Consumer Power

Consumers have made a difference with coffee, with carpets, with chocolate. Most of us insist on fair traded products and carpets that are not made by the little hands of children. But when it comes to T-shirts from Bangladesh we still however have a way to go. It’s a little over a year since the Rana Plaza collapse killing 1129 people, not to speak of those who were injured and hurt in major ways, and observers and others report not much has changed. The government has inspected 700 of the 2000 buildings it is to check, yet for those that have been checked there is no assurance there are no potential problems. Bangladesh has good safety laws, but it is easy to bribe officials to circumvent them. Two groups have formed to prevent future disasters, one is mainly made up of Europeans firms, the other, including firms like Wal-mart, Gap and Target, have no representatives from labor. There is need for pressure upon the government and others to insist for improving conditions. Already the pressure has forced the government to increase the minimum wage to $16 a week. Activists discourage boycotts, because even sweat shops are usually the best alternative for many women workers, but they do encourage pressure in whatever way we can exercise it.

Child To Child

The Dadaab refuge camp in north-eastern Kenya is one of the largest refugee camps and has been home to some 400,000 refugees for the last 23 years. They come mainly from Somalia, people who have fled conflict, famine, and drought. The BBC reports  that under the auspices of Care International, the aid agency which provides many of the camps services, the children of Dadaab have written letters of hope to the children of Syrian refugees now in the Refugee Assistance Centre in Amman, Jordan.  As one would expect, they’re touching letters but also reveal the resilience of the children.” Don’t be hopeless, we are with you, and if there’s war in your country, tolerance is necessary,” writes Zahra Dahir Ali. “We are praying for you God gives you better life and with the help of God as soon as possible you will get peace in your country because we are feeling the same way you are feeling,” writes Abashir Hussein. “I am sure 100% that if you practice learning and struggling, you will excel at the end,” Hibo Mahamed Dubow writes, “Last but not least I tell you not to lose hope because you have been refugees for only three years. What do you think of people who are refugees for about two decades?”

Care International says the letters were well received. The young Syrians are now drafting responses.

Small Victory?

I periodically come across a group of people who make me stop to recognize what they represent. This time it is a group of migrants from Honduras, who take the train through Mexico on the way to the U.S. to find work. They find a way to hop on one of  the freight trains they call La Bestia (the beast) since it has maimed so many.  The group headquartered in Honduras  has 400  to 500 members, all disabled who have lost limbs traveling it. They are as illegal in Mexico as they would be in the U.S. and are then sent back to their countries, and there particularly given their disabilities are unable to work and endure sorrowful and very difficult lives. The wife of one migrant worker who returned without his right leg and right arm just left him. But the men, who feel their lives have become nightmares, also want to fight for the rights of other migrant workers, people who like them seek to escape desperate conditions and hope for something better in the U.S.  Norman Varela, the spokesman for the group who made it to a small city in Mexico, and who when he lost his leg was robbed of all his money by a Mexican policeman, said they wanted a meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto. He was told by a local official it was impossible. “What’s impossible,” he said,” is re-growing a hand or an arm or a leg. It is not impossible to arrange a meeting with a fellow human being.” Short of meeting the President, the migrants want to deliver letters to him. In future, they want their fellow migrants to be assured safe passage to the United States, instead of being detained or repatriated for being illegals in Mexico.

Days after their story and their plight were made public, they received word that a representative of Mexico’s national immigration department would receive their letters and would deliver them.

Intelligent Budget Cutting

Increasingly police departments are arresting people who are mentally ill, people who do not understand commands, who think they are someone else, who get frightened and act belligerently. Some have been shot and killed in this manner. In Albuquerque 37 people have been shot since 2010, 23 fatally.  Because in some cases the shootings were caught on video, the issue is coming to the fore, not only in New Mexico, but also in other states. Most often officers aren’t trained to handle mental illness, and in most cities they have no back up. Exceptions are few. In Los Angeles, for example, there is a specialized mental health unit and in New York the department has adopted its own form of a crisis intervention model.

A consensus is forming that the underlying problem is related to be the lack of adequate mental health care. Mental health ever since the 60’s has been a budget item that is often cut. According to the NIH, about 6%of the population (one in 17) suffer from a serious mental illness, and while studies show that only 4% of them  are involved in violent crimes, when untreated severe mental illness can be associated with higher rate of violence. The director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, compared our current practice to what it would it be like to stop treating heart disease until people had heart attacks, except that in mental health treatment is more difficult to begin once people reach a point of crisis.

Cutting budgets is sometimes necessary, we must however cut budgets intelligently, that is with awareness of the consequences, of what happens when these cuts are put into effect.