Living Under Siege: Book Review of Woeser & Wang’s Voices of Tibet

voices from tibet Tsering Woeser is one of the most important voices today for bringing the world news from inside occupied Tibet. The writing in Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage (Hong Kong University Press; University of Hawai’i Press, in a translation by Violet S. Law) by Woeser and her husband, Wang Lixiong, are testimony to a contemporary Tibet experiencing cultural destruction and economic exploitation.

I recently had a chance to hear Violet Law speak at a reading hosted by Students for a Free Tibet. The event also included a special video message from Woeser, who spoke about her determination to continue writing and bearing witness.

Woeser described conditions in Lhasa as “almost like a war zone, with soldiers everywhere.” Law related further details: like so many others, Woeser and her husband are subject to control and surveillance by the Chinese authorities. She avoids personal contact with people out of fear that by meeting with her, a person may be taken in for interrogation.

“It breaks her heart that friends and acquaintances might get in trouble just by talking to her,” Law said.

Despite these challenges and the very real threat to her freedom, Woeser travels to Lhasa twice a year to visit family and to observe facts on the ground. She remains a prolific blogger whose nuanced stories of life inside Tibet not only focus on her people’s acute suffering, but offers a clear examination of the political and personal forces at play.

In “Self-Immolation to Self-Rule,” she writes of her respect, without reservation, for all Tibetans who have chosen self-immolation as a form of protest. Yet she offers another path to self-rule beginning at the grassroots level. She draws parallel to villagers in Wukan who defied illegal land grabs. Similarly, if one Tibetan village rises up and experiences success, then ten more might follow, until they reach hundreds.

She anticipates skepticism about Tibetans being able to protest as native Han do; but, she writes, “if you’re not afraid to set yourself on fire, what else can scare you?”

These are wide-ranging essays exploring the effects of China’s half century of occupation on Tibet’s environment, resources, culture, and religion. Woeser’s writing informs us and calls to attention the need for long-term action and solutions.

“I continue to write,” Woeser says. “There is so much to write about.”

Buy the book on Amazon.

Where the Money Goes in Human Rights

grantsWhere does the money go in human rights grantmaking? In 2010, funders invested $1.2 billion dollars in over 6,800 organizations whose activities addressed access to justice and freedom from violence to environmental, labor, sexual and reproductive rights.

That’s according to a first-of-its-kind report from the Foundation Center and the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG). Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking is big on data — you can see which issues got funded, what populations received support, and who the funders are.

“It’s the first clear, condensed portrait of global human rights foundation funding,” says Christen Dobson, program director at IHRFG, who worked on the report since 2009. Dobson says they plan to update the data annually, eventually creating interactive tools that NGOs, member organizations, and the general public can access online.

Dobson says the current report is a key resource for human rights activists and groups. “They can use it to better understand where funding in their issue is, and leverage that information for additional support. It’s very helpful to get a sense of what funders are thinking.”

Women’s and girl’s rights emerged as a chief focus for funders, something that surprised Lucia Scherer, program officer with the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF), a partner in creating the report.

“We weren’t expecting see women’s funds among the top donors because amounts are so small compared to what funders give to other issues,” she says.

Support for individual liberty and security topped the issues list, while environmental and resource rights got the least amount of funders’ dollars.

How Can We Advance Human Rights?

The importance of messaging is a key take-away from the report.

“It’s not so easy to fundraise for many of these issues and it raises the whole question around packaging messages in a way that gets through,” says Scherer. “How you get to this mass of people who are or aren’t going to be interested in your project depends on how you sell it.”

Advancing Human Rights includes successful case studies as well as input from funders about where human rights is headed.

Negative public perception, making strategic and positive collaborations among organizations, and finding a way to frame human rights in an accessible way were some of the factors funders identified as driving the field.

Scherer believes positive results will come from working together. “The more of us there are, the more powerful we are, and the more individuals become interested in your cause, the more critical mass it will become, and the less these issues will be questioned or looked down upon,” she says. “This is one of the things women’s funds are striving to do.”

Take a look at the key findings and read up on 13 individual issue areas or download the full report at the Foundation Center website.

