Jul 30, 2009

Caravan of Action to Forgotten Refugees

Sleeping near muddy foxholes to hide from explosions and without reliable shelter from bone-chilling monsoon rains, the world’s largest new population of refugees seeks survival in Mindanao, Philippines. They are an estimated half-million Muslims and Christians caught in the crossfire of armed conflict. Two weeks ago, AAI’s Albert Santoli and Rohaniza Sumndad announced an emergency aid mission. There has been an immediate buildup of support. Starting with only a couple duffel bags of donated medicines and toys, AAI has received growing support from international and local organizations and student volunteers that has grown into network a Caravan of Action to assist thousands of refugee families. Support is growing, but we need much more food and medicines than AAI can currently provide. Your contribution of any size will help us to save lives.

Life saving supplies and toys for a traumatized children were contributed by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Poor, International Medical Corps Worldwide, Interchurch Medical Assistance and International Relief and Development, Inc. Funds from Philippine Senator Richard Gordon have been donated through the Philippine National Red Cross that is enabling the on site purchase of food and the cost of facilitating the journey into the violent zone of crisis. Their primary destination is Datu Piang, where more than 11,000 families are living without basic shelter, food, water, or shelter from the mud and monsoon rains.

There has been an outpouring of volunteerism from organizations such as AAI’s Catalysts for Peace, Young Moral Professionals Network, Ayala Young Leaders, Alliance of Bangasamoro for Peace and Sustainable Development and the LiguasanYouth Association. Operation Blessing, Philippines is sending medical doctors and is donating a water-purifying machine. As of July 30, the caravan of humanitarian volunteers continues to grow. Simultaneously as part of the peace process, Christian and Muslim religious leaders have called for a halt to the violence. Although support is growing, the large number of refugee families will need far more support that is currently available to sustain the critical survival needs of this vulnerable population. We are appealing for public donations to successfully conduct this mission.

For donation, please click here

Jul 29, 2009

Interesting news in Mindanews

Abp. Quevedo to Gov’t, MILF: meet “in two or three days ...” PDF Print E-mail
by Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews
Sunday, 26 July 2009

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 Juy) – Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo hopes key officials from both government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “come together in two or three days and agree on an immediate action of collaboration” to bring the internally displaced persons (IDPs) safely to their homes before Ramadan and in “rebuilding/rehabilitating their homes and properties.” Quevedo was reacting to the declarations of suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) by the government on July 23 and the suspension of military actions (SOMA) by the MILF on July 25.

Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, begins on August 21 or 22.

There is no announcement as yet as to when the two panels will resume negotiations. But sources from both panels told MindaNews, “very soon.”

“I pray from my heart that the declarations of SOMO and SOMA would also influence those who plant bombs in public places so that they would stop their murderous operations,” he told MindaNews in an e-mail.

“I pray that the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and MILF would now collaborate in bringing the IDPs safely to their homes before Ramadan and in rebuilding/rehabilitating their homes and properties,” he said, adding, “for this immediate purpose, I pray that key officials from both sides come together in two or three days and agree on an immediate action of collaboration. Communications between the two groups could set up such a meeting.”

In another e-mail, Quevedo said he is also praying that “defensive postures would remain so despite provocation.”

On July 23, Quevedo wrote “all warring parties” an “open appeal for peace and for the evacuees” which was read at the State of the Bakwit Address (SOBA) at the Notre Dame University gymnasium in Cotabato City morning of the same date.

Quevedo urged them to “end your war” because “enough is enough.”

“For the sake of our evacuees and in the name of our one God of Peace, end your war! Go back to the negotiating table. Let the thousands of evacuees return safely to their home. Collaborate with one another towards this objective. Together, rehabilitate their destroyed properties. Give them another chance for a truly human life.”

“From the depths of my soul I can only cry out to all warring parties, ‘Enough is enough!’ End your so called search and punish operations. End your terrorist bombings. End your bombardments, end your raids, all you warring parties! Enough is enough!” Quevedo said in the message read by Sister Rose Susan Montejo, superior of the Oblates of Notre Dame.

