OK Teacher Walkout

On April 2nd, teachers from around the state of Oklahoma walked out of their classrooms and marched on the Oklahoma state capitol — protesting the last decade of cuts to education and demanding that Oklahoma legislatures provide adequate funding for public education, so as to allow teachers to give their students a quality education. The walkout has now continued for nearly two weeks, as tens of thousands of teachers return day after day to advocate for their students and for the future of our state.

I, too, have spent many days up at the capitol in support of educators in their endeavor and, initially, I wasn’t entirely sure as to why. After all, I haven’t been a student in the OK public school system for nearly 3 years now, I’m not a teacher, and I have no intention of becoming a teacher. It wasn’t until day 3 of the walkout during House session when Representative Scott Inman asked “Why are you here?”  to everyone sitting in the chamber’s gallery, that I really began to consider it. Was I just at the capitol to be a part of the hype — to be a part of the movement — or was I there for something more?

It was in that moment that I remembered something else that Representative Inman had said to me nearly four years ago, in the midst of a different education crisis, while I was paging in the House of Representatives. After sitting in on weeks worth of House floor meetings, listening to the GOP’s seemingly endless debate on the merits of 3rd grade testing (much to my distaste), my page group had the chance to talk to both representative Enns and Representative Inman.

Representative Enns spoke to our group first, explaining that our education was a top priority for the Oklahoma legislature and that the Department of Education was one of the most well-funded in the state. He said that I should be proud of the education I was receiving in the OK public school system and, at the time, I was. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was irregular not to have updated textbooks or, in some cases, any textbook at all. I was unaware, at the time, that it was out of the norm to have more than 22 students in a class. And, at the time, I only knew that I had excellent teachers — I did not realize that many of them were working 2+ jobs, and oftentimes struggling to make ends meet.

Representative Inman, on the other hand, was not so blindly optimistic (or blatantly deceitful). He, too, emphasized the importance of our educations and encouraged us all to work hard in school. However, he then went on to tell us some of the facts, like that the Department of Education had been cut annually for the previous five years. He ended the discussion by saying something that has stuck with me ever since. He said: “We are fighting for your education, and the time will come when you might have to fight for your education as well.” As a Senior in high school, I was not overly concerned by this statement. In fact, I disregarded it almost entirely when he said it.

However, two years later, as a student of Economics at the University of Oklahoma, I began to understand what he had meant. I began to understand that the best way to stimulate the economy was to increase government spending on social services like education, health care, transportation, and public security. After coming to this realization, it became increasingly difficult for me to understand why the legislator refused to stop handing out corporate tax breaks to the wealthy while simultaneously de-funding key services that benefit of middle- and low-income families.

I realize now that education is not merely a “teacher issue” or a “student issue;” it is a societal problem, and it impacts all of us. After all, if we fail to fund the education of Oklahoma’s youth today, we will most assuredly pay the price in the future.  This point is made perfectly by the fact that Oklahoma is ranked 48th in education funding and 1st in incarceration. We fail our children from the start, and then we lock them up as punishment for our mistakes. This is a fact that I am simply no longer willing to ignore.

That is why I have spent the last eight days up at the capitol — waiting for hours on end to speak with legislatures, researching tax policy, and reading proposed legislation. The time has come to fight — not for my own education, but for the educations of the thousands of children in Oklahoma that are still in the public schools system. The fight has been difficult, and at times discouraging, as Republican legislators continuously deny the requests of Oklahoma’s teachers to fund the future of our state (despite their obligation to represent the interests of their constituents).

Nonetheless, witnessing OK teachers’ unwavering tenacity in the face of a near-total lack of action by legislatures during these challenging days has been one of the most inspiring and life-changing events of my life. Seeing teachers arrive to the Capitol day after day at the break of dawn, even before their legislators, crowding the halls of the capitol to max capacity and surrounding the building with signs in hand no matter rain, shine, or snow, has given me a renewed sense of faith in the future of our state. I am confident, for the first in years, that our state is on the path to prosperity. I am confident that we will no longer allow our elected officials to place their loyalty to corporate interests and the 1% above their civic responsibility to their constituents. And, if our legislatures refuse to represent our interests, I am now confident that we will have the courage and the resolution to replace them with others who do.

I, like many others I know, was deeply disappointed to hear that the Oklahoma Education Association had pulled their support for the teacher walkout despite our legislator’s and governor’s outright refusal to address (or even consider) our concerns about common education. Certainly, in passing HB 1010xx the legislator took a monumental step in the right direction, but it would be a severe overstatement to assume that this step was enough of an investment into public education. On the contrary, since the beginning of the walkout on April 2nd the legislator has not raised any additional funds for education — only repealed the Hotel/Motel tax that would have raised ~$50M and replaced it with an Amazon tax that is estimated to raise only ~$20M, resulting in a net loss of $3oM for teachers and students.

Despite this obvious funding discrepancy, some Republican legislators and the governor have been adamant in their claims that, by continuing the walkout and demanding additional funding, teachers are being selfish and behaving like “teenagers” that want a better car. Choosing to shut their eyes to reality, these legislators insist upon ignoring the hard facts: that educators were never fighting for a higher pay raise, but for a better future for the state of Oklahoma. Republican legislators have made the same promise day after day: that there is no budget hole and that any revenue reallocated in year 2 will be substituted with new growth revenue, knowing full well that it would be infinitely better to fully fund education now and allocate any additional growth revenue towards the multitude of other departments that have been similarly cut throughout the last decade, as opposed to relying on a revenue that may or may not be generated in the next fiscal year.

For this reason, I will not be reverting back to business as usual on Monday. I, alongside hundreds of parents, concerned community members, and teacher delegations, will continue to pressure my legislators to pass either the capital gains repeal or 0.25% income tax increase as well as a Wind GPT for as long as it takes. And, if at the end of our efforts, legislators are still intent on obstinacy and unwilling to compromise, I am prepared to work with educators to file initiative petitions to allow the electorate to vote on the issues that the legislator refuses to. Furthermore, I am fully intent on campaigning against those legislators whom have proven themselves to be unwilling to represent their constituents’ best interest.

