Myanmar's Rohingya population has been suffering greatly since sectarian violence broke out in the state of Rakhine, also known as Arakan, in June. The riots began with the alleged rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine girl by men who were reportedly Muslim, triggering a backlash by Rakhine's Buddhist majority on the Rohingya, in the form of massacres and arson attacks on homes, mosques, and businesses.
Official reports from Myanmar's government have kept the death toll at about 80 since June, but estimates from rights groups say that hundreds, if not tens of thousands, have been killed, and the UNHCR estimates that 80,000 have been displaced, either internally or as refugees to Bangladesh and other countries.
Link TV's LinkAsia has covered the developments concerning the Rohingya since the unrest in June, but the plight of the Rohingyas has also garnered much attention in the Middle East, namely because the group suffering from persecution is historically Muslim. And although the violence in Rakhine State was targeted at Rohingyas, it was also directed towards Muslims in general.
Mosaic has focused on the Middle Eastern and Muslim angles of the conflict, such as Bangladesh's rejection of Rohingya refugees, protests by Iranian students in front of the UN office in Tehran, and the many demonstrations in Indonesia, where Muslim activists in Jakarta have called for Myanmar's suspension from ASEAN, the expulsion of the Myanmar ambassador from Jakarta, and more international action on the issue.
The Rohingyas have been considered foreigners in Myanmar for decades. In 1982, the government passed a law that effectively rendered them stateless. Myanmar considers the ethnic group of 800,000 to be British colonial-era illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengali Muslims" in official releases. However, Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country itself, considers the Rohingyas to be Burmese, and has sent boatloads of refugees back to Myanmar, citing a dearth of resources. Bangladesh has also prevented humanitarian aid groups from continuing to work with the Rohingyas, fearing that the provisions would draw more refugees to the already-impoverished country.
Two of ASEAN's largest Muslim-majority countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, have offered to directly assist the Rohingyas. Indonesia, which boasts the largest Muslim population in the world, has also vowed to raise the topic of the Rohingya at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's next summit in Mecca next week. Saudi Arabia, which hosts the OIC and reportedly has a Rohingya population of hundreds of thousands, recently condemned Myanmar for what it called the Rohingyas' "ethnic cleansing," and the OIC's Turkish chief, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has followed suit.
Unfortunately, countries and organizations willing to help are finding the refugees difficult to reach. Myanmar and Bangladesh have both restricted aid to their Rohingya populations, leaving the displaced people to fend for themselves. Some Burmese groups have skirted the issue by collecting money for the Rakhine "fire victims," without mentioning the sectarian violence that led to the fires. However, with a severe dearth of food and medical services, Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons are currently struggling to survive. This scene is sadly all too similar to the persecution they have suffered for years, with a similar lack of international empathy.
Image: Amena Akter, a Rohingya from Myanmar cries as she holds her six-day old son, Sangram in the office of the Bangladesh Coast Guard in Teknaf June 19, 2012: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
One Kenyan’s Dream, Building A Future for Many: Film Contest Grand-Prize-Winner Aaron Kisner speaks on his film’s inspirational leader
Vision. It’s what we at Link TV’s ViewChange.org hoped to showcase in our Online Film Contest— the vision to raise awareness, inspire action, and accelerate the worldwide movement to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Launched in April, 2010, we received 136 powerful entries—in the form of documentary, short drama, music video, and animation—by September. Then the judging began: votes were cast by viewers like you, and our panel of celebrity judges chose their top picks. In November, the winners were announced, and all contest films were streamed on ViewChange.org.
Vision. It’s what drove Kakenya Ntaiya, an unbelievably courageous woman from the Maasai Village in Kenya, to defy all odds and become the first woman in her village to leave Africa to obtain a college education in America. The revolutionary vision to change the lives of Maasai girls compelled Kakenya to pursue a dream of teaching. She has just completed a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh and is now planning to fulfill the promise she made to her village when she left—the promise to give back. Kakenya started an academy for underprivileged girls in her village in 2009, which is growing every year thanks to her advocacy and outside support.
What a story! We were sure blown away. It’s what inspired filmmaker Aaron Kisner to create the grand-prize-winning-entry Vital Voices: Kakenya showcasing this envisioned Kenyan’s story, dream and action. For his incredible video, Link TV presented Kisner with an award of $25,000! He then proceeded to blow us away yet again—choosing to give away all the money to fund a dorm for Kakenya’s academy for girls.
Be the change you hope to inspire. There’s no better example of it than right here. Kakenya set an example in her community by giving back through the education of others. Kisner is setting an example in our community to give back through charity and support of those working toward a better life. In an article for the Huffington Post, Kisner writes about what inspired him to make the film:
“In what Kakenya is doing, I see a woman who is taking care of the world, and it makes me feel like things can get better. Most importantly, it reminds me that it's women like Kakenya who lead change. From within.