“I condemn in the strongest terms as serious moral evil such crimes as terrorist bombings that by their very nature target the innocent, punitive raids on villages, bombardments that fall on civilian populations, landmines that can kill any passerby. For me ‘collateral damage’ simply means murder and deliberate unjustifiable destruction of property,” he said.

“War,” the archbishop wrote, “inflicts more destruction on civilians than on combatants. For every combatant killed, scores of civilians suffer or die. In the past twelve months I have seen thousands of civilians languishing in evacuation camps, first in the Pikit and PALMA (Pigcawayan, Aleosan, Libungan, Midsayap, Alamada in North Cotabato) areas and now in Datu Piang and various other places of Maguindanao. They give birth to babies under dismal conditions, they beg for food and water, they struggle for life in the most miserable situation. They die as statistics. Such human tragedy, it is said, has spawned brutal retaliatory terrorism elsewhere in our region.”

“Due punishment for raids has long been meted out in an attrition of casualties and damaged properties. And now what most sadly remains is the senseless logic of war, of action and reaction. And the suffering of thousands of civilian evacuees. Enough is enough!”

“There is no human conflict that cannot be solved through a genuine honest dialogue of the heart,” he said.

Quevedo was president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines from 1999 to 2003, during which he also appealed to the warring parties to end the war in 2000 and 2003 for the sake of the IDPs.

In 2000, nearly a million persons were displaced by then President Joseph Estrada’s “all-out war” while a little over 400,000 were displaced by the Arroyo administration’s war against the MILF in 2003.

The renewed hostilities in August 2008, following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), displaced a total of 157,584 families or a total of 756,544 IDPs from August 10, 2000 to July 7, 2009, according to the latest situation report of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) dated July 14.

The same report states that as of July 7, 2009, 51,326 families or 254,119 persons were still in the evacuation centers or “home-based” – those staying with relatives.

Jul 27, 2009

Internship Reflection Time: What I am taking away and what I am leaving behind -- Sandeep Gautam

What is the relationship between NGOs and military actions? Why does Africa continue to suffer with increasing hunger, poverty and chaos despite billions of dollars of aid from developed countries? Is the US foreign policy working in Pakistan and Afghanistan? How can financing be used to fuel economic growth?

These are some of the many questions that I tried to untangle during my internship at Asia America Initiative. Often internships are what you make out of it. For me, it was a truly learning experience, to say the least. One thing that I am really taking away from my internship is the knack of getting right into the core of a problem while still looking at the bigger picture. I read a lot, indiscriminately from all sources, just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. Lively conversations with Mr. Santoli and fellow interns often brought together any missing pieces. This became a process through which ideas were developed and recorded in the blog.

This brings me to a question of what I am leaving behind. Well, I am not exactly leaving but I will write it any way. I was mainly involved in promoting views and ideas, particularly through blogging and I want this to continue in the future. This should go on because this is important. AAI is partly a think tank in itself even though we go a bit beyond just advocating policies – we implement our ideas and live through the changes. Future interns should understand that not everything you write will get responses, not all views will be celebrated. But we should continue to write what we think and why we think so.

That everything we do here at our office in Washington helps impoverished families in underprivileged and at risk South Asian and South East Asian communities was very inspiring throughout. For someone who has seen and lived through ordeals of war-ridden communities in Nepal, to get a chance to help heal the wounds of war victims was a real treat.

Write-up about Internship: Karolyn Wojtowicz

When I started my internship at Asia America Initiative, I had no idea what to expect. I did not know the current situation in the Philippines, where the majority of AAI’s programs exist. I did not know how a non-profit international organization worked and achieved its goals in an economic recession. And I did not think that another intern and I would be starting a program in Afghanistan on our own during our first two weeks of being at AAI.

The process of creating Families for Hope began with researching information about the BiBi Mahroow and Afshar camps located near Kabul. Pictures and stories of families located there were collected by Marzia Meena, who leads MRSDO, an organization in Afghanistan that AAI occasionally partners with. Reading the stories of the people who are living in tents in the middle of winter, not getting enough food, and having no health care cried out to me as a dire plea for help.

