November 27, 2010

Anuradha Koirala - CNN hero of the year 2010 - saving girls from sex trafficking

Anuradha Koirala - CNN Hero of the Year 2010
Just imagine what would happen if your daughter was standing there ... what would you do? How would you fight? So you have to join hands - you have to take each child as your daughter. I want a society free of human trafficking. I hope I will make it happen one day.
                                                                 -Anuradha Koirala, founder of Maiti Nepal

Last night I flipped on CNN and landed in the middle of the annual CNN Heroes award ceremony. Apparently I missed the opening where the Chilean miners were given tribute, and I also missed out on the presentation of the first four heroes. But the last six heroes kept me glued to the screen. There was an Indian man who spends his life feeding and bathing the poor - showing them respect and love they don't get any other place; a Cambodian man who spent his childhood as a soldier for the Khmer Rouge forced to plant land mines - now he is spending his every day repenting in a very practical way: clearing land mines; a Kenyan man who makes and distributes solar powered lights for school children who otherwise don't have light to study by; a woman from Mississippi who is challenging her whole state (America's most obese state) to start exercising; a Texan who builds free homes for wounded war veterans; and finally: Anuradha Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal.

I remember when I did fieldwork for my MSc thesis in a village outside Kathmandu in 1995-1996 that we came across one village that was said to be totally devoid of girls between 12 and 25. My assistant gave me the story: every now and then a rich looking man would come to the village saying he had work to offer girls. The families would be paid an immediate cash sum with promises of later regular installments. Incidentally that was why this was one of the villages where every house had a tin roof, a rare status symbol in that area - instead of a traditional thatched roof. The girls would work as maids for rich families, they were told.

But actually, the girls were taken across the border to India and sold to brothels. My assistant was just as shocked as me to hear the story. This village became one of the first villages Maiti Nepal became involved in. The families were informed about the real situation; some if the girls were even rescued from India - but few of them could face the shame of what happened to them and return to the village. The lucky ones rescued would be taken care of by Maiti Nepal and Anuradha Koirala - but many were never found.

Anuradha Koirala and Maiti Nepal have rescued around 12 000 Nepali girls and women from human trafficking. On average the organization is able to stop 4 girls a day on the Nepali-Indian border. When the winner of the Hero of the Year 2010 was announced, it was no surprise that it went to Anuradha Koiraila. Click here to see the touching video profile on CNN Heroes.

November 22, 2010

Polar bears, dogs, lions and love and play

Polar bear and husky dog in affectionate moment
from FirstscienceTV documentary "Polar bears and dogs playing"

I have had some experiences with love, or think I have, anyway, although the ones I have liked the best could easily be described as "common decency". I treated somebody well for a little while, or maybe even for a tremendously long time, and that person treated me well in return. Love need not have had anything to do with it. Also: I cannot distinguish between the love I have for people and the love I have for dogs. When a child (...) I used to spend a lot of time rolling around on rugs with uncritically affectionate dogs we had. And I still do a lot of that. The dogs become tired and confused and embarrassed long before I do. I could go on forever.
                                                                          -Kurt Vonnegut
         Quoted in Daniel Levitin's The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

Below is an amazing video showing dogs and polar bears at play, the picture above is from this movie:

Here is a lion who likes to roll around affectionately with humans. Some of you might already have seen at part of this video where the lion Christian sees his caregivers again after a long time in the wild:

If you want to get more details of the story, you can read the book A Lion Called Christian: The True Story of the Remarkable Bond Between Two Friends and a Lion or you can see more on Youtube- the full story (there are 5 parts):

November 17, 2010

Leela Academy - the playful academy

I love places of higher learning. If I could time travel, I would first navigate my time machine back to Plato's Academy then to Nalanda University (who wouldn't want to attend a university with a name that means: "insatiable in giving"?) These two cradles of higher learning ignite my imagination.

Rafael's School of Athens - depicting Plato's Academy

Nalanda University ruins - Bihar, India

Then some times I feel like catapulting my time machine into the future. What forms will higher education take? Will there still be institutions of higher learning?

One thing I am certain of: Places of learning will be more playful and give more space for different ways of learning that involves the whole person, even the body. One time I sighed to a friend in a letter:  
Why did I get into the academic world when I could have played football? The university people live either in the past or in the future. The present is of no interest; the body of even less. And their egos are big and bizarre. Most of them still think Darwin said: "Survival of the fittest!" When what he really said was "Survival of those who fit!" How can I make my academic life more like playing football? Indeed, how can life be more like playing football? 

For some time I've had a dream of creating a learning place called Leela Academy. In Hinduism, Leela is the playful nature of the divine consciousness.  

The Leela - depicting Krishna at play with the cowgirls

I was very encouraged when I came across psychiatrist Stuart Brown on my webbed wanderings. In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul he writes about the vital importance of play to human beings - how play helps brain development and promotes fairness, justice and empathy. He can even calm the serious skeptics -people concerned about the "bottom line"of work: Playful people are more effective, productive and healthier, he claims.

Realizing the important role playfulness has, Dr Brown became serious (pun intended) and established the National Institute for Play. Plato is quoted on the website: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. So, good old Plato probably demanded a certain portion of play in his academy. Taking all of the above into consideration, my Leela Academy is not necessarily a Utopian idea. Anyone want to join me? Watch Dr Brown below and get a taste of why play is so important for us:

Other books of interest:

November 13, 2010

Where the Mind is without Fear

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

Where the Mind is without Fear

WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

                                                 -Rabindranath Tagore

November 9, 2010

The best cure for sadness

Merlin and Arthur

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
-T.H. White, The Once and Future King

I readily admit - I feel exasperatingly ignorant. I have read myself myopic, but to no avail. There is a hungry ghost inside of me always demanding more. Knowledge is power, he shrieks. I have learned to listen to him with compassion. You silly boy, I chide him, you know that is not why we read. I continue:

Devouring all the libraries in the world
The quest for certainty implodes
Only questions remain
Cracking open life
Revealing beauty

He scratches his head, nonplussed. I look at him gently; it is enough for now. But in my heart e.e. cummings sings:
when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circus tent
and everything began

when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because

My biology professor would ask as he turned from the blackboard, letting his eyes search our faces: Are we together? And when he was satisfied, he would continue with enthusiasm: Very well. Now- let me continue to share my ignorance.
In uttering that very sentence, my professor gave me a lesson in worldview therapy - inviting life through a dance with uncertainty; declining the invitation of violence in certain answers.

Although I don't know much, I have many sources of happiness and wonder that are beautiful to me. I want to share some of these here. I hope you join me from time to time. Are we together?