"The stakes are high. The course towards a more equitable life for girls has been mapped, but the outcome is not guaranteed. This school and its students must succeed. Many are watching from both sides of an ideological divide. I want them all to know that I stand with Kakenya. As do hundreds of thousands of supporters who have heard her story and joined in the effort to spread it.
"As a director, I don't think I have a right to tell other people how they should live their lives, but my work can still play a part in positive social change.”
Of the six film contest categories, Vital Voices: Kakenya won the category “Overcoming Conflict.” Having come from a culture that is oppressive toward women, Kakenya has struggled from a young age against the expectations required of her as she ascends womanhood. Kisner describes her struggles with the humiliating ritual of female genital cutting:
“At puberty, every Maasai girl endures an excruciating circumcision, and at that point, she is available for marriage. No anesthetic is used, and any girl who remains 'uncut' is considered unclean; a disgrace to her family. So, Kakenya bargained with the only thing she had. She confronted her father and threatened to run away. She would remain uncut and bring him shame unless he agreed to let her finish school."
Because of her experiences, Kakenya has become an advocate against sexist practices in the Kenyan community. Beyond the standard academic subjects, she includes a health curriculum educating girls on genital circumcision, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS awareness and negotiating power in future sexual relationships. Other educational components include Leadership Training and Culture Preservation. The Kakenya Center for Excellence is the first primary girls’ school in the region, and has a goal of enrolling 150 students in grades four to eight.
As an independent director based in New York, Kisner works with non-profits to tell their stories in a compelling, accessible way. He has created a series of short films in collaboration with Vital Voices Global Partnership, ExxonMobil Foundation, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kisner made this film in collaboration with the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-profit organizations that invests in women leaders, offering training, mentorship, connections, and opportunities to bring their stories to the world stage.
For Kakenya’s entire story, check out Vital Voices: Kakenya:
The crisis in Haiti has been dominating the headlines since Tuesday's earthquake. Link TV has already given you some ideas of how you can help, and your help, particularly in the form of cash, is urgently needed by the aid agencies working to save lives in Haiti. Now, we've put together this list of some of the best sources for information and news on Haiti. Feel free to add more links to the comment section!
1. Democracy Now! on Link TV
Democracy Now! has been providing impressive coverage of the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath at democracynow.org (click here for broadcast times on Link TV). Today's show reveals a Haiti that is growing increasingly desperate for aid. DN! also looks at angles glossed over by the major media networks, such as the decades of U.S. policies that have contributed to Haiti's terrible poverty.
The microblogging site Twitter is a natural source for real-time news on Haiti. You can search for all posts in the Twitter-sphere on Haiti, or avoid some noise by trying a Twitter list, such as the ones set up by the LA Times or CNN. You can also look back at Twitter posts from individuals -- like this feed from Christian missionary Troy Livesay -- to see a timeline of the disaster from the perspective of one individual.
Relief NGOs such as Partners in Health and Direct Relief International have updates on the aid efforts in Haiti. See this blog post for more relief organizations on the ground, and to learn how you can help.
4. Boston.com's Big Picture with Photography from Various Sources
These are photos not for the faint-hearted, but they do convey the true horror in Haiti after the quake struck. Boston.com does a nice job with its photo essays as part of its "Big Picture" series.
5. Global Voices Online
Global Voices, an online network of bloggers around the world, has a webpage with special coverage of the Haiti disaster, including a list of Haiti-based bloggers covering the story.
6. The Miami Herald
Miami has a substantial Haitian population, and the Miami Herald is serving its local community well by providing information in Creole (which, along with French, is one of two official languages in Haiti). The Herald's "Haiti Connect" forum includes a gallery for photos of missing loved ones.
7. Ushahidi - "Crowdsourcing Crisis Information"
This open-source web platform aggregates data on Haiti to support the relief effort. The interface is a little tricky to follow, but it's a great use of the web, compiling user-generated incident reports from the ground including reports of missing persons, emergencies and other threats. The incident reports - such as "Collapsed School", "…Stuck Under Rubble" - will break your heart.
8. New York Times Interactive Map
This map is another great visualization from the New York Times' impressive interactive team, complete with photos and audio.
The amount of news articles available on Haiti is overwhelming, but NewsTrust curates the best from the mainstream and independent media. You can weigh in on the quality of the news articles with a review of your own.
10. U.S. Geological Survey Podcast
If you're interested in the science behind this horrific natural disaster, check out this podcast with Michael Blanpied of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. Here's the official USGS report on the Haiti 7.0 magnitude quake.