The struggles of the families became more evident as the photos were looked over to create a one page handout and a powerpoint presentation. The powerpoint presentation led to the idea of a promotional video that would share the stories of the families on its own. The video begins with “Imagine - you've lost everything. You're a single mother, heading a household of twelve, including your sister and cousins… Then the Taliban came.” The entire video, located on this link, was created by Clare and I – we chose the images, wrote the script, recorded, compiled, and placed it on youtube. The families in Afghanistan don’t need much to survive and the hope is that with AAI’s Families for Hope program, these families will receive the food, water, shelter, health care, and education that they need.

As I near the end of my internship with Asia America Initiative, I can say this about my summer: I had an internship in Washington D.C. where I worked with an organization doing international humanitarian work; I worked directly with leaders, founders, and presidents of organizations and companies around the world; learned about the dire situation in the Philippines - where even the United Nations is no longer because it is deemed an unsafe area; learned the dedication that is required to successfully run an international non-profit organization; and another intern and I created a program and advertising tools on our own within two weeks that could help thousands of people in a country halfway around the world. What did you do with your summer?

Jul 17, 2009

The Philippine Daily Inquirer writes about AAI

A Washington-based non-government organization will distribute food and medicines to residents displaced by war between the military and Moro rebels in Mindanao.

In a statement posted on its website, http://www.asiaamerica.org, the Asia America Initiative (AAI) said its representatives, including its president, Pulitzer prize nominee Albert Santoli, would distribute relief goods to internally displaced persons in Maguindanao on July 27.

The AAI, which also works in other war-torn areas across the globe, is a non-profit agency engaged in countering terrorism and communal violence by promoting peace and prosperity.

AAI coordinator Rohaniza Sumndad said the plight of the Maguindanao evacuees caught the group’s attention.

She said the condition of the evacuees was pitiful as they have been living in “muddy open fields, under heavy rains with minimal plastic tarps to protect them.”

Click here for the link

Jul 16, 2009

Urgent War zone mission

On July 27, AAI president Albert Santoli will depart for the Philippines for an emergency relief mission to assist more than 90,000 men, women and children who have been displaced by heavy fighting in central Muslim Mindanao. The evacuees are living in muddy open fields, under heavy rains with minimal plastic tarps to protect them. The temporary encampments have no clean water or sanitation facilities resulting in high incidences of fatal fevers, diarrhea, viral infections and dehydration. AAI's interfaith Catalysts for Peace, led by AAI coordinator Rohaniza Sumndad, will distribute medicines, re-hydration salt and water purification tablets. At present, AAI receives no government funding. We are appealing for public donations to successfully conduct this mission.

As of June 30, the United Nations World Food Program and the Philippine government claim at least 359,000 Internally Displaced Persons. AAI is targeting a group of 30,000 evacuees in Lanao del Sur, 30,000 evacuees in Datu Piang, and another 30,000 in close vicinity in Maguindanao Province. In Datu Piang, the tragic death of a seven month old baby girl, Zaida (see photo above), epitomizes the danger to the most vulnerable - infants and grandparents - who have no protection from the elements. More than 65% are under the age of 18, with a high number of infants and toddlers.

Baby Zaida, her three brothers and sisters, and her parents had lived under harsh conditions in an open area surrounding a public school since Apil. Local authorities and the Red Cross are overwhelmed by the large number of families who have left their homes with only the clothes on their back. The UN has just ordered their agencies, including the WFP to temporarily withdraw from the area because of ongoing bombings and other incidents of violence.

AAI president Santoli reflects, "The ongoing tragedy in Mindanao, whether in Datu Piang and the surrounding area or in the deep southern islands of Sulu, is nearly invisible to the rest of the world. We have found that Christians and Muslims are willing to work together for peace and to help each other create a better future for their children. Our role is to make sure that they are not forgotten. Through saving the lives of innocents, not only is this initiative a local inspiration, but it is a positive example for other troubled regions of the world."

AAI and our Catalysts for Peace cannot do this alone. We need your help. No contribution is too small. One dollar of water purification can save the life of one child. Help us build peace, one child at a time.