I believe in the Oklahoma public education system. I believe in Oklahoma students and educators. And, more than anything, I believe in the future of this once-great state. That is why I have spent my last eight days at the capital, that is why I will continue to protest come next week, and that is why I will continue to fight for as long as it takes to restore Oklahoma to greatness. That is why I am here.

Three Perspectives on the Cold War

Often times in American history, we are taught to view historical events from a single perspective. However, it is important that we take into consideration various international standpoints as we analyze events such as the Cold War. For example, President Truman, Soviet Ambassador Novikov and Indian Prime Minister Nehru interpreted the Cold War and their roles in it completely differently. In order to fully grasp the Cold War and its extreme complexity, one must consider each of these men’s viewpoints.

For instance, According to President Harry Truman, The Cold War was the result of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union’s desire to spread communist values internationally. Up until the Russian Revolution there were only two prominent ways of organizing a society – monarchies and democracies. Many citizens across the globe were intrigued by the prospect of communism and the value that it placed on justice as opposed to the value of equality which was most important under the capitalist system. President Truman believed that the United States was obligated to protect fellow democracies – such as Greece and Turkey – from potential Communist insurgencies supported by the USSR. He proposed in the Truman Doctrine that this should be achieved through a system of containment which would allow communism to exist where it had already been established, but prevent its further expansion. President Truman states in his doctrine that, “No other nation is willing and able to provide the necessary support for democratic government[s].” He is not wrong about this, Europe was in a state of both political and economic unrest after WW2 concluded in 1945 and would not have been able to enter into a confrontation with such a powerful and economically independent nation as the Soviet Union. For this reason, President Truman believed that it was the United States’ duty to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities [Communist insurgents] or by outside pressures.” In this way, Truman deemed the United States as the world’s sole protector in the face of communism and felt an obligation to defend democracy – freedom.

In comparison, Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Novikov believed that the United States was using Europe’s instability and economic dependency as a way to subtly create an “American Monopoly Capital,” and subsequently achieve world domination. Ambassador Novikov believed that the United States significant military expansions and the establishment of a substantial peace time army directly following the conclusion of WW2 was evidence of this plan. His claim was not unreasonable, and the Soviet Union’s initial concern over the United States’ decision to not demobilize was not entirely unwarranted.  According to Ambassador Novikov it was due to this fear that the USSR created “broad plans for expansion [were] developed.” Following WW2, the Soviet Union was one of the only global powers apart from the United States to “continue to remain economically independent,” and for this reason the USSR felt that it was the only nation strong enough to stand up to the United States and prevent the United States’ post-war world domination. Ironically, both the United States and the Soviet Union felt that they were spreading positive values – that they were doing the right thing for the international community.

However, the events of the Cold War are possibly best explained by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who asserted that if the world was divided into two polarized sides, “the inevitable result would be war.” Prime Minister Nehru feared that if he were to submit to either of these sides – “communism” or “anti-communism” – he would lose his identity. He believed this because he did not fully agree with either side’s position; for this reasons, he chose to maintain a policy of nonalignment under which he claimed that India would not become involved in a war “unless we have to defend ourselves.” Prime Minister Nehru argued that for Asian and African states, who just recently earned their independence from the imperialist European powers, to submit to either the United States or the Soviet Union would be “to degrade [and] humiliate themselves.” So, as you can now see, each of these three men had drastically different perspectives on the motives behind the Cold War, and what their role in the war should be. These perspectives differed according to both nationality and ideology and they worked to dramatically influence the both the reality of the Cold War as well as the ultimate result of it.

King Leopold’s Legacy in the DRC

Slavery is deeply entrenched in our worlds history, and has taken many different forms throughout time – some more overt than others. One of the most audacious, and unknown, instances of slavery is that of the Congolese people under King Leopold II. Under the guise of philanthropic and progressive action, King Leopold II laid claim to the Congo in 1885 and proceeded to enslave many of its indigenous tribes – forcing them to provide free labor to Belgium for his own personal gain. King Leopold misconstrued the African continent (and more specifically the Congo) as an area plagued by violence and savagery; he utilized the ever-popular “white-savior complex” to convince the international community that if Belgium colonized the Congo, the indigenous tribes would benefit from the introduction of European systems of health, education, etc. and the Christian faith. The colonization of the Congo by Belgium, and the remainder of Africa by various other European nations, severely impeded Africa’s ability to progress independently due to the creation of colonies (and eventually countries) that did not take into account the natural borders created by the indigenous tribes of the continent. While the European nations developed rapidly during and after the Industrial Revolution, African countries lacked the necessary freedom to benefit from the revolution. For this reason, we still see an extensive amount of slavery in Africa today – much of which shares commonalities with the slavery practiced by King Leopold II.

With the increasingly industrial nature of Europe during the 1800’s, many European leaders began looking to expand their nations through colonization – among them was King Leopold II of Belgium. However, at the end of the 17th century, there was only a limited amount of land left – primarily in Africa. King Leopold focused his colonization efforts on what would come to be known as the Democratic Republic of Congo and, while Leopold promoted the colonization as both scientific exploration and philanthropy, it was truly a brutal system of slavery. After coming to the realization that the DRC was host to a plethora of ivory – a highly sought after (and thereby expensive) commodity of the time – Leopold recognized the potential profits that the resource could bring Belgium, and so demanded that massive quantities of ivory be harvested – often times with the infamous brutality of the Force Publique.

