Shining Through Strife

Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan, home to 85,000 Syrians, is the world’s largest camp, and may be on its way to setting an example for the aid community because it’s becoming a city! Well, not a city like New York or London, or even like any smaller one, but a city in the sense it is organizing itself like an urban center. To an outsider it may still look like a slum or a Rio’s favella, but to those living there, there is a sort of address system, a barbershop, a flower shop, a rotisserie take out, a travel agency… some even have washing machines and can buy homemade ice cream. Much of what they have comes from the black market and from smugglers. They do steal electricity, and the UN officials at the camp are thinking of charging a monthly fee, making some low income Jordanians living nearby envious. Of course like any urban environment they have crime. And because it is a refugee camp, residents can each tell horror stories of what they have had to live through before and after they left Syria. There’s another camp, Azraq, located in a desert like area far from anything. The refugees there fight despair, while those living in Zaatari are feeling hope—making the human spirit so evident in the camp all the more striking for shining through the strife.

The House of One

Berlin which as any WWII fan knows was divided into four sectors after the war, and which after that was divided by a wall separating East from West Berlin, is about to be the site of The House of One, a center with a central meeting place surrounded by a synagogue, a mosque and a church! Three religions in one space! The idea came from a priest who thought to build upon the site of St Petri’s church, which dated back to the 12th century, was badly damaged during the war, and which remains were later, after the Red Army liberated Berlin, destroyed by the East German authorities. The House of One is designed by architect Wilfried Kuehn, who actually won a competition. The project which has now begun fund raising will occupy Petriplatz in the heart of Berlin.

Kadir Sanci, the iman of the future mosque says that it will show the world that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and hopes it shall be a place where different cultures can learn from each other. Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin feels that the city where so much Jewish suffering was planned can now be the city where all three monotheistic religions can show how they shaped European culture. And Pastor Gregor Hohberg looks for it to be a place for dialog and discussion even including people without faith, hoping Berlin will become an example of togetherness.

Since Muslims worship on Fridays, Jews on Saturdays and Christians on Sundays, it does not look there will be much chance for interaction, yet given today’s religious strife, the mere fact Jews, Muslims and Christians can worship within the same space is more than symbolic, it holds significance, meaning and promising implications.

Maids In Brazil

Brazil has seven million maids, apparently more than any other country, and they have been the butts of jokes and denigration for ages. That’s why an anonymous Twitter account highlighting how poorly Brazilians treat their maids is worth noting. @aminhaempregada began re-tweeting examples of what people think and say about their maids, revealing attitudes with tweets like “My maid is really dumb. Sometimes I feel like chopping that fat of hers with a kitchen knife.” Within days of its beginning the account had 8000 followers. Some Tweets defended their contents, some shared they felt ashamed for having written them, and maids and their relatives tweeted stories of derogatory treatment.

The owner of the Twitter account is in Sao Paulo, in his 30’s, was raised by maids and doesn’t want credit for the site. He just wants to bring out the facts and make it easier for all to show love and respect to maids.

In India and in Middle Eastern countries maids fare no better than in Brazil. The U.S may have made progress, we no longer treat maids the way we did in the fairly recent book and subsequent movie “The Help” for example, but we still have ways to go before we can be a paragon.

A Problem That Can Be Fought

According to the UN global initiative to fight human trafficking, the trafficking of human being is the fastest growing form of international crime and the third largest criminal industry after drugs and arms trafficking. In some cases no doubt, some of the same people are perpetrators. A recent study by the International Labor Organization found that globally the illegal profits generated by human trafficking is $150 bn or 3 times what it was thought to be. It involves 21 million people, and about two thirds of the profits, ($99 bn) come from commercial sexual exploitation. The rest comes from forced labor, including domestic, construction and mining.

Once the shock and cringing are over, the part of the report that ought to stay with us is what we can do to combat this. Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, describing the persistence of slavery as one the modern economy depends on, says “ We have to realize the problem is one that touches us all… in a globalized economy we all buy products likely to be tainted by forced labor. That is why the governments need to take concrete steps to address forced labor across the world.” He suggests, for example, introducing extraterritorial legislation to make business executives responsible for slavery in their supply chains, and supporting a binding protocol strengthening international standards against forced labor.

The point is being horrified is not enough, we must understand that no matter what governments individually and together decide to do, that these are problems can be fought.