Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Book Review: Gangs: A Journey into the Heart of the British Underworld by Tony Thompson

It occurred to me that I should begin to review some of the books and texts that had the most impact on me in my effort to learn more about the world around me.  The reviews should post about once a twice a month.  Many of the reviews will be from notes I took at the time I read the books and I have expanded where relevant.

Gangs by Tony Thompson

Published 2005 / Topic: organised crime, gangs, human trafficking

Gangs cover This book is absolutely phenomenal. It reads like the Sunday papers, but you won't put these papers down until you've finished.

In Gangs, Thompson takes the reader through a fascinating journey of Britain's underworld. There are chapters on armed robbery, human trafficking, kidnapping, drugs syndicates, money laundering, gun running and more.

The most incredible thing is that this is investigative journalism at it's best. It's not some toff sitting behind his desk and speculating. Thompson actually goes in there and meets these people, he goes into prisons and travels to Jamaica, he chats to men who are proud and men who are frightened for their lives, but mostly, he just listens... as is evident by the stories he relays.

If you've ever watched (and enjoyed) Trainspotting, Snatch or Layer Cake, I recommend you read this book. It's as close to the real thing you're going to get. But this is also an absolutely brilliant book that I recommend to anyone who wants to know more about what really goes on in the seedy underworld of organised crime.


Monday, 15 February 2010

Interview: Kate Malarkey - FXB

Back in January, I posted about the organisation FXB International.  Nico from FXB contacted me via Twitter to thank me for my post and I jumped at the chance to ask him for further information.  Well, it is slightly under a month since we first made contact but Kate from FXB has kindly agreed to answer a couple of questions for me.  I'd like to thank Kate for taking the time to write such wonderful replies to my questions below.  The photos in the post have been kindly provided by Kate and are from her recent trip to Rwanda.  

FXB Rwanda 1

Where did you visit in Rwanda?  What were you doing there?

I was unfortunately only able to visit Rwanda for a few short days, but during my time there I visited our FXB-Village sites and met with beneficiary families who are enrolled in our programs.  FXB has Village sites throughout Rwanda (as in many countries throughout the world).  In particular, I visited some of our sites in Gitarama, located about an hour’s drive from Kigali.

What I was most interested in finding out about was your three year Village model and the types of things taught and how progress is managed.  I really like the idea of sustainability.  So many times in the past we heard about loans and aid and this is the best idea I have heard so far.  So anything you can tell me would be appreciated.

The FXB Village program is our signature three-year program designed to provide sustainable help to children and families hardest hit by poverty and AIDS.  Each FXB-Village is a network of 80 to 100 households within a wider community, households which are most often comprised of widows caring for children, orphan-headed households, or orphaned children taken in by extended family.  FXB field staff work, including social workers and nurse counselors, work with  local leaders, and community members to identify the households most in need.  Once enrolled in the program, families are given life-saving tools and resources, including access to healthcare, HIV testing and prevention information, Antiretroviral treatment for HIV, and emergency food support.  FXB covers the tuition, uniform, and supplies fees for all school aged children, and all young adults have the opportunity to enroll in vocational training. 

Once a family is healthy and has regained their strength, the head of household receives a small grant to start a microenterprise, and FXB trains them on basic management, opening a savings account, and other relevant skills.  These microenterprises range from animal rearing and vegetable harvesting, to basket weaving and jewelry making, and provides the family with a sustainable way to generate income.  As the business grows and generates profits, FXB incrementally withdraws financial support and households slowly take over responsibility for growing portions of their expenses.  By the end of the three years, families are fully supporting themselves, have built savings accounts, and are armed with the tools and skills necessary to continue living above the poverty line and meet their basic needs for the long term.  Our model promotes self-sufficiency and provides sustainable solutions to the root causes of poverty.

An external evaluation of FXB-Villages was conducted and it was found that 86% of families continue to live above the poverty line and can provide for all their basic needs, even years after the program has been completed.  The Villages have been cited by UNICEF and UNAIDS as a best practice in supporting AIDS-affected children.

FXB currently has Village programs in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Thailand, and India, and is hoping to expand the Villages to Colombia, South Africa, and Myanmar, where we have operated other programs for years.

FXB Rwanda 2

Which is the newest country that FXB has become involved in?  Can you tell us a bit more about what it is like and what you are focusing on first there?

We have just started a new Village program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Goma.  Our activities in the DRC focus on providing direct and comprehensive support to children and families hardest hit by poverty and AIDS.  As one of the largest countries in Africa, the DRC is home to nearly 65 million people, 71% of whom live below the poverty line.  One million adults and children currently live with HIV/AIDS, and it is estimated that 1,000 people die each day from war-related causes including disease, violence, and hunger.

FXB has previous experience working in post-conflict settings.  We felt our skills and resources could be of great assistance in the DRC.  Families were selected in July, and Village activities began in October 2009.  Although still early in the program, we are very excited by the progress the families have made and look forward to expanding our programs in the country.