In order to do this, King Leopold required the legal rights to the land and game of the Congo, and so tricked the tribal chiefs into signing away their ownership in return for nearly-worthless trinkets and gems. Furthermore, Leopold then continued to enslave the indigenous tribal groups of the area – using them as a labor force that enabled him to exploit the entirety of the colony (nearly four times as large as Texas). Ironically, Leopold managed to gain international support for Belgian colonization of the Congo under the pretense of “stopping the slave trade,” leading the United States and many of world leaders to recognize the legitimacy of Belgium’s claim on the Congo. In its entirety, King Leopold’s ploy was simply a hugely-successful campaign of misinformation that increased his wealth exponentially.

Unfortunately, there are many parallels between King Leopold’s system of slavery in the Congo, and the modern forms of slavery that we see around the world today. Much like during colonization, globalization has led to the expansion of Western corporations into developing nations in order to reduce the cost of production by taking advantage of laxer labor restriction. However, what many people are unaware of is that many of these corporations pay their workers nothing at all – opting instead to enact a system of forced servitude. In the words of Kevin Bales, in his book Disposable People, “consumers do look for bargains, and they don’t usually stop to ask why a product is so cheap” (Bales). Unbeknownst to the majority of people, many of the commodities that we use in our day-to-day lives – sugar, cotton, jewelry, glass, cellphones – are the products of slavery. However, while we are quick to denounce the slavery in our history books, many people would prefer to remain indifferent to the flourishing systems of slavery that are thriving around the world today – we are all too eager to look the other way so long as we can continue our lives unaffected.

Much like the indigenous tribes of the Congo, victims of modern-day slavery are often initially deceived into slavery – lured in with false promises of paying jobs, and better lives for themselves and their families. In addition, many young children are merely abducted from their families and trafficked into slavery while they are still young. Once enslaved, victims are treated with similar forms of brutality employed by King Leopold during his reign in the Congo. Slaves are required to work under intolerable conditions for exceedingly-extended hours in order to meet nearly-unachievable quotas. These men, women, and children are abused both mentally and physically. The enslaved Congolese people were forced to meet rubber quotas, some even resorting “to digging up roots in order to find enough rubber to meet their quotas” in order to avoid the chicotte. modern slaves are also held to unreasonably high standards of production that force them to risk their health to meet (Hochschild). Furthermore, modern-day slaves are forced to work inhumane hours in dangerous conditions without the adequate protections necessary to preserve their health.

In both the case of King Leopold’s Congolese slavery and modern-day slavery around the world, political and economic interests were (and continue to be) merged into a complex that allows slavery to continue unchecked by the government. King Leopold exercised total political control in Belgium, and used his power to facilitate the economic gain of both his country and himself. For this reason, slavery in the Congo continue (and expanded) for many years under the pretense of Christian philanthropy and technological progress – the system benefitted both the political and economic interests of Belgium. Of course, the corporations that implement slavery in the modern world do not often have direct control over the government; however, they do have access to a level of indirect control by providing financial resources to political leaders in return for government approval to continue using slave labor to produce their commodities. Obviously, this political-economic complex invites an extensive amount of corruption into the government; the results of which are perhaps best explained by Dr. Kevin Bales: “When the police become criminals, slavery can take root” (Bales).

Perhaps the most notable similarity between the slavery enforced by King Leopold in the Congo and modern forms of slavery is that each masquerades as technological and societal progress. Under King Leopold, the Congolese were forced to build an extensive railway system throughout the colony – the likes of which the world had not yet seen – and collect huge amounts of ivory and rubber – some of the most highly coveted commodities of the time. To the outside world, each of these things seemed to be significant advances for Belgium. However, what the world did not know until much later was that, although King Leopold presented a front of progress, it was simply a façade to cover what would soon come to be known as “a crime against humanity” (Hochschild). In both cases, the outside world is easily deluded due to its extreme focus on the end result – a railroad, ivory, a chocolate bar, a cell phone, etc. – and its near-total disregard for the process by which it is produced. As Kevin Bales explains in his book Disposable People, while the commodities produced by slaves have incredible value in our society, the slaves themselves are disregarded – their value stolen away from them – their identities stripped, and their voices smothered until they are practically invisible.

Fortunately, there are many people who have fought, and continue to fight, for the rights of those enslaved both in the past and the present. Take Edmund Morel, a Liverpool Shipping Line employee who noticed that many of the goods being transported to Belgium from the Congo were the result of slave labor and had a “flash of moral recognition” that motivated him to take preventative action that eventually lead to the formation of the first-ever international human rights movement of the time (Hochschild). Even Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, himself had a flash of moral recognition while reading a quote from Mark Twain that motivated him to research the odious crimes committed by King Leopold in the Congo, and become heavily involved as a journalist in the human rights movement. Many others also continue to join the fight to shine a light on modern-day slavery and eradicate the “crime against humanity” that has been allowed to go on for so long.

 

Works Cited

Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley, CA: U of       California, 1999. Print.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial   Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Drug Trafficking in Mexico

This semester, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Professor Morales-Rodriguez about the negative effects that drug trafficking has had on the citizens of Mexico. Professor Morales hails from Mexico herself, and regarded it fondly during her presentation; however, she explained that the continued prominence of the drug trade has had various negative social, political, and economic effects in the country and is to the extreme detriment of the Mexican people.

As one might expect, the drug trade in Mexico has caused severe violence in the country, and many innocents have fallen victim to it in one way or another. Furthermore, many individuals have gone missing during the reign of the drug cartels in Mexico. Professor Morales noted that many young women were particularly susceptible to being kidnapped.

Unfortunately, the Mexican government has never been stable for any extended period of time, and in the absence of legitimate government many cartels have seized political power (although unofficially). Due to the political influence of drug cartels in the Mexican government, there has oftentimes been a high level of corruption in the Mexican government. Therefore, the Mexican government has historically reacted with relative indifference to the atrocities committed by the cartels during the drug trade.

While current Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto has taken a more proactive approach to solving Mexico’s drug problem, there is still a severe lack of government involvement in abolishing the drug trade and punishing the cartels.