The Best Reading on the Tiananmen Square Protests


JUNE 4 MARKS TWO-AND-HALF DECADES since the violent government crackdown on pro-democratic protests in Beijing.

Today, the events of May and June 1989 are banned from public discussion, but there have been calls by activists on social media to wear black today.

To commemorate the anniversary, I’ve compiled some of the best reading on Tiananmen, ranging from eyewitness reports to a new e-book about the protests:

Witnesses Struggle What to Tell Their Children: This piece from The Washington Post gathers powerful testimony from the survivors of the June 4 massacre.

Chinese Netizens Defy Censorship to Mark Anniversary: Chinese netizens are well-known for the clever ways they fight online censorship, and BuzzFeed’s Kevin Tang has a round-up of posts that made it past the censors, including a recreation of “Tank Man” made from Lego.

A new multimedia e-book recounts the demonstrations: An interactive e-book from Radio Free Asia called Tiananmen Incident in Historical Perspective includes eyewitness reporting, and locates the surviving student leaders in a “Where Are They Now” section. The publication is specifically geared towards Chinese readers (it’s written in Mandarin) and is available for download now.

Letter from the Tiananmen Mothers Calls For Truth and Accountability: Thirty-three members of the Mothers have died since they began their activism calling for transparency and dialogue. The current 123 members reaffirm their hope for justice for their children in a letter translated by Human Rights in China.

How Do You Celebrate Independence?

TODAY MARKS THE CENTENNIAL OF TIBETAN INDEPENDENCE DAY, A SYMBOLIC DAY that Tibetans and their supporters pledge to mark every year. 2013 marks one hundred years since Tibetans proclaimed restoration of their independence.

Today’s observance comes at a time when conditions seem worse than ever for those living in in occupied-Tibet. Since 1999, nearly 100 Tibetans have set fire to themselves (“self-immolated”) to protest Chinese rule.

This is the most urgent cry for help a human being can make. In the face of a brutal Chinese regime which aims to erase Tibetan culture from the earth, the Free Tibet movement remains nonviolent. Independence Day is a reminder to renew the spirit of Tibetans, and to commit once again to the struggle for freedom.

Today I raise my Tibetan flag.

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How Martin Luther King Jr. Still Inspires

WE CELEBRATE DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING’S BIRTHDAY today, and most of the press will focus on his achievements as the creator and leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement. You can count on nearly every news outlet showing footage of the “I Have A Dream” speech.

But it’s another speech I’d like to focus on.

“Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?”

As a nation, and as a planet, we continue to struggle with poverty. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from December 11, 1964, King talked about the worldwide state of poverty and its effect on his own nation:

“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist. This problem of poverty is not only seen in the class division between the highly developed industrial nations and the so-called underdeveloped nations; it is seen in the great economic gaps within the rich nations themselves. Take my own country for example. We have developed the greatest system of production that history has ever known. We have become the richest nation in the world. Our national gross product this year will reach the astounding figure of almost 650 billion dollars. Yet, at least one-fifth of our fellow citizens – some ten million families, comprising about forty million individuals – are bound to a miserable culture of poverty.

In a sense the poverty of the poor in America is more frustrating than the poverty of Africa and Asia. The misery of the poor in Africa and Asia is shared misery, a fact of life for the vast majority; they are all poor together as a result of years of exploitation and underdevelopment.

In sad contrast, the poor in America know that they live in the richest nation in the world, and that even though they are perishing on a lonely island of poverty they are surrounded by a vast ocean of material prosperity. Glistening towers of glass and steel easily seen from their slum dwellings spring up almost overnight. Jet liners speed over their ghettoes at 600 miles an hour; satellites streak through outer space and reveal details of the moon.”

He then calls for an “all-out war on poverty,” and says

“There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will. The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Just as nonviolence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed – not only its symptoms but its basic causes. This, too, will be a fierce struggle, but we must not be afraid to pursue the remedy no matter how formidable the task.”

His words that day were a preview of what would motivate and occupy him in the last four years of his life: anti-war campaigning for Vietnam, and economic reform.

His Poor People’s Campaign was not the triumph of the March on Washington—but imagine if it had been.