For donation, please click here

Jul 15, 2009

Bridging the Cultural Divide: NGO-Military Relations in Complex Environments

What is the relationship between NGOs and military actions?

Click here for an interesting insight

Dambisa Moyo answers why aid is not working

Our organization Asia America Initiative has found that the greatest impediment to developing rule of law, social justice and economic development is the unregulated free flow of foreign aid into undeveloped parts for the world. The most significant case is Africa. We are highlighting the controversial but profoundly accurate economic observations of Dambisa Moyo. She emphasizes that over the past fifty years more than $1 trillion has been donated to Africa (while possibly at least that amount of African natural resources has been plundered by international governmental and private industries) with an end result of increased poverty, hunger and chaos.

For a better understanding of why aid failed to uplift Africans and an alternative road map for development in Africa, follow her book Dead Aid.

Jul 10, 2009

Recluse North Korean Peninsula continues to create troubles

North Korea might be a failing economy but definitely not a dormant one. It made headlines, few weeks ago, with the rumors of possible missile attacks towards Hawaii. It is again speculated to be behind the cyber attacks that hit the websites of US and South Korean government agencies, banks and businesses for a couple of days after the American Independence day.

Given North Korea’s record of creating troubles in the past, it is an obvious suspect for the recent attacks. The hermit state measures its success not from feeding its starving population but from messing around in the world, especially more so when it comes to South Korea and the US. On top of that, the deteriorating health of its dear leader and the struggle in finding a suitable successor make North Korea even more desperate.

All being said, the attack was meant to be a symbolic one. The damage done was almost close to nothing. US and South Korean authorities soon took control of the websites and record is that no important information has been leaked. The not-much-effective nature of attacks also makes it typical North-Korean.

However, this might be a harbinger of bigger shocks to come. The world is such positioned that cyber attacks, of any substantial scale, can dismantle its balance. Should stock markets, international trade and outsourcing industry that propel the world economy today come to a halt, the consequences can be far-reaching. In all reality, North Korea’s capacity to at least make an attempt to disrupt the world system should not be undermined. Ironically, the money it gets from selling missiles to Iran, Syria and Pakistan might not be enough to feed its starving population but is more than enough to produce regular nuisances around the world.

This crazy and erratic aggression by North Korea pours water over all hope of its negotiation with the international community. It continues to reluctantly drag itself towards the negotiation table, only to mess up at the end with new surprises. As for now, lets hope that the recluse North Korean peninsula stops playing around and gets back to do what it ought to be doing.

Jul 2, 2009

Food and Water Crisis

This is official. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Robert Zoellick have already sounded the alarm. Delegates in the Davos meeting this year were requested to respond. The food and water crisis is set to hit the world hard and if corrective actions are not taken on time, it can take the form of a catastrophe.

Food prices continue to go up and in a world where 1.02 billion people are hungry (WFP), this is definitely not a good news. At a time when thousands of people are made homeless every day due to conflicts in different parts of the world, this crisis is taking a toll of many lives. Food riots have become common phenomena in Sub Saharan Africa, Haiti, Bangladesh and in many other developing countries. The situation is already so severe that even big organizations like World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and UNHCR are struggling to curb this crisis.

How did we reach this point? The world is running out of water and this has severely impacted food production. The demand for food is ever increasing, particularly from emerging populous economies like India and China. Countries with food surpluses few years ago are now struggling to feed themselves. India, for instance, used to export rice to Bangladesh till few years ago. Owing to decreasing food production and increasing prediction of food shortages, India now imports rice from Australia, triggering rice crisis in Bangladesh. On top of that, increasing food production for bio fuels has further complicated the matter and raises more questions than solutions. It has given rise not just to ethical dilemmas and controversies but also to steep price hikes making food out of reach from the hands of world’s poorest population.

Having realized the gravity of this issue, Asia America Initiative launched several agricultural projects in Mindanao, Philippines. We empower agricultural communities not just to be self-sufficient but also to provide surplus to other communities in desperate need. Join AAI as we create models of communities that can be followed all over the world to best tackle food and water crisis.