The drug cartels have morphed Mexico into a country in which many parents fear to send their children to school, or let them play outside unsupervised. However, in many communities the drug cartels have had an unexpected positive influence which further complicates the issue. Given that the Mexican government has oftentimes failed to invest in communities, leaving them in dire economic circumstances, some cartels have actually improved the schools and hospitals in local communities in return for the communities permission to carry out the drug trade without local protest.

Dr Morales noted that if the United States’s goal is to cut off the flow of drugs entering the nation, then we should not focus our energy on building a wall on our southern border, but instead focus our attention on assisting the Mexican government and investing in Mexican communities so as to minimize their susceptibility to the influence of drug traffickers.

Off The Market: Junior Year

This year, I have had the opportunity to continue working with Off The Market (OTM) to continue spreading awareness to OU Students, faculty, staff, and the Norman community as a whole. This year, my team and I have dedicated our efforts to planning a movie night in January (which happens to be Slavery Awareness Month) both to raise awareness about the issue of slavery and to raise money for the leading anti-slavery organization in the United States — Free The Slaves.

Following January’s movie night, we plan to once again host our annual Off The Market conference at the end of February. This year, we are thrilled to invite Dr. Kevin Bales as our keynote speaker. This year, OTM plans to focus on ways that the OU and Norman community can actively prevent slavery both locally and globally.

Whereas in the past Off The Market has focused almost exclusively on either on Sex trafficking or Labor trafficking, this semester we hope to discuss ways in which both types of atrocities can be prevented before they even have the chance to begin.

At this years OTM Conference, we hope to host a variety of non-profits based in the Oklahoma area that work to provide young children and teenagers (who are oftentimes the most prone to trafficking) with the educational opportunities, familial security, and economic stability  necessary to protect them from the threat of trafficking.

Each year that I have had the opportunity to work with Off The Market, I find myself learning more and more about the issue of modern slavery and the many fields that it spans. While I remain horrified by the atrocity of slavery and the fact that it is still permitted to exist in our society, I continue to grow increasingly hopeful for the future as I meet more and more individuals from around OU, Oklahoma, the nation, and the world, that are passionate about ending modern-day slavery in our lifetime.

Modern-Day Slavery: In Ghana and the World

At the beginning of this year, I was given the opportunity to attend a 4-day seminar with the leading expert in modern day slavery Dr. Kevin Bales. I learned an extraordinary amount about modern-day slavery from Dr. Bales, but what I found most interesting was the many forms that slavery currently takes in the country of Ghana.

Slavery is commonly taught in the United States as a historic system that began with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the 17th century and ended following the US Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. However, slavery pre-dates the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by thousands of years. In fact, Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire made slavery integral to their social systems.” What many people don’t realize is that slavery is still alive and well today, it has simply taken a new form. Unfortunately, although the delusion that slavery is simply an atrocity of the past pervades many of our modern societies, it couldn’t be further from the truth – slavery still exists in the 21st century. In fact, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million people are still enslaved around the world today. That means that there are more people enslaved today than there were during the entirety of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Unlike Antebellum Era slavery, modern-day slavery is far more difficult to detect, and often goes entirely unnoticed (or unacknowledged) for extended periods of time. According to Kevin Bales, in his book Disposable People, “even when shown photographs and affidavits, nations’ officials deny [modern-day slavery’s] existence.”

commonly referred to as “human trafficking” in the last decade, and the majority of coverage is in the form of sensationalist writing about the atrocities of sex trafficking. It is unfortunately common for organizations – especially those with Christian affiliations – to “employ enslaved people’s narratives as illustrations, while they provide their own philosophy,” thereby using slave narratives to further their own agendas. (Murphy 98). Also common in the media, is the portrayal of slavery survivors as victims, helpless to save themselves, who are in desperate need of our assistance. The results of this are perhaps best described by Dr. Kevin Bales: “When we typecast freed slaves as pathetic victims, however well-meaning that action might be, we deny the unique truth of each lived experience of slavery.” Furthermore, the mainstream media’s obsession with sex trafficking results in a lack of public awareness of other prominent forms of modern-day slavery. Certainly, sex trafficking is a severe issue that plagues our societies, and we must work diligently to abolish it. However, equally important, and yet often forgotten, are the atrocities of labor trafficking around the world. In fact, a larger number of people are forced into labor trafficking than sex trafficking, and yet it remains widely unreported on.

Of the 45.8 million people currently enslaved globally, there are an estimated “5.6 million people currently enslaved in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.” Many of these slaves can be found in Ghana, forced to work in galamsey mines or required to fish on Lake Volta. Both of these involuntary occupations prove to be incredibly hazardous for the men, women and children trapped in servitude due to their deplorable working conditions, and their lack of advanced tools. Galamsey mines are particularly dangerous “due to frequent mine collapses, poisonous dust inhalation, and exposure to toxic chemicals used to extract gold from ore.” This is because it is cheaper to simply replace a slave, than to provide safe working conditions and adequate medical access to insure their health and well being. Whereas in the past, slaves held a relatively high monetary value, following the exponential increase in the global population in the years following World War II, the price of slaves plummeted and now they are worth very little. Paired with the “rapid social and economic change” that the developing world was undergoing post-WW2, the conditions created a heightened level of vulnerability to trafficking in many third-world countries. Whereas in the past a slave was worth approximately $40,000 US dollars, in the modern world a slave is, on average, worth about $90. Slaves are especially inexpensive in the developing world, and can be sold for as cheap as $10.