I am also very happy to report that we have recently expanded our Village model to Colombia.  FXB has been present in Colombia since 1992, running the FXB House in Barranquilla.  The FXB House provides comprehensive medical and social support to children affected by HIV, as well as their families, including day-care, medical treatment, psychosocial counseling, and nutritional support.  The FXB House also works with a variety of local partners on a larger scale program focused on the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV.  Based on the success the FXB House has achieved over the past 18 years and our strong community presence, expanding our work to include the implementation of FXB-Villages is a logical step and an effective way to reaching even more vulnerable children and families.  The first FXB-Village in Colombia began in January 2010, and we plan to continue securing funding to build additional Villages to benefit even more children in the region.

How did you come to be involved in FXB and what is the the role that you play?

I came on to FXB’s office in New York City, FXB USA, as a part-time intern while studying for my Master’s degree. It was a wonderful learning opportunity, and it fit well with my interests in international development, HIV, and children. 

Over the past two years my position has grown, and I am now a full time staff member.  I manage individual giving for the US office and FXB Global Partners, our newest program that seeks to engage companies, associations, and individuals in a fundraising partnership with a FXB-Village in a country of their choice. We have recently launched this program and are actively seeking interested parties.

FXB Rwanda 3

Do you have advice on what young people can study if they would like to become involved in international agencies such as yourselves?

This sector is huge and there are a variety of paths one can take including fundraising, finance, marketing, program development, and program management.  Some people prefer to be on the ground and work directly in the field, while others have a more administrative role and work behind the scenes to create new programs, engage supporters, or ensure there is enough funding to keep the programs in operation.  There really is something for everyone, it’s just a matter of deciding where your interests fit best.

My academic background is in International Relations and Non-Profit Management, but I think for the most part experience and passion trump a degree.  Volunteering and internship opportunities are an excellent way to get involved, test out the water, and gain experience working in the sector.  You may not be doing the most glamorous work, but it is hands-down the best way to gain knowledge, develop skills, and make contacts with people to help build your professional network.  I know many people (including myself) who have parlayed short-term volunteer or internship experiences into staff positions.

Another way to prepare oneself for this area of work is to stay up to date on global issues and topic areas that relate to your goals.  There is always a wealth of information on the internet, and as your site demonstrates, a host of books, publications etc. that are really valuable and can help build your understanding of global issues.  On a more practical note, regardless of the position you eventually seek it is important to have strong written and communication skills.  It is up to staff to communicate the mission, vision, and programs to the public, and so agencies are always looking for people who can clearly address these topics and promote their organization effectively.

Do you have any advice on what older people can do if they'd like to become involved.  What skills are organisations such as yours looking for, both on a full time and volunteer basis (I'm not saying that you have positions available, just that people often don't realise they have something to offer).  Many people don't have resources other than their time and perhaps a blog site - how can they get involved?

I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say that people often don’t realize they have something to offer.  There is ALWAYS something you can offer, it’s just a matter of identifying how your skills can be utilized.  Luckily, most non-profit organizations, both focused nationally and internationally, are always in need of assistance in one form or another.  If people want to go beyond just donating money, there are still many ways in which they can contribute their skills to help the organization further along in their mission.  This can involve reaching out to friends (in person or thorough a blog) to promote an organization and spread the word about their work.  Individuals can also create small fundraising events or campaigns, something as simple as collecting spare change at work or holding a car wash, to raise funds to support a program.  Organizations really benefit from public recognition, and supporters of all ages are invaluable at helping to publicize their work in their own social circles and social media/blogs.

For individuals who want to contribute their skills in a more structured way, it is best to reach out to the organization directly and simply express an interest in helping out.   Whether lending your legal expertise pro bono, offering your web design knowledge, or stuffing envelopes with mailings, volunteers can make a big impact on an organization by doing small things.  Regardless of your background, the most valuable thing you can bring to the table is a passion for helping and a willingness to assist in whatever tasks may be most needed at the time.

From dealing with the organisation this month it is clear that they are a group of passionate, dedicated individuals and I think their idea of a three-year programme for sustainable development is fantastic.  I hope this will help those of you who want to get involved.

You can visit the FXB website if you would like to get involved or donate money or you can follow them on Twitter too.

Twitter: @fxbusa


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Black Panther Party

Emblem of the Black Panther Party of 1966
[Photo source]

The Black Panther Party originally began as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and their aim was to protect people from police brutality and to promote Black power and consciousness in the US.  They originally began in Oakland, California where the police force was specifically and notoriously brutal against Black people.

I was really interested to read that they had a Ten-Point Program, eight points of attention and three main rules of discipline.  To be honest, the rules and principles could have helped so much in liberation organisations around the world.