It is easy to look back on those times and wax nostalgically about activism and protest. But the fact is that many problems King confronted—war and poverty—remain and dog us today.

He would want us to continue the work he started by speaking out and organizing, and taking small steps of resistance against the forces that prevent change and reform.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It’s also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. And the beginning of the next four years in America’s democratic process.

What can each of us do today to improve the lives of others?

Read more about the Poor People’s Campaign in these two programs from NPR and PBS. Here is King’s speech about the war, Beyond Vietnam.

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Why You Shouldn’t Make New Year’s Resolutions


Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? 2013 is the year you’ll lose that 10 pounds, quit smoking, finish the novel?

We’ve all been there (we’re there now). And there’s one main reason why you shouldn’t make New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions won’t make us thinner, famous, or rich. And here’s why.

Resolutions are a burden. Not only do I want to achieve a goal, but now I’ve got this self-imposed pressure to follow through on it. Suddenly there’s this extra weight on my mind.

If the goal is to lose 10 pounds then that means no ice cream or chocolate cookies. At first we jump on the treadmill. We load up on carrots and mesclun.

Then all that working out makes us tired. Or we get stuck working late and don’t have the energy when we get home. We crave the cookies and eat twice as many as before. We feel guilt. More struggle.

So what do we do?

There is a better, easier way to achieve our goals and improve the lives of those around us.

Think Outside the Box (And Yourself)

Resolutions are often centered around personal goals. My challenge to you is to think beyond yourself: try this, and the “resolutions” take care of themselves.

Instead of resolutions, we can choose to be generous with ourselves.

We can start by noting that those of us in the Global North are incredibly privileged. We have running water, food, shelter, clothing.

We have freedom of expression.

We have freedom, period.

Thich Nhat Hahn writes, “We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become.” His advice is perfect anytime, but especially this time of year:

Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be.

We don’t have to wait for resolutions to be “achieved” to feel fulfilled. That moment of fulfillment is now.

What this doesn’t mean is sitting by. Action is needed: in small and large ways. There is tremendous suffering in the world. As Thich Naht Hanh counsels, it is “our responsibility to bring peace and joy into our own lives, even though not everything in our body, mind, or environment is exactly as we would like.”

Is there someone you know who has experienced personal loss, or is looking for a job? Could they use a helping hand, a piece of advice, or simply someone to listen and talk with?

Is there a cause that’s important to you? What can you do today, right now, to help?

We can improve our society, and ourselves. This is something we can do for ourselves every day. And not just on January 1. When we don’t focus on our own “resolutions,” things get done and change happens. Why? Because only in that moment are we free.

Sounds counterintuitive? Yes, and that’s why it works.

How to Get Things Done in 2013

Let’s say you choose to volunteer one night a week. Suddenly you’re not sitting in the front of the TV eating chips. You’re helping people or contributing to a cause that’s important to you.

Meanwhile you’ve created a little peace and liberation.

Instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, try asking yourself, “how can I become a refuge for others?” (And watch those pounds fly off. Well, you know what I mean.)

Which resolutions will you not be making next year? Please leave a comment below!

And if you liked this post, please share.

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Aid or Trade: Why You Should Read These Top Development Blogs

© Arhuis School of Business

THIS MONTH THE U.K. ANNOUNCED IT WOULD END AID TO INDIA, saying it would focus instead on trade It brought up the ever-present question.

What good does development do, and how will it work moving forward?

If you’re like me, you want to hear what development does, and doesn’t, do. Here’s where you find insight:

NYU Development Research Institute: This is where you’ll find William Easterly, development expert and the founder of the myth-busting, watchdog blog Aid Watch. Although Aid Watch is no longer updated, you can still get a scholarly view of international aid through the Institute’s blog.

Blood and Milk Alanna Shaikh is a 10 year veteran of international aid. Her voice is clear, concise and always enlightening. She’s an insider. Which is brings us to our next blog:

AidSource: Billed as the “Humanitarian Social Network,” AidSource was founded by Shaikh, “J.” from Stuff Expat Workers Like, and Shotgun Shack (which, while we’re here, is definitely another blog to bookmark). If you are interested in development as a career (or as an “industry”), the community here is open, fun, and very knowledgeable.