In order to fully understand modern-day slavery, it is essential to first understand how people come to be enslaved. After all, slavery is illegal in every country, and yet it still exists – to some extent – in nearly every corner of the world. One of the most common forms of trafficking is debt bondage, and it begins with one simple question: “Want a job?” Debt bondage allows traffickers to deceive victims into believing that their predicament is their own fault by using victims’ “pride and honesty to manipulate them [and] by appealing to their sense of fair play.”  The debt trap is precisely how Ibrahim and his Uncle were first trafficked into slavery in Southern Ghana to work in an illegal gold mine. Ibrahim was born in a small village in Northern Ghana that he describes as “very poor…the land is poor, there is little water. There are lots of people, but little work” (“Blood” 128). After his mother and father died, Ibrahim and his uncle decided to travel South, “following a trail of stories of the golden south where there was plenty of food and good jobs.” However, upon their arrival, they quickly realized that the “golden south” was simply a myth – there were no jobs for them.

Displaced and desperate, Ibrahim and his uncle “met a man who said he could get [them] jobs in a gold mine” (lbid). After following the man to his gold mine, Ibrahim and his uncle realized that it was not a legal operation, and began to question their new-found “employer”; however, by that time it was too late to escape – “there were guards to keep [them] from leaving” – but the two men still remained hopeful that they would receive the payment they had initially been promised after three months. Ibrahim describes the working conditions that he was forced to endure as nearly unbearable, and explains that – although his uncle tried to protect him – “any mistake [he] made would bring a beating” (lbid). After the three-month period had elapsed, Ibrahim, his uncle, and the other workers were expecting to be paid, but their trafficker (still masquerading as their legitimate employer) informed them that they hadn’t earned any money. Instead, they were told that they now owed even more, and would have to repay it with interest before they were allowed to leave the gold mine. Of course, the sum was entirely unattainable to the men, and so they remained enslaved under the pretense of debt. Ibrahim realized that “they were stuck,” but also “assumed that it was their own fault” (“Blood” 131). Thus began Ibrahim’s enslavement, although he was not fully aware of it at the time. Now, as an adult, Ibrahim continues to work in the same gold mine under the watchful eye of his “boss” who “encourages him to work harder with blows and abuse.”

The obvious question is: “why don’t victims simply run away?”. The answer, however, is far more complex. Initially, victims of trafficking are not fully aware that they are actually enslaved. Instead, they simply believe that they have accumulated great debt and, most often, they have a “very strong sense that a debt must be repaid, and that a person wo does not pay their debt is a thief and a sinner.”  Furthermore, their trafficker will maintain the charade of intending to pay them for as long as possible, so slaves continue to work with the hope that they might eventually get paid enough to fulfill their debt and move on. Of course, the charade eventually expires and victims come to the unfortunate realization that they are trapped in slavery. However, at this point, victims are keenly aware of the constant, and very real, threat of violence that hangs over their heads if they attempt to escape. Much like in the Antebellum South, runaway slaves in the modern world are hunted down by their traffickers and are punished with violence. The high level of political corruption in the developing world aids in the tracking down of slaves; it is all too common for corrupt local police officials to track down runaways, knowing that they will be paid off by the traffickers. On the off chance that an escaped slave is brought before a judge to plead for freedom, traffickers will simply pay “another bribe to secure a conviction for defrauding the gold buyer (in his role as lender)” (“Blood” 147). Even if an individual dies while enslaved, still their debt does not disappear; the burden is simply passed down to his or her next of kin, thereby shackling the entire family line.

While this situation seems almost-entirely hopeless, there are many ways to reduce the amount of slavery on Ghana’s “gold coast.” For instance, governments of developed nations can crack down on slavery by forcing corporations to better regulate their supply chains. Great Britain is doing just that with the “Modern Slavery Bill…which will require businesses with over a certain level of turnover to publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement.” With this Bill, the British Crown hopes to reduce the 11% of UK businesses that currently “think it ‘likely’ that some sort of modern slavery exists in their supply chains,” by requiring a higher level of transparency. However, although supply chains seem like one of the best ways to eradicate modern-day slavery because they are our most direct link to the atrocity, they are not the most efficient way to combat slavery because most slave outputs never actually reach the global market. Instead, slave-made products are most often produced, bought, and sold at the local level. Fortunately, many NGO’s like Free the Slaves are dedicated to ending modern-day slavery through other – more effective – methods. Free the Slaves works with local-partner organizations in Ghana to help spread awareness about the threat of slavery, and provide at-risk communities with preventative measures to shield them from traffickers. Since entering the fight to end forced mining in Ghana, Free the Slaves has taught communities how to identify a legitimate job from a debt trap, and the percentage of people “who could identify suitable work rose from 5 percent to 93 percent.” Furthermore, the organization has also given communities more information on government assistance for survivors of slavery, and “The percentage of people who had knowledge of government agencies to contact in cases of child exploitation rose from 25 percent to 61 percent.”

One of Free the Slave’s oldest partnerships is with a Ghanaian-founded organization called Challenging Heights that works to “rescue children in forced labor,” and “offer continuous survivor rehabilitation and recovery support” (“James”). Since its founding, Challenging Heights has managed to rescue over 1,500 children from traffickers on Lake Volta, and have put over 400 children through their survivor rehabilitation center which provides much-needed medical care, education, and support as children are reunited with their families and reintegration into their communities. In addition, Challenging Height’s is also in the business of slave proofing communities through education and economic empowerment programs that provide legitimate jobs to those in need. The founder of Challenging Heights, James Kofi Annan, is actually a survivor of child slavery on Lake Volta himself. Mr. Annan was trafficked at age six, and was enslaved for seven years before he escaped and went on to pursue his education. Today, Mr. Annan uses his powerful personal narrative to raise awareness on the issue of modern-day slavery around the world. Most recently, he addressed the United Nations assembly on December 2, 2016 which marks the International Day for the Abolishment of Slavery.

