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Archive for December, 2012

Life in Urban Slums in India

Millions of street children without adult caregivers are drawn into drugs, crime, and exploitations. Some kids with parents are sent to beg on the streets, tapping on car windows or turning somersaults to get a few rupees, as I experienced in Delhi. The struggle to survive in urban slums is described in Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo,[i] and seen in films such as Born in Brothels, Water, and Slumdog Millionaire. Boo’s book describes her interviews over almost four years with scavengers who sneak or steal garbage in a Mumbai slum near the airport. Life is about survival, trying to get enough money to pay off the police who expect bribes or feel free to beat poor people—including children, hoping not to get injured or infected rat bites and end up in the public hospital where the medicines are stolen and sold on the black market and nurses don’t touch their patients, where life is so hopeless that some drink rat poison and some end up sleeping and dying on the streets. The ones who survive work all day and avoid sniffing white-out bottles like young Abdul or work the pervasive in every aspect of government corrupt system for their advantage like Asha, who also sells her body for extra money that helps puts her daughter through college. The government schools are worthless so some parents sacrifice to send children to private schools where the teachers teach. Women are often the strong ones when their husbands are alcoholic or ill. Even the nuns who run the nearby orphanage sell donations meant for the children. Photos of the Annawadi slum are available.[ii]

[i] Katherine Boo. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random House, 2012.


A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

Eben Alexander, MD. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Dr. Alexander was a rational nonbeliever of a Harvard University surgeon and professor until he was in a comma for a week due to bacterial meningitis that attacked his brain, leaving him on life support machines. Because his brain was out of commission for  longer than in most near death experiences, he was able to ask questions of God over time, assisted in his other dimensional journeys by the spirit of his dead sister. OM, as he refers to God, taught him that there are a multitude of universes [just as String Theory physics predicts and Robert Monroe’s books on astral travel describe]. The dimensions aren’t separate; he explains, “This terrestrial realm is tightly and intricately meshed within these higher worlds.” The essence is unconditional Love: “Love and compassion make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.” Some evil exists because without it there could be no free will or growth. Dr Alexander concluded, “Our role here is to grow toward the Divine, and that growth is closely watched by the beings in the worlds above,” “the souls and lucent orbs” which others call angels. While on the other dimensions, he felt energized by prayers of his family and friends. For skeptics that consciousness exists out of body, he recommends the book Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.


A 12-year-old hero fights child marriage

A true hero is 12-year-old Oli Ahmed who campaigns against child brides in the Dhaka slum where he lives in Bangladesh.[i] Parents marry off young girls so they won’t have to pay a dowry and pay for school expenses. He was motivated by sadness and anger when a girl who was like an older sister to him was forced to get married and not be seen again. He spoke with NGO Plan International workers proposing that he set up a children’s group which goes door or door persuading parents to wait until the legal marriage age of 18. Oli reports,  “I think we do a better job than the adults… the adults think we’re so young and yet we know so much… we’re more enthusiastic than the older people. I feel very good that a girl’s life has been saved because of the work that I’ve done.” An NGO worker says that since the children started work, the number of child marriages in that area has dropped by as much as 50%.

[i] Angus Crawford, “Child Marriages Blish Bangladesh,” BBC News, April 21, 2012.



Status of Global Adolescents: Notes on UNICEF report 2012

2012: “Progress For Children: A Report Card on Adolescents,” No. 10, UNICEF, April 2012.



The UN defines an adolescent as children between the ages of 10 and 19, about 1.2 billion of them, nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. More than half live in Asia. The number of adolescents will increase slightly through 2050, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.


The UN defines an adolescent as children between the ages of 10 and 19, about 1.2 billion of them, nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. More than half live in Asia. The number of adolescents will increase slightly through 2050, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.


About 127 million youth ages 15 to 24 are illiterate, most of them in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The literacy rate is 86% for girls aged 15 to 24 and 92% for boys. P. 16 In the least developed countries a third of girls and a quarter of boys can’t read and some of them have completed primary school. Secondary school enrollment remains low in developing countries; globally, 60% of secondary-school aged children are enrolled. In Sub-Saharan Africa and the least developed countries, less than one-third of teens are in school—more boys than girls. However, more girls are in secondary school than boys in Latin America and he Caribbean.

In the developing countries, 28% of girls and 17% of boys aged 15 to 19 don’t watch TV, listen to the radio or read a newspaper on a weekly basis. For those who have access to media, TV is the most common form. Urban dwellers and teens in school are most likely to use the Internet.

In developing nations unemployment rates are higher among better-educated youth because of lack of jobs in the formal sector. P. 23


An estimated 2.2 million adolescents are infected with HIV, about 60% of them are girls and 1.8 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa. P. 23. Many don’t know they have the virus. Partly for this reason, mortality declined less than it did for children under age 10 between 1955 and 2004.

Other reasons for premature deaths are injuries, violence, drug use, and complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The highest proportion of teen births are in Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa. The only industrialized country with a high rate of adolescent birth is the US. In Africa, childbirth is the leading killer of teen girls, while car accidents a leading cause of death in developed countries.