Wait…What? Linda Raftree’s blog explores her experience and interests in community development and participatory media. Her day job’s with Plan International, and she’s also a tech manager. She wrote recently on the intersection between ICTs and child migration.

Good Intentions Are Not Enough How do you know if your aid donation is doing good? If you’ve ever given to a charity, or even thought about it, Saundra Schimmelpfennig’s nonprofit blog is a must-read.

From Poverty to Power Written and edited by Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB, this blog features guest bloggers, mostly those who work for Oxfam, giving you a look at the challenges behind the people-behind a large aid organization, with good insight, such as what it means to be in India’s new middle class.

Owen Abroad Owen Barder is the Europe Director for the Center for Global Development. Read this blog if you like to know things like transport costs for US food aid programs can be as high as 97 percent of the total cost of aid.

ReliefWeb A one-stop site for news, crisis and emergency updates, and policy and funding analysis.

Where do you do your aid and development reading? Whose writing on development do you never miss?

You should follow me on Twitter here.

How Close Are We to Ending World Hunger?

HUNGER TAKES MANY FORMS: from food insecurity in the United States to global large-scale famines. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches in the U.S., how close are we to ending global hunger?

This video breaks the problem down into who’s hungry and why, and what we can do to solve the problem:


How Can You Help?

Want to help end hunger? Here’s how you can get started:

Become a food activist: learn more here.

Find Out Who’s Hungry: Watch the stories behind hunger at PBS’s Series Food for 9 Billion.

Aid those in your community: here are 3 ways you can help food-insecure Americans now.

Please share this post to help end world hunger today!

What are you doing to help end hunger in your community?

How to Help End Human Trafficking

SLAVERY IS NOT A THING OF THE PAST, but an all-too-real issue affecting 27 million people all over the world.

Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall victim to human traffickers: they are recruited, transported, or transfered through the use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

This crime can be fought and people helped. This weekend in Washington, D.C-based Stop Modern Slavery will be hosting its annual Stop Modern Slavery Walk on September 29th on the National Mall. Here’s an interview with the walk’s director, Joe Flippin, who talks about how you can help learn more about modern slavery and take action:

Q: What is the inspiration behind the Walk?
The first Walk was in 2009 at Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park) in Washington, DC. It was organized by DC Stop Modern Slavery (DC SMS), then just a community group, in coordination with Boat People SOS, the Polaris Project, Stop Child Trafficking Now, and other local organizations. The Walk turned out about 700 people and raised nearly $40,000, all on a shoestring budget and a few months planning.

Q: Why is this walk important?
A: The Walk is important because of what it represents, unity among the anti-slavery movement, and what it encourages: community education and action.

At the core of the Stop Modern Slavery Walk is the belief that anyone can get involved and have an impact on this issue. Our job is to bring people out to the Mall, tell them about modern slavery through narrative and empathy, and highlight the many ways that people are getting involved today.

We try to build a strong narrative of participation and belief in self, and by featuring strong, survivor leadership, we aim to leave each person in the audience thinking ‘if they can do it, so can I. If they can face the hardship they’ve faced, not give up, and fight every day for a world without slavery, then there has to be something I can do to.’

Q: What are some of the activities planned for Saturday’s walk?
We provide a resource fair with over 50 anti-slavery organizations represented so that each person can make that big leap and make at least one connection and set themselves on a path of participation. But it all begins with that first step, commit to coming out the Walk, to be open to learning about the realities of modern slavery, and to encouraging others to do the same.

Q: What outcome do you want from the walk?
Our goals are to raise awareness of the realities of modern slavery. We want to strengthen relationships among the anti-trafficking movement and connect our walkers to the 50 plus organizations that will be represented in our Resource Fair. And finally to fundraise to support programs and operations of our selected event beneficiaries.

Q: What successes have you had as a result of mobilizing people and bringing awareness?
People who learn about modern slavery for the first time and what an eye-opening experience that is, or who get connected to an organization and how rewarding that connection has proven. I don’t know anyone who is not in constant awe after meeting the many survivor-advocates who are active in the anti-slavery movement, for example people like Tina Frundt and Shamere McKenzie.