Child trafficking is the most common form of enslavement on Lake Volta in Ghana. In fact, an estimated 4,000 children have been trafficked into the fishing industry on Lake Volta. Due to the lack of education opportunities in Ghana, many parents are often persuaded to send their children (Some even as young as four years old) to receive a “proper education” in return for what they are told will be “a few hours of work.” However, in reality, “Ghanaian children are sold into a life of forced labor, malnutrition, and abuse,” and are forced to work long and strenuous hours in life-threatening conditions. Although the children are forced to work in rickety boats on Lake Volta, many of them are never instructed on rudimentary water safety skills, and lack even the most basic swimming abilities. As one would imagine, this results in many unnecessary child deaths; furthermore, many children also get tangled in underwater nets and, unable to escape, drown in the lake. Aside from the danger of drowning, children are also forced to struggle with severe malnutrition since they are provided with only one small meal a day. In addition, much like Ibrahim in the Ghanaian gold mines, James Kofi Annan recalls: “Each time I made a mistake as a child fisherman, I was tortured.” Unfortunately, many young children like Mr. Annan endure his same fate.

Fortunately, Free the Slaves, Challenging Heights and their partners have a plan that could end child slavery on Lake Volta in the next five years. Using modern surveying technology, anti-trafficking workers plan to use spatial recognition technology to identify trafficking site on Lake Volta, that will allow them to better coordinate their extraction methods for rescuing victims of child slavery. Furthermore, they hope that this new technology will soon be adapted to help identify other forms of modern-day slavery – such as the trafficking that takes place in illegal Ghanaian gold mines like the one that Ibrahim was enslaved in – as well. Surprisingly, the cost of eradicating slavery is relatively low on the global scale. In fact, it only costs $400 US dollars to liberate and completely rehabilitate a slave. On an aggregate level, that means that we can end slavery for 18.3 billion dollars. At first glance, that seems like an unachievable sum. However, Americans spend $18 billion on video games annually; $18 billion also the annual amount of accrued credit card late fees in the United States. According to a recent study done by the Washington Post, President Trump’s incredibly-controversial border wall is estimated to cost approximately $25 billion dollars. If President Trump chose to use that money to eradicate modern-day slavery, we could liberate 45.8 million people, save $7 billion dollars, and avoid the environmental disaster that the border wall is sure to create.

The eradication of slavery is within reach – it can be achieved in our lifetimes – but first we must expand our efforts to spread awareness, rescue and rehabilitate survivors, and take preventative measures to ensure that now-vulnerable communities are slavery-proof in the future. After all, although there are 45.8 million people currently enslaved, that is the smallest percentage of slaves to be represented in the global population to this day. Furthermore, the collective revenue created by slavery also accounts for the smallest percentage of the global economy in all of history. We have made tremendous progress in the fight to end slavery, but the war is not yet won. If we are to truly eradicate slavery in the 21st century, we must continue on diligently, remembering the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “No one is free until we are all free”

Laura-Kate Seitsinger 2017-05-17 18:49:33

Over the past school year, I have walked past the statue that sits outside of the newly renamed Farzaneh Hall, and wondered who the statue depicted and why it had been placed in front of the College of International Studies.

However, until April 21st I had never taken the time to find out — content to continue on with my normal schedule.

Fortunately, on April 21st I decided to attend  the second annual Khayy’am Day — created to celebrate the life (and many accomplishments) of a prominent Persian poet and mathematician named Omar Khayy’am. You guessed it, the man portrayed in the statue!

Khayy’am Day was an incredibly immersive experience, and I learned a lot about the Persian culture (which I previously knew very little about).

While listening to Persian-language students recite the beautiful poetry written by Omar Khayy’am, I was able to try an array of traditional Persian foods and watch a Persian calligrapher as he created his artwork.

As I said before, I have very little experience with the Persian culture, but Khayy’am Day allowed me the opportunity to interact with and learn about the culture.

After attending  Khayy’am Day, I am excited to continue to learn more about the Persian culture!

Sanitation Solutions in Haiti

“Sanitation Solutions for Haiti” // Nick Preneta, Deputy Director of SOIL // April 19, 2017

Sanitation standards in Haiti are some of the worst in the world. In fact, only 26% of Haitian citizens have access to clean water, and 40% of urban residents in Haiti don’t have access to a toilet – private or public. During his presentation, Mr. Preneta explained that these two issues are highly interconnected. Due to their lack of access to toilets and the severely limited sewage sanitation system, many people in Haiti resort to disposing of their waste in local water sources. Given the fact that Haiti has a high water table and flooding is extremely common, this polluted water carries human waste into huge intersections where it collects indefinitely. Furthermore, there is only one functioning waste treatment facility in Haiti, which means that a mere 4% of waste is treated. The lack of sanitation in Haiti continues to cause a multitude of health problems for the Haitian people – and especially those living in urban areas. Diseases like cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, chronic diarrhea, and other waterborne diseases are spread via these waterways and cause mass-infections. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti only worsened sanitation conditions as millions of people were displaced and took up residence in public areas like parks and golf courses. Following the earthquake, water conditions deteriorated rapidly and a massive Cholera outbreak plagued the Island.

Fortunately, Mr. Preneta and his organization SOIL are actively assisting in implementing sanitation solutions in Haiti. SOIL was first established in 2006 after the founders designed and developed their first “Ecosan” toilet – similar to a port-a-potty – and tested a number of prototypes out in various places throughout Haiti’s two largest cities – the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince in the South and Cap-Haitian in the North. However, much like in the United States, the public bathrooms were not properly cared for in the communities and became incredibly dirty within short time periods. It soon became clear that SOIL did not have adequate funds or staff to efficiently maintain the bathrooms, and so they were all closed within 5 years of their creation. This presented a major setback for the SOIL team, but they learned from their mistake and soon began devising a new in-home toilet prototype. By 2009 they had developed a new strategy that enabled them to improve sanitation by working from the micro level of individual households and out through the entire sanitation chain. The first step was to build a waste treatment facility which would be used to cleanse the waste of any bacteria and then transform it into compost – the facility was completed by the end of the year. The second phase of this new sanitation strategy required slightly more time, but by early 2012, the SOIL team had installed 140 “trial” in-home toilets in a certain community for a three-month period, and had remarkable success.