Each year an estimated 20% of adolescents face a mental health problem such as depression. However, in most developing countries few mental health services are available. Suicide is a leading cause of death, especially among the countries of the former USSR. P. 19

Nearly one in every four adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in the developing world (excluding China) is married, compared to only 5% of boys in these regions.


A large percent of teen girls have experienced sexual violence, about 150 million girls and 73 million boys in 2002, the last year when World Health Organization data was available. P. 31

Urban areas have higher rates of violence than rural areas and may be the home to gang violence, especially in Latin America. The average age for entry into gangs is 13.

Nearly 50% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 in developed nations think that wife beating are justified under some circumstances. P. 32

Many adolescents—especially boys, report they’ve been involved in physical fights, including over half of boys in Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Morocco, and Botswana. Many report they’ve been the victims of bullying, both boys and girls.

2012: “Progress For Children: A Report Card on Adolescents,” No. 10, UNICEF, April 2012.


Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness

Beyond the fulfillment of basic needs, having more technology and possessions doesn’t lead to happiness. Americans who’ve spent time living with poor people living traditional lives in Africa comment on their happiness and lack of complaining, even when dealing with prolonged hunger. For example, a development expert commented in her book, “I was awestruck by the Ugandans’ ability to endure suffering and still embrace great joy.”[i] In Havana, I was told that Americans have a lot of material things, but Cubans enjoy life more, dancing, going to the beach, and spending relaxed time with family and friends. In general kids seem happier, as studies show they laugh a lot more than adults. Women tend to laugh more than men and men are the best laugh-getters, states Robert Provine in Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. (It’s good for our health, increasing the healthy function of the tissue lining the blood vessels, reports a 2005 study at the University of Maryland.)

Europeans work less, have less stuff, and have more time and quality of life than Americans. The slow food movement started in Italy and other slow campaigns aim to calm the hectic pace of urban life in both Europe and the US. The Take Back Your Time Campaign was started in Seattle to change workaholic patterns with techniques such as described in a how-to book.[ii] The WIN-Gallup International Global Barometer of Happiness surveyed 58 countries and found no relationship between income and happiness; what influences well-being is social status compared to peers.[iii]

A Gallup Poll released in 2012 reported that Latin America stood at the forefront for positive emotions, with Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela at the top.[iv] Thailand and the Philippines also scored high for positive emotions. Negative emotions were highest in the Middle East and North Africa, with Iraq, Bahrain and Palestine topping that list. Singapore is very prosperous but the people were the least emotionally expressive, illustrating again that money doesn’t buy happiness. The countries of the former USSR also scored low on expressing emotions. The poll asked 1,000 people age 15 and older in 148 countries questions like “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you feel a lot of enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, or anger?”

A World Happiness Report, presented to a 2012 UN conference on creating a new economic model, found that happiness is more strongly associated with community engagement, social networks, mental health, and individual freedom and lack of corruption than with money–once basic needs are met.[v] In this framework, individualism and social support are not opposites as both are helpful. Costa Rica is an example of a happy poor country. In the Happiness Index of 170 counties, the wealthy US ranked at a low 150.

As usual, Scandinavian countries were among the top of the list of good outcomes, among the happiest, while the lowest are poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicating poverty of course diminishes life satisfaction. The UN report authors advocate “adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.” An example of taking action towards this goal, Brazilian youth are trained to conduct happiness surveys and practice altruism, resulting in new neighborhood activities to take action when needs are identified. Schools near San Paulo teach compassion and wellbeing, encouraging children to be “doctors of joy.”

[iii]  Mary Rauto, “Survey Rates Fiji as the Happiest Country,” the Fiji Times Online, January 20, 2012. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=191256

[iv] Jon Clifton, “Latin Americans Most Positive in the World,” Gallup World, December 19, 2012. http://www.gallup.com/poll/159254/latin-americans-positive-world.aspx

[v] “First World Happiness Report Launched at the United Nations,” Earth Institute, April 2, 2012.



Celebrate Christmas Meaningfully

After your Christmas dinner I recommend my mother’s tradition of each person offering the meaning of Christmas to them, including songs, reading “The Night Before Christmas,” “The Littelst Angel”and from Luke 1 about the birth of Jesus. I share that Jesus was a radical revolutionary feminist who broke all kinds of Old Testament taboos and discussed theology with women. He focused on forgiveness and love, the spirit of the law rather than the letter, on helping the poor. If  the politicians who call themselves Christian practiced what Jesus preached, the world would be a different place. It’s important to go beyond giving and receiving gifts. What does your family do to give spiritual meaning to Christmas?