Q: How can people interested get involved, especially if they’re not in the DC area, what can they do to help?
Become well-informed. Explore the websites of the Global Freedom Center, End Slavery Now, and Free The Slaves to name a few. You can also visit the Polaris Project to learn about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

To learn about how to join the walk, or support DC SMS, go to Stop Modern Slavery.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

Related Posts:

What To Do Now to End Human Trafficking
Stories of Domestic Slavery
How to End Child Labor

The Boy Mir: 10 Years in Afghanistan

© Seventh Art Productions

IN 2002 DIRECTOR PHIL GRABSKY DOCUMENTED THE LIFE of one ordinary family in central Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in his film, The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The center of his film was one year in the life of the young boy Mir, an engaging 8-year old who resides with his family among the caves and mountains of Bamiyan. But the story did not end there.

Ten years later, Grabsky returned to document the next ten years with Mir. The film is screening now in the U.S. and Europe. I asked Phil through an email interview what it was like to do a “sequel” of sorts to Mir’s story.

The Activist Writer: Why did you decide to do a follow-up to your first film?

Phil Grabsky: To really get a sense of how successful our attempts have been to influence post-Taliban Afghanistan, I felt that I had to spend more than one year following the story. It seemed to make sense to spend ten – though there were many times I regretted the decision. You would imagine raising funds for such an important story would be straightforward- but, believe me, my knees are still sore from all the begging to broadcasters.

TAW: What changes did you notice in Mir as you chronicled his life?

PG: The obvious change is a physical one but there was also, as I anticipated, a gradual swing from innocence to experience. But I had no idea, of course, as I followed his story just how he would or would not change. In many ways, what has impressed me is how consistent he has been in terms of humour, intelligence, fortitude and application. He certainly learnt how to speak up for himself though. I feel he offers an optimistic view of the Afghan potential; the sadness is he still lacks any real hope of achieving the heights he is clearly capable of. Then again, that’s where the responsible film-maker intervenes after the shooting has stopped.

© Seventh Art Productions

TAW:Did you have an idea of the shape of the film when you went back? Were there scenes you wish you could have included, but didn’t make the final cut?

PG: It was both scary and exciting to not know how the story would develop. I never had any idea for shoot to shoot what had happened or would happen. I had my intuitive ideas of course but in Afghanistan anything is possible. I, and my Afghan colleague, were extremely lucky to gain the access we did and capture the scenes we did. Highly experienced, long-term travellers and visitors to Afghanistan say they have never seen inside an Afghan family in this way—even in real life. There are, of course, scenes we cut out—perhaps the one I regret is Mir’s participation in the national horse-rising sport of Buzkashi. It is wild! But it’s good to have a few deleted scenes for the DVD extras!

TAW: How do you think viewers will react to this latest chapter in Mir’s life?

PG: I know already: they are moved, amused, shocked and enthralled. Anyone who isn’t probably ate too much popcorn and fell asleep.

TAW: On the film’s website, you include a link for how viewers can support the people of Afghanistan through charity programs. How much responsibility do artists, and documentary filmmakers, have to help their subjects? Do you consider yourself an “activist”?

PG: I come down firmly on the side that we owe a moral responsibility to our characters. On a human level, how can one walk away from such poverty. You can’t hide behind the ‘I’m bringing your story to the world’ line…What you actually do that is tangible is a personal matter but, for our part, we helped Mir, the family, the school and the community as a whole. It’s not a question of interfering and doing too much. It’s a question of not doing enough. Am I an activist? How can you make documentaries of any value on any subject if you are not. I want to educate people so that their decisions are better-informed. The ignorance about Afghanistan and Afghans is shocking: I actively want everyone to see this film. I am not shoving my politics down your throat, and indeed the film shows that the story is a myriad of greys, no black & whites here. But we are spending billions and suffering horrible casualties—how can you not want to know more? And what better way than a film which is funny, beautiful and moving?

Special thanks to Phil Grabsky for his time, and to Francesca Hendry at Seventh Art Productions. Watch the trailer for The Boy Mir here: