by Ret Z.
Covering Poverty Widely in a Net of Many Voices
2005 November 16 No Profit; No Proceeds
Volume 9 Number 15 All-Volunteer

"Give a family a fish, and they'll eat a meal;  give them a Net, and they'll have fish for Life."

Equatorial Guinea: Oil Riches, Human Decline
      Massive offshore oil discoveries in the last decade have boosted Equatorial Guinea's production from next to nothing to about 350,000 barrels per day, making it sub-Saharan Africa's third largest producer after Nigeria and Angola. With prices soaring, oil exports are bringing a flood of money to the former Spanish colony. Last year, Equatorial Guinea grew by 34%, according to the International Monetary Fund, making it the world's fastest growing economy.
      Many of the country's 500,000 inhabitants feel, however, that they have yet to reap the rewards. Equatorial Guinea slid down the UN's human development list this year by 12 places to 121 -- a measure of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo's failure to curb poverty.
      As oil dollars have flooded in, the country is relying more and more on food imports from neighboring Cameroon. Three-quarters of the people suffer from malnutrition, says London-based charity War On Want, and the average life expectancy is 49.
      In July, Obiang approved the creation of a fund meant to earmark a tenth of oil revenues for priority social spending. The government says it is already spending more on health care, education and infrastructure, but that Malabo's booming population has frustrated efforts to improve conditions. The capital has doubled in size during the oil boom as people have flocked from the mainland to the island where Malabo is located. For those seeking a share of the oil riches, the city's sprawling slums are a bitter disappointment.
      Obiang and his family have kept a firm grip on power since he deposed and executed his despotic uncle in 1979. Dissent has been suppressed, and security services are guilty of serious human rights abuses, including beatings and torture, according to the US State Department and rights groups such as Amnesty International.
      The subject of corruption is taboo in Equatorial Guinea's tightly controlled media. Abroad, Obiang's administration has been criticized for misusing the country's oil wealth. The watchdog group Transparency International ranked Equatorial Guinea as the seventh most corrupt country in the world in a 2005 survey of 159 countries.
      The Obiang administration has launched a lobbying campaign in Washington to improve its image after a 2004 Senate report found that the president and his family received huge payments from US oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Amerada Hess. "The oil companies in Equatorial Guinea are using Guinean houses, Guinean vehicles, and Guinean land, and naturally these are services they are paying for," said deputy prime minister Miguel Oyono Ndong. "We have called on the US Senate to prove where the acts of fraud are."
      While the IMF criticized Equatorial Guinea for spending only 1% of its budget on health care in the five years to 2002, the government says health now accounts for a tenth of the budget, meeting the WHO's requirements. The IMF accepts that the government has taken steps towards making clear how oil revenues are being spent. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz recently praised Obiang's government for seeking advice on how best to spend its new-found oil money. Despite concerns over rights abuses and graft, Washington reopened its embassy in Equatorial Guinea in 2003 after an eight-year break.
      Source:  Reuters

Culture Center to Shut Down
      As you walk into the back room of La Unique bookstore, it is the smell that strikes you, the sweet and musky odor of treated wood from a collection of African and African-American figurines. The collection is the pride of La Unique owner Larry Miles, who fears no one will see it after he closes his doors by year's end. Miles, 71, who has operated La Unique and the African Art and Cultural Center it houses at 111 N. Sixth St. since 1992, dismisses his recent health issues as the reason he is closing.
      Included in the collection is a king cobra skin from Mali, a favorite of the children from church and school groups that visit. Unfurled, the skin stretches out 24 feet and Miles said even the most squeamish of students will reach out and touch it. There's also the water urn from the Baule people of the Ivory Coast. And then there is the wood sculpture of ringed figures embracing, representing African unity.
      Not all the pieces have an explanation. Miles said he often gets pieces he can't identify, but he's always been willing to share what he knows with whoever comes in. "There's a vibrant feeling here," Miles said, growing reflective. "It's difficult to explain, but it exists."
      Beyond his collection room is the theater, where Miles has hosted plays, jazz performances, and movies on African culture and history. Below is the cafe where Miles sold coffee and students held poetry readings.
      Like all the other parts of La Unique, Miles started the bookstore due to his commitment to education. Pointing out his history section, he said, "Without history, we are truly lost, and how can we help young people along if they don't know where they came from?"
      The University District Bookstore has lured away Miles' student business. Fliers from street vendors advertise similar titles. Miles sees little hope in continuing.
      Last year, Miles came close to fulfilling his dream of a center. A downtown location was chosen, and support was coming from a Philadelphia man he declined to name. Just as everything was set, the support disappeared. Now his pieces are destined for storage, his stock of books for a going-out-of-business sale.
      City Council President Angel Fuentes, who Miles said has tried to help, said he didn't know things were this bad. He said the city should do everything to save the store so it can retain the cultural center. "His store is so unique to southern New Jersey, and it's right in our backyard," Fuentes said. "We have little programs for culture so that children can learn about their roots and get the self-satisfaction of having an identity."
      Source: Courier-Post