What’s on the Minds of Arab Youth 18 Months After the Revolutions: A 2012 Survey

Need for financial security may trump desire for democracy, as evidenced in 2012 interviews with 2,500 Arab youth, ages 18 to 24 (60% male). The emphasis on democracy dropped from 68% to 58% in 2012; however in Egypt 75% of youth view it as very important. Youth unemployment in the region is 25%, the cost of living is rising and foreign investment is decreasing. A year after the Arab Spring, top priority changed from wanting to live in a democracy to desire for fair pay (82% said it is very important) and wanting to own a home (65%). This goal of homeownership is similar to a large survey of 25,000 young people in 2010 cited elsewhere, indicating a global desire for security in recession. The other country where they would most like to live is modern UAE with its high standard of living and a ruling family. Youth point to the two biggest obstacles facing them and the region as lack of democracy and civil unrest, so they’re still very focused on liberty. (Their second biggest concern is the danger of drugs.) There are much more likely to keep up with the news and to blog on the Internet than before the revolutions. Despite economic troubles, like young people elsewhere, Arab youth are optimistic about their futures. In Egypt, optimism jumped from 38% in 2011 to 74% in 2012.

How do Arab youth evaluate the revolutions a year after? Favorably. In 2012 interviews with 2,500 Arab youth from throughout the Middle East, ages 18 to 24 (60% male), 72% feel strongly that the region is better off because of the Arab Spring and 68% feel they are personally better off. Eighteen months after the beginning of the Arab Spring, they report that their government has become more transparent, although they’re more concerned about corruption than in interviews the year before the uprisings. Egyptian youth are especially concerned about corruption as the biggest problem (66%). An amazing jump from 18% in 2011 to 62% the following year say they follow the news daily and the number to blog has increased from 29% to 61%. Despite their positive views about the democracy movements, only 24% believe that protest movements will spread to other countries. Despite all the turmoil after ousting the dictators, youth are still supportive of democratic change.

Muslim countries have traditional values, but even there some change is occurring. In 2012 interviews with 2,500 Arab youth in 12 countries, ages 18 to 24 (60% male), 65% agree that “traditional values are paramount” down from 83% who agreed in 2011. The most traditional countries are Libya, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. The percent who believe these values are outdated is increasing, including 44% of youth from Tunisia, 42% in Iraq, 41% in Jordan and Qatar. When asked about their top concerns, in Oman 52% say they are very concerned about opportunities for women.

“A White Paper on the Findings of the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2012,”  Interviews with 2,500 Arab youth ages 18 to 24 (60% male) in 12 countries.



Are global youth materialistic?

Are global youth really materialistic? In a survey of 25,000 youth (ages 16 to 29) from 25 countries, they tend to be in favor of the economic opportunities they see provided by globalization.[i] Chinese youth are the most enthusiastic with 91% in favor, compared to 71% of Americans and 65% of Europeans. A majority of youth in other countries surveyed also view globalization as an opportunity, except in Turkey, Morocco, and Greece where the percentages were in the 40s. The Chinese youth are more proud of the rich people in their country than other nationalities (57%). A majority of youth in the following countries want to earn a lot of money in the next 15 years in this order: China, India, Australia and Canada, the US and Russia. However, a majority of respondents in the other 19 countries don’t have this aim, with youth in Morocco and Japan the least interested in making a lot of money. Globally, owning a home is at the top of respondents’ list of goals for the next 15 years so that it follows that their top criteria for a good job is the salary is provides, followed by a good working atmosphere and interesting work. Doing a job that contributes to society is more important than job prestige or vacation time, with 22% of youth wanting to be educators and 20% wanting to do research, followed by 19% interested in the financial field. 45 Only 6% are interested in being famous. Young people today want to make money to have a secure family life and they also want to contribute to the good of others.

[i] Dominique Reynié, ed., “World Youths,” Foundation Pour L’Innovation Politique,” 2011. Electronic survey in 2010 by TNS Opinion of 25,000 youth born between 1981 and 1994 in 25 countries, plus 7,714 respondents aged 30 to 50.http://expeng.anr.msu.edu/uploads/files/83/2010%20Youth%20leadership%20in%20a%20Globalized%20World%20Survey.pdf

Youth the First Global Generation

In a survey of over 3,000 young people in 100 countries, most identify themselves as members of a “global community,” concerned about the problems of the planet.[i] Youth today are the first global generation, the first to experience a new world different from what their parents knew growing up.[ii] Most of the 25,000 youth surveyed in 2010 express satisfaction with “the age in which I live,” especially the Indians. These young people, ages 16 to 29, have a “new consciousness” brought about by globalization’s electronic communication that creates a “global flow of emotions.” When analyzing what shapes their identity, youth reported that their global humanity (81%) is more influential than their nationality (70%), ethnic group (53%), or their religion (43%). Their personal education and profession are most important in shaping identity, especially in emerging countries. In most countries, a majority of youth believe that what happens in the world has an impact on their lives, with the exception of young people in Finland, Romania, Morocco, Israel, and India. Another sign of their international outlook, youth are more likely to trust the UN and other international organizations than their elders. The editor of the study predicts youth’s global consciousness will replace class and national consciousness, perhaps leading to a Western-influenced humanist “cosmopolicy.”  

[ii] This paragraph is drawn from Dominique Reynié, ed., “World Youths,” Foundation Pour L’Innovation Politique,” 2011. Electronic survey in 2010 by TNS Opinion of 25,000 youth born between 1981 and 1994 in 25 countries, plus 7,714 respondents aged 30 to 50, pp. 13, 16, 72.


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