, one of the largest agricultural regions in the country, had been cut off from all communications. Haiti’s two main cellular service providers had been severely damaged by the storm. No news had come out of Jérémie, its capital and second port, also known as historical and cultural center.

The picturesque town, known for its gingerbread-style houses, and for its poets, has a prized tourist destination. It looked like a sea of pulverized wreckage stretching from the coast to its hilltops. The cathedral’s recently restored roof had been torn off, as were the roofs of most of the houses that lined its streets.

Juliette Nicolas sat on the porch of her Aubergine Inn. Soaked checkbooks, Xeroxed house plans, and a printer were on the table, piles of documents dried in the driveway, sheets and mattresses lined the roofless second floor. The fierce winds and rains had engulfed the inn, drenching every inch, including valuable historical documents.

“Jérémie is gone. It’s totally destroyed,” said Nicolas, a native of this town she’s been helping to support for years. She trained as an architect, and spoke of the irony of a meeting set up by the United Nations the week before Hurricane Matthew about managing urban risks in the aftermath of the horrendous 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people. “The main goal was to force a national plan for communal structural assessments and make that a law,” said Nicolas. “That way one would know where to put an airport. In Jérémie, our airport is on a fault line—but where do you put it?”

In Jérémie’s famed square, where the damaged cathedral stood, a man walking by stopped to say to us, to anyone, to no one, “I’ve lost everything. My wife is sick. My kids can’t go to school. Our house is destroyed. What are we going to do? Die?”

The heat pounded the weary residents on Sunday as they, too, stretched clothing to dry on any surface, including hanging doors or fallen ceiling beams. They cleared debris solemnly. Everyone echoed the same cry of help: “The officials haven’t come, the aid hasn’t come, we are desperate, we have no water, we need Aquatabs to purify the local water.”

U.S. Army helicopters flew overhead ferrying the 16 tons of supplies the U.S. government was able to bring to Haiti last Thursday, once air traffic had resumed. Tired but angered residents looked up, tempers were beginning to flare. The International Organization for Migration was in charge of distributing the supplies from the staging area at the small airport. But nothing had been delivered. On Monday morning, the first convoy of OIM’s huge trucks rolled in, barely passing through Jérémie’s narrow streets.

The long-term consequences of Hurricane Matthew’s destructive path was lost on no one. Even before the storm, 90 percent of Haiti had been deforested and was essentially barren land. More than 35 percent of its agricultural production came from this southern peninsula. The situation is infinitely worse than the impact of the storm felt in the United States. Here, it is not about getting a battered population back to normal. For many, that will never happen, and there is no real hope left.

In Port au Prince, the government promised that a wooden pontoon bridge would be temporarily placed over the Momance River. A Haitian presidential candidate said, even more boldly, that a permanent bridge would be up within days. But such assurances have been drowned in what is still the muddy and treacherous crossing.

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