The Ten-Point Program of the Black Panther Party

    We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our own communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions which exist in our communities.
    We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every person employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the American businessmen will not give full employment, then the technology and means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
    We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.
    We believe that if the landlords will not give decent housing to our Black and oppressed communities, then housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people in our communities, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for the people.
    We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.
    We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide our selves with proper medical attention and care.
    We believe that the racist and fascist government of the United States uses its domestic enforcement agencies to carry out its program of oppression against black people, other people of color and poor people inside the united States. We believe it is our right, therefore, to defend ourselves against such armed forces and that all Black and oppressed people should be armed for self defense of our homes and communities against these fascist police forces.
    We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desire of the United States ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the United States government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.
    We believe that the many Black and poor oppressed people now held in United States prisons and jails have not received fair and impartial trials under a racist and fascist judicial system and should be free from incarceration. We believe in the ultimate elimination of all wretched, inhuman penal institutions, because the masses of men and women imprisoned inside the United States or by the United States military are the victims of oppressive conditions which are the real cause of their imprisonment. We believe that when persons are brought to trial they must be guaranteed, by the United States, juries of their peers, attorneys of their choice and freedom from imprisonment while awaiting trial.
    When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are most disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

8 Points of Attention

  1. Speak politely.
  2. Pay fairly for what you buy.
  3. Return everything you borrow.
  4. Pay for anything you damage.
  5. Do not hit or swear at people.
  6. Do not damage property or crops of the poor, oppressed masses.
  7. Do not take liberties with women.
  8. If we ever have to take captives do not ill-treat them.

3 Main Rules of Discipline

  1. Obey orders in all your actions.
  2. Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the poor and oppressed masses.
  3. Turn in everything captured from the attacking enemy.

The Black Panther Party also had several rules which can be found on the website.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Break the

Break the Chains

Break the is a:

“news and discussion forum for supporters of political prisoners, prisoners of war, politicized social prisoners, and victims of police and state

I was quite surprised to learn that there were still political prisoners from various liberation movements in US prisons and over time we've come to learn that many of the convictions were obtained on falsified charges. Break the tackles the issues of political prisoners both in the US and around the world.

It was on the Break the that I discovered this video on the book The War Before by Safiya Bukhari.

Laura Whitehorn narrates this introduction to Safiya’s book.  Laura was an activist in the 1960s and she took part in various civil rights and anti-war movements.  She had been a part of Students for a Democratic Society and went on to become a member of The Weather Underground.  Laura spent fourteen years in prison on charges of conspiracy, destruction of government property and fraud and was released in 1999.

Laura Whitehorn sounds as fascinating as Safiya Bukhari and i will certainly be reading up on her next.


Monday, 8 February 2010

Black consciousness week

Black Panther logo

I am reading a book on the Black Panther Party in the US at the moment. I knew very little about the Black power and Black consciousness movements in the US before and so in keeping with the spirit of this blog, I'll be posting various snippets of what I learn and research on the Internet while reading the book.

I'm barely 20 pages into the book The War Before by Safiya Bukhari and already I am fascinated. The links with the feminist struggle and the freedom struggle in South Africa are as clear as the unique difficulties and problems facing the Black Panther Party in the US and I'll keep you updated on what I learn.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

This day in history: Apartheid Dismantled

ANC unbanned
Photo: Independent Newspapers Archive

“There are moments in history that become icons of their era, symbols of a shift in the world order. The liberation of Auschwitz, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the assassination of John F Kennedy, the liberation of Saigon, FW de Klerk's address to parliament 20 years ago this coming week” - IOL

I can barely believe that it was twenty years ago today that the then-President of South Africa gave the speech which effectively dismantled Apartheid. I was sixteen and in my last year of school and I can remember that huge feeling inside as we witnessed the end of an era. On February 2, 1990 FW de Klerk unbanned the African National Congress and 9 days later Nelson Mandela was released from prison after being incarcerated for 27 years.

South Africa is just one small country amongst many that had right-wing totalitarian regimes in the past but the specific oppression of people of colour in favour of a white conservative government meant that South Africa's struggle became a global symbol for the fight against racism, oppression and domination.

Mr de Klerk, I cannot thank you enough for changing my world and for making me proud to say that I am South African. I cannot even begin to explain how your bravery and your actions, together with those of Nelson Mandela, shaped my mind and made me realise that we need to carry the struggle worldwide and fight against evil in this world.  Thank you.

You can find out more about this momentous day by clicking the links below:

IOL photo gallery on the events of February 1990

FW de Klerk reflects on reaching the decision to release Mandela on this day 20 years ago

The day De Klerk changed course of history

De Klerk's speech changed our lives forever


Monday, 1 February 2010

This day in history: 01 February 1968

Nguyen Van Lem
Photo by Eddie Adams

On this day in history, February, 1st 1968, Nguyễn Văn Lém was executed by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The execution was caught on film by photojournalist Eddie Adams and has become one of the most iconic images of the horror and hostility of war.

Nguyễn Văn Lém was a Viet Cong soldier who was caught during the Tet Offensive and brought before General Nguyễn Ngoc Loan. At the time, General Nguyễn was the Chief of the Republic of Viet Nam National Police. He simply pulled out his service sidearm and summarily executed the Viet Cong soldier in front of Eddie Adams and television cameraman Vo Suu.

In 1969, Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for this photograph.

© A Passion to Understand

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