Today, SOIL provide sanitary in-home toilets to over 1,000 families in the two urban areas that they serve. These toilets are extremely efficient for a number of reasons. First of all, they only cost approximately $25.00 to produce (a cost which is nearly offset by the $3.00-a-month fee that clients pay to use the toilet service). Secondly, the toilets are designed to separate solid and liquid waste immediately into 5-gallon and 1-gallon buckets – thereby expediting the composting process. Unfortunately, the SOIL team has not yet found a sanitary way to dispose of the liquid waste, but the team is currently in the process of exploring sanitary (and cost-effective) options. Finally, and probably most important to users, the SOIL toilets emit almost no odor. This is primarily due to a certain type of sawdust that SOIL includes with the toilets that absorbs the odor almost entirely. Furthermore, SOIL also provides a weekly collection service that picks up the waste-filled buckets (replacing them with clean, empty buckets) and transports them to the SOIL waste treatment facilities.

Since 2009, the SOIL team has built and currently runs two composting waste treatment facilities that they use to compost thousands of gallons of waste over the past eight years. In fact, SOIL is now one of the largest waste treatment operations in Haiti. Mr. Preneta and the SOIL organization take great pride in their composting facilities because the vast majority of sanitary development projects “start and end with toilets.” The problem with this, Mr. Preneta explained, is that the human waste still eventually ends up in the public water system, spreading deadly pathogens to everyone in a community. Water-borne pathogens can cause severe damage in a society; according to Mr. Preneta, in Haiti – an island with the relatively-low population of 9 million (roughly equivalent to that of New York City) – 10 children die from water-borne illnesses each day.

The process required to transform human waste to usable compost is rather complex and requires multiple steps: First, after arriving at the treatment facility, the human waste must be tested for pathogens. In the past SOIL partnered with the US Center for Disease Control to test the feces for various pathogens, but they now operate out of a local lab that uses E. Coli as an indicator of pathogens – the pathogen-removal process typically takes 5-6 weeks. After the waste is processed and cleansed in the lab it undergoes thermophilic (“hot”) composting during which soil microbes slowly decompose and produce heat so that thermophilic microbes can thrive. During this process, the intense levels of heat kills pathogens and expedites decomposition. Finally, the finished compost is tested for pathogens once more, packaged in 40 pound bags, and sold to local farmers and larger corporations. Per Mr. Preneta, one ton of SOIL’s compost costs approximately $300.00, and the organization currently has a waiting list of individuals and businesses that want to purchase their product. Not only does the composting method of disposal significantly decrease the amount of human waste that infiltrates public water stores, it also helps revitalize soil that has been eroded or lost nutrition due to extensive deforestation on the island.

In my opinion, one of the most unique and admirable qualities of SOIL’s operations is that they largely employ internally. According to Mr. Preneta, apart from the few US founders of SOIL who now largely work on advertising and fundraising abroad, the entirety of the SOIL team (approximately 30 full-time employees) are native Haitians. Not only are these employees highly qualified for their positions but, being natives themselves, they are also acutely aware and sensitive to the sanitation situation in Haiti and the many ways in which it negatively affects Haitian citizens – especially those living in poverty. In addition to SOIL’s 30 full-time Haitian employees, SOIL also employs a significant number of “daily workers” at their composting facilities. Per Mr. Preneta, each morning, large lines of Haitian citizens hoping to earn a day’s wage form outside of both SOIL composting facilities. In this way, SOIL also assists in the reduction of poverty in both Port-a-Prince and Cap-Haitian (both of which are hosts to high levels of unemployment) by way of job creation.

Despite all of the excellent work that SOIL does in Haiti, there are multiple ways in which the operation could be significantly improved. Based upon the information provided by Mr. Preneta, SOIL faces numerous economic shortcomings that severely inhibit their productivity. For one, the $3.00 monthly fee that SOIL charges for their toilet services does not quite cover the cost of toilet production and waste transportation to and from users’ homes. After a thorough cost-analysis, the SOIL team came to the realization that their costs were $1.50 more than their profits. However, Mr. Preneta is confident that with a few modifications to the current process (such as outsourcing transport in order to avoid unnecessary costs like vehicle repair), in the near-future, this portion of their operation – the “front end” – will soon be a money-making business venture that will be extremely attractive to private-sector corporations. Unfortunately, the “back end” of the operation – testing human waste for pathogens and subsequently composting waste – is a far more expensive endeavor. According to Mr. Preneta, SOIL’s average costs currently outweigh their profits by approximately $8.00 (a far larger gap).

Of course, there are certain actions that the SOIL team can take to reduce the current back-end costs – for example, employing new machinery to make the composting process more efficient. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent to the team that they will require some level of public funding by the Haitian government in order to continue operations sustainably. Unfortunately, there is a high level of political turnover in the Haitian government that makes it difficult to build and maintain government relationships. Furthermore, much like in the United States, the environment does not take top priority in Haitim so the DINEPA (the Haitian equivalent to the US EPA) does not have adequate resources to allocate to SOIL’s project. That said, during one of SOIL’s meetings with the DINEPA, the agency made it clear that they are willing to provide some level of funding to SOIL when the team presents them with a self-sustainable business model. Mr. Preneta was adamant that SOIL is on the verge of developing such a business model, and is hopeful that it will allow the public and private sectors to work together in solving Haiti’s sanitation problems.