African Lakes Under More and More Strain
      Africa's 600-plus lakes are under unprecedented strain from rising populations and must be managed better if demand for fresh water is not to stir instability, the UN Environment Program said in a report published last month. Some lakes are shrinking due to deforestation, climate change, or poor farming methods -- evidence of the need for better cross-border cooperation to ensure water access.
      The report based its findings on a comparison of contemporary satellite imagery of Africa's lakes and satellite photographs taken over recent decades. Experts say that on a continent where most people have no access to safe drinking water, the study should serve as a strong warning about the need for better environmental policies.
      "Africa's freshwater supply, including lakes, is threatened by depletion of water resources through pollution, environmental degradation and deforestation," said the report, called "Africa's Lakes: An Atlas of Environmental Change".
      "High population in Africa is the major cause of degradation and pollution of most African Lakes, as every one exploits aquatic resources to make a living." Up to 90% of Africa's water is used in farming, says the UNEP, of which 40% to 60% is lost to seepage and evaporation.
      "The sustainable management of Africa's lakes must be part of the equation," said UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer. "Otherwise we face increasing tensions and instability as rising populations compete for life's most precious of precious resources."
      Lake Victoria -- Africa's largest freshwater lake, which provides fishing and transport for 30 million people -- has dropped by one meter in the past decade, the report said. Lake Songor in Ghana is rapidly shrinking, partly because of salt production, "extraordinary" changes in the Zambezi river system after the building of the Cahora Bassa dam site and the near 90% shrinkage of Lake Chad. UNEP said the damming of rivers combined with the disposal of untreated sewage and industrial pollution had reduced Africa's fish catch, particularly in the Nile Delta and Lake Chad.
      An accompanying report on the quality of legal pacts governing access to African lakes highlights several possible flashpoints of political instability, UNEP said. For example, in the Volta River basin, the population is set to double in the next two decades to 40 million, and rainfall and river flows have declined steadily in the past 30 years.
      Source: Reuters

Privatized Welfare Turns Needy Away
      "I've seen firsthand what happens to low-income families when private vendors control the delivery of TANF assistance," said Congresswoman Gwen Moore in front of the House Rules Committee last week. "While private contractors in Wisconsin have received $77.9 million in unrestricted, no-strings-attached profits, and their CEOs receive six-digit salaries, families and single parents in need are being turned away and are not being helped in their quest to find employment."
      Under the current system of privatized welfare, private agency employees are charged with greeting applicants, conducting initial screening interviews, and making eligibility determinations. However, because these private employees are accountable to a profit margin and not to the public, they have incentives to inappropriately divert applicants away from needed TANF assistance in order to hold down costs under the terms of their employer's contract. The fewer TANF beneficiaries a private contractor serves, the less assistance they have to provide.
      Additionally, pushing the poor away from TANF assistance also impedes their access to other critical safety net programs. Though public employees are stationed within private agencies to enroll those eligible in Medicaid and the Food Stamp Program, the first point of contact in the office for a client in need is a private agency worker. If this private employee is unfairly diverting a client away from TANF assistance, it is likely that they will be diverted from Medicaid and food stamps as well.
      Source:  The Democratic Party of Wisconsin