Prior to attending Mr. Preneta’s lecture, I had never heard of SOIL and was relatively uninformed about Haiti’s poor sanitation. Truthfully, upon hearing that 40% of urban residents in Haiti do not have access to a single toilet, I was racked with guilt over the fact that I myself have three toilets in my own apartment – all of which I take for granted. After hearing Mr. Preneta speak about the work that SOIL is doing on the ground, I am of the belief that their operations are paramount to improving sanitation conditions in Haiti. I am especially impressed by the holistic approach that SOIL takes to solving sanitation problems – not only providing access to toilets, but also repurposing human waste as compost in order to revitalize soil and employing local Haitian residents at composting facilities in order to reduce unemployment (and in turn, poverty). I am curious to know if it would be possible for the SOIL team to somehow implement a device into toilets that could detect pathogens on a house-to-house basis, thereby enabling Haitians to recognize their illnesses and better treat them. I wonder if, additionally, a pathogen-detecting device would also be beneficial to the Haitian government in accessing public health. It will be interesting to see if, as their operations continue to grow, SOIL eventually begins to repurpose liquid waste as well as material waste – especially seeing as numerous studies have proven that it can be used as an excellent fertilizer.

Seeing as the situation in Haiti is so deeply complex, there are a number of interconnected “geographic standards” that create the conditions in which the poor sanitation conditions are allowed to thrive. However, I would say that at its core, the sanitation problem essentially boils down to overpopulation in urban areas (Element 3, Standard 6). According to Mr. Preneta, the population of Port-au-Prince is nearly 1 million and Cap-Haitian’s population is approximately 250,000. In both of these cities, poverty is rampant and Haitian citizens live in extremely close quarters that promote the spread of various pathogens. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti severely exacerbated this situation due to the migration of thousands of displaced families to cities in order to gain better access to resources. Upon their migration, thousands of people set up temporary settlements in public places, worsening the already suboptimal sanitation situation in the highly urbanized areas.

As I mentioned before, the Haitian people are extremely impoverished and so over 40% of the urban population in Haiti does not have access to a toilet and so they dispose of their waste in local water sources. This disposal method is worsened by the fact that both Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitian are coastal cities prone to flooding. When these cities are flooded, the waste-filled water flows through the cities narrow streets and collects in major intersections where it remains. Since these intersections are so heavily trafficked by city-dwellers, the pathogens contained in the waste are spread rapidly throughout the city. These diseases lead to high death rates on the Island, but the CDR is far outweighed by the extremely-high birth rate in Haiti which is causing the population to grow exponentially. Since children are far more susceptible to disease, Haiti’s high CBR also expedites the spread of deadly pathogens.

Populism: Into The Mainstream

Prior to attending Professor Heinisch’s lecture entitled “Populism: Into The Mainstream” about the many diverse forms that populism can take, I was largely unaware of the extensive spectrum that Populist parties can span.  Of course, I knew better than to believe that “populism” fit perfectly into the single homogeneous categorization like the media attempts to portray. However, the extent of difference between the European Populist parties is quite shocking. For example, as Professor Heinisch explained, the distinction between populist parties in the East, West and South are significantly different from each other – varying along the lines of style, scapegoat, etc. Furthermore, even the public’s reactions to these populist parties vary geographically; in the West, traditional political parties attempt to isolate populists and refuse to cooperate with them, while in the East traditional parties shift their alliances to benefit from the populists.

That said, I was equally as surprised by one of the similarities that European Populist parties have in common – “the Putin connection.” As Professor Heinisch explained, populist parties across Europe have continuously received financial aid and media support from Russia. Initially, it seemed odd that Europeans were not more outraged by this connection – attempting to use it against the populist parties. However, after Professor Heinisch explained the division between populist voters and traditional-party voters, it became clear that the Russia connection would make little difference in political elections.

Given the number of varying strategies that have been used to eliminate populist parties in Europe, my question to Professor Heinisch would be which strategy he believes is most efficient, or if there is no single strategy for combating Populism that can be universally applied seeing as populists adapt to the current political climate of a given country. I was particularly curious about Professor Heinisch’s comment about traditional parties that have allowed the Populist party take power, fully expecting them to flounder and thus lose public support. From my perspective, this strategy seems like a rather uncertain gamble but, if it is common for populist parties to fail after taking office, perhaps the risk is worth it? I would like to know the percentage of populists that thrive while in power, as opposed to those that fail.

Populism: Into The Mainstream

Prior to attending Professor Heinisch’s lecture entitled “Populism: Into The Mainstream” about the many diverse forms that populism can take, I was largely unaware of the extensive spectrum that Populist parties can span.  Of course, I knew better than to believe that “populism” fit perfectly into the single homogeneous categorization like the media attempts to portray. However, the extent of difference between the European Populist parties is quite shocking. For example, as Professor Heinisch explained, the distinction between populist parties in the East, West and South are significantly different from each other – varying along the lines of style, scapegoat, etc. Furthermore, even the public’s reactions to these populist parties vary geographically; in the West, traditional political parties attempt to isolate populists and refuse to cooperate with them, while in the East traditional parties shift their alliances to benefit from the populists.

That said, I was equally as surprised by one of the similarities that European Populist parties have in common – “the Putin connection.” As Professor Heinisch explained, populist parties across Europe have continuously received financial aid and media support from Russia. Initially, it seemed odd that Europeans were not more outraged by this connection – attempting to use it against the populist parties. However, after Professor Heinisch explained the division between populist voters and traditional-party voters, it became clear that the Russia connection would make little difference in political elections.

Given the number of varying strategies that have been used to eliminate populist parties in Europe, my question to Professor Heinisch would be which strategy he believes is most efficient, or if there is no single strategy for combating Populism that can be universally applied seeing as populists adapt to the current political climate of a given country. I was particularly curious about Professor Heinisch’s comment about traditional parties that have allowed the Populist party take power, fully expecting them to flounder and thus lose public support. From my perspective, this strategy seems like a rather uncertain gamble but, if it is common for populist parties to fail after taking office, perhaps the risk is worth it? I would like to know the percentage of populists that thrive while in power, as opposed to those that fail.