In Ten African Countries, Polio Gone
      An inoculation campaign has eradicated polio in 10 African countries where the deadly disease was reintroduced after 2003 when a vaccine boycott in Nigeria was blamed for an outbreak across Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia, the UN health agency said. The 10 countries were among 18 that had eliminated polio but saw it return after hard-line Islamic clerics in Nigeria claimed the vaccine was part of a US-led plot to render Muslims infertile or infect them with AIDS. Vaccination programs restarted in Nigeria in July 2004 after local officials ended the 11-month boycott.
      The World Health Organization called the progress a major boost to global efforts to rid the world of the polio. "This is the light at the end of the tunnel," said Bruce Aylward, coordinator of WHO's global polio eradication program. "The world can be polio-free in another 12 to 18 months everywhere, and the poorest countries in the world are committed to turning this around."
      WHO said a polio epidemic has been successfully stopped in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo after health experts confirmed there have been no new cases since June. In the two years previous, more than 200 children were permanently paralyzed in these countries.
      "These are some of the poorest countries with the weakest health indicators in the world," Aylward said. "People are pretty cynical when they look at Africa, but these countries have turned it around."
      The other countries that saw recurrences of polio because of the Nigerian boycott are Botswana, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Botswana and Saudi Arabia have reported no new cases this year.
      Polio is still classified as endemic in six countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan, and Egypt.
      Source: Associated Press

Ha Naa'Dli Youth Center Re-Opens as Boys and Girls Club
      Dozens of community members and Navajo Nation Council representatives gathered in the Ha Naa'Dli Youth Center alongside the Huerfano Chapter House to witness the dedication and reopening of the center under its new partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of the Diné Nation. The youth center established the partnership after many of the centers across the Nation closed in December 2004 as a result of unpaid debt and funds withheld by the Navajo Nation.
      Ha Naa'Dli has been operating for more than two years with the support of various other organizations, but the $50,000 grant the center received during the dedication will help with future programs. According to building supervisors, between 20 and 80 children participate in afterschool activities; up to 200 kids come to the center for other weekend events.
      "Since we've opened," said program supervisor Virginia Nelson, "suicide and drug activity in the area have gone down."
      "Since we've moved here," said center director Chris Locke, "the teen suicide rate is down to nothing. Things are working well."
      Sitting around a computer playing pop and rap music and videos, 11-year-old Stacee Simms said it's a fun place to be able to go. "We play games like basketball, volleyball and soccer. I like coming here."
      The center has a variety of activities and rooms for the children to use, including several weight rooms and a large gym for games like basketball. Now, Locke said, the grant money and the partnership will allow the volunteers to organize more activities and events as well as allow the children to compete in sports with clubs in Bloomfield, Aztec, and Farmington. "We are providing the children with a lot of activities, and a lot of their leisure time is spent here," said Locke, "which keeps them off of the streets."
      Source:  Farmington Daily Times

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  • Msgr. Michael Doyle of Sacred Heart Church in Camden washed bicyclist Jeremy Sullivan's feet Sunday in a show of gratitude after Sullivan spent the previous six months riding 7,100 miles across 17 states to raise awareness of and money for the Waterfront South neighborhood, which has become something of a dumping ground for heavy industry in the region. In all, he's raised more than $30,000. He said he has always been inspired by Jesus, and that he moved to Waterfront South, from Crystal Lake IL, to be near the kinds of people Jesus would have wanted to be near. Sullivan, who ended his ride in Tijuana, Mexico, said he wants to "green" the neighborhood. He'd like to see more trees planted, vacant lots cleaned, and more support for community gardens. (Courier-Post)

  • Zimbabwe's government has decided to accept a UN offer to build emergency shelter for victims of its demolition campaign, a UN official said yesterday. It had turned down the UN offer before, saying it preferred help to build permanent homes. Under the first phase of the aid now accepted, the UN is to build 2,500 units for Zimbabweans left homeless. Overall, the UN aid would involve the construction of 20,000 temporary housing units, according to the official, at a cost of about $18 million. In May, Zimbabwe launched what it called an urban renewal campaign, razing shacks, homes, small businesses and market stalls in shantytowns and other poor urban areas amid severe food and fuel shortages. A UN report said the demolitions had left 700,000 people homeless or without sources of income, or both. (Sapa-AFP)

  • Recent Life-Net Radio guest producer and Socialist Party gubernatorial candidate Tino Rozzo narrowly edged out four other contenders and would have won the race if the 270 survey respondents at Parsippany High School in Republican-dominated Morris County had their way. Rozzo's platform included a $12-an-hour minimum wage and a "socialized healthcare system under workers' and community control." The survey followed up on a debate where students stood in for five candidates. Rozzo's stand-in, Ben Zhou, 17, grabbed attention with plans to permit students to fire their teachers and to impose heavy taxes on the "filthy rich." Trailing Rozzo were Corzine, 20.2%; Forrester, 18.1%; Thieke (Green), 15.7%; and Pawlowski (Libertarian), 15.0%. (Morris County Daily Record)

  • Republican Courtney Combs (OH) says if the federal government is not willing to crack down on illegal immigration, then the states must take up the slack. That is why he is crafting a bill that would allow state and local law enforcement officers to arrest illegal aliens on trespassing charges, or those who falsify official records. He hopes the other states will follow suit. "If we can get this ball rolling and get enough states in the United States to come along with this, they will force Congress to look at what they've got," he said. "My stance on this is either enforce the law, or change the law [at the federal level]." Combs says states need to take action to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. "We need to go after these employers who, in my opinion, are doing a disservice to both society and these poor people." Such employers, he says, are taking advantage of the illegal aliens by offering them low wages and "treating them shabbily." (Chad Groening)

  • The prospects for checking the pandemic growth of malaria looked brighter yesterday after scientists reported a successful vaccine test with young children in Mozambique. The team, funded by the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, came from the University of Barcelona and used a product made by GSK Biologicals. The team reported in the journal Lancet that 18 months after vaccination, the children were still being protected from the consequences of bites by malarial mosquitoes. (Mail & Guardian)

Life-Net News Extras

Science Education Made Relevant in Rural South Africa
      "What is relevant science education?" asked academic advisor Moyra Keane.
      "We are hungry," answered meeting participants in the remote community of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
      "When children leave school," said the induna, "they stay in the valley but they have no skills."
      All in the community agreed that school science had little to offer. Even in "developed" countries, 50% of high-school students find science classes irrelevant and boring; graduates remember almost nothing of science concepts; and, even by lenient standards, research shows at least 70% of citizens in developed countries are scientifically illiterate.
      A primary-school principal agreed with the community’s opinion that the curriculum was obsolete: "Tell [former minister of education Kadar] Asmal we don’t need text books, we need a tractor!"
      Community members complained that students were not learning anything that could contribute to generating income nor were those few who had matriculated finding jobs.
      Students expressed concern that their education was not taking them anywhere and they lacked information about how to change this. Many students dropped out and of those who stayed, only 15% matriculated.
      When Keane asked an NGO leader, "What does the school think about these problems of cultural preservation, skills development, health and farming priorities that everyone has mentioned?" she replied, "The school does not think."
      Finding answers to relevant science education takes time -- thinking, experimenting and combined creativity. In this case it took three years discussing and experimenting with meanings of relevant science education through participation. This process included researchers, community researchers, teachers, students, parents, elders, NGO members and farmers.
      They worked on visions, plans, needs, concerns and explored historical, social and economic contexts. Students produced data on community, science and world view through community-based projects in conjunction with parents and farmers. The community’s main concerns were poverty and sickness. A farming NGO and funder provided for new farming initiatives and training. This was then linked to the curriculum, and achievements were demonstrated in a community science festival.
      Farmers had learned about planning, measuring, monitoring, egg production and money management; the researchers had learned about the community, worldview, science and research; community members gained hope and insights into their own lives and the lives of the children.
      Science education in rural communities has come to mean education that is interconnected, practical and participatory.
      Source:  Mail & Guardian

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  • Holding lamps and praying silently, hundreds gathered around Capitol Hill in Washington to remember those killed in the October 8 South Asia earthquake and to pledge support to the survivors. They quietly peeled off one layer of clothing to sympathize with hundreds of thousands of survivors braving the Himalayan winter without warm clothes. Similar vigils were held in more than 25 cities around the world to mark the first month since the quake. UNICEF reports that at least half of the children in the quake-shattered district of Battagram are suffering from malnutrition, with only a small portion of the total 368,000 population getting potable water. Respiratory infections and diarrhea are the major health problems, while epidemics of tuberculosis and hepatitis among the adults are feared. Hundreds of pneumonia cases are already being treated. (Church World Service)

  • Venezuela's interior ministry has given Americans with the New Tribes Mission three months to leave areas where they've been working, according to an order published by the state-run news agency. President Hugo Chavez has accused New Tribes missionaries of destroying Indian cultures and spying for the CIA and foreign commercial interests. The Florida-based group, which has 160 missionaries and staff in Venezuela, has repeatedly denied accusations of wrongdoing in Venezuela and has urged Chavez to reconsider. New Tribes officials have said they are willing to open their camps to government observers to quell suspicions. Many Indian leaders have also defended the group. (AP)

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