New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 213

new internationalist
issue 213 - November 1990

Letters

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Sexy pears
Cover of the NI Issue 212 But why the apple rather than anything else? (The Secret life of the apple NI 212) OK, so the pear didn't make it to the Garden of Eden but the Romans worshipped it as an aphrodisiac, and consecrated it to Venus. Goddess of Love. They also grew pears as a source of medicine. And in old England people used pears as a disinfectant by rubbing the cut flesh on an infection. My guess is that you could dig up wacky facts about any animal, fruit or mineral you choose to look at, But is that enough reason to do a magazine about them'? Perhaps your next issue should be about the arbitrariness of categories.

Sheila Mane
London, UK

Royal respect
Your comments on royalty in NI 211 (Classic) seem designed to reduce respect for our monarchy. I esteem the devoted service given by our royal family because they provide high standards clear of petty politics in an age when voluntary respect for authority - which is the foundation for democratic peace and social discipline - has been seriously undermined. Too many families fail to get this over to their children and teachers are often left with too little energy for teaching after gaining class control.

Colonel DIW Gibson MBE,
Isle of Wight, UK

Lydia's call
Thank you on behalf of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group for the article that appeared about the Upington 26 Campaign (Endpiece NI 210). Last month we phoned Lydia and were shocked to hear that the Appeal against the convictions of the prisoners had been postponed, condemning them to another nine months in prison until May 1991.On a happier note however, one of the group called Eveline de Bruin, is being transferred to the 'local' prison at Kimberley. This concession would not have happened but for pressure brought to bear on the authorities. Lydia asks me to pass her thanks to everyone who has contributed so generously to the campaign and says that while little has changed in the way of living conditions for the prisoners and their families, the campaigners are confident of their victory.

Jacky Smith
City of London Anti-Apartheid Group
London, UK

Emasculated Bible
In your editorial article on fundamentalism (Reaching for certainty NI 210) you suggest that because people fail to live up to standards, the doctrine should be changed. One of the problems in the Church today is caused by this very philosophy. If the Bible says something that is inconvenient or difficult to follow, it is rejected as not relevant to the modern world. One after another biblical truths and standards are thrown out and we are left with an emasculated Bible and an emasculated Christian faith where anything goes. But the answer to failure and sin is not to move the goalposts but to repent and try again. Let Christ really be Lord of all your life and not just of some of it.

Jim Heber
Bath, UK

Marx-imising success
I have difficulty linking Marxists with religious fundamentalists (NI 210). Fundamentalism is a belief system that cannot be refuted because it comes from a supreme being. Marxism is not a cast-iron belief system but an argument against the mainstream of accepted political-economic ideology. Marxists defend the right of all to practise religion, and the right to criticize religion, which is hardly a fundamentalist standpoint. The main plank of Leninism is an organizational structure which will allow the best arguments in society to be aired and the argument that has most support to be taken as policy. There is no prescribed text to adhere to.

AWR Burgess
London, UK

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Fanatical madness
I was interested that your issue The fear of madness (NI 209) was followed by one on Fundamentalism (NI 210) because they are certainly connected. I know this from personal experience: my father acts 'schizophrenic'. He hears voices, acts on orders from above and has delusions of grandeur - he thinks he is the second coming of Christ. Traditionally one would not apply the 'schizophrenic' diagnosis to other religious fanatics, but why not? It is surely just another kind of mental disease. Escaping into dogma has not helped my father deal with his mental dis-ease. Society doesn't recognize his pain, hidden behind the walking Bible he has become. The pity is my father is not alone in his excessive use of religion.

Marewa Glover
Te Awamutu, Aotearoa

Fit of rage
I was dismayed to see epilepsy included under 'Madness -The Facts' (The fear of madness NI 209). People with epilepsy are not mad. Epilepsy does occur in some cases as a symptom of brain damage, but for it to be classified alongside psychosis, mental retardation and other disorders, without qualification, only serves to reinforce the stigma of insanity that health organizations worldwide are trying to eradicate. Nazi eugenics lumped epilepsy with mental disorders. But I hope we live in a more enlightened age.

Tracy Moir
West London Action for Epilepsy Group,
London, UK

Burning sheep
French farmers recently sought to protect their markets by setting fire to a lorry load of live sheep being exported from Britain for slaughter in an abattoir in mid-France. It was the latest in a series of atrocities integral to the live export trade. Last year over half a million sheep were exported from the UK for death in foreign abatoirs and the numbers are set to increase. Many animals die from trauma en route. Their suffering is totally unnecessary when they could easily be slaughtered near the farm of production. Compassion in World Farming is approaching the final stages of an international petition to the European Parliament, seeking proper protection for animals. If readers are interested they should send a stamped addressed envelope for details to Compassion in World Framing, 20 Lavant St., Petersfield, Hampshire, UK.

Peter Roberts,
DirectorCompassion in World Farming
Petersfield, UK

Authoritative words
With reference to your Country Profile on Papua New Guinea (NI 208) the constitution of this country does not recognize any language as the official language. The de facto official languages are: English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

Julie Piau
Toronto, Canada

Steps forward
As a professional working in the field of disabled welfare for the past 12 years, I take issue with your article on the disabled in India by Dinyar Godrej (Tea, charity, pain and performance NI 207).Disability is no longer a 'non-issue' in India. Anyone who has kept track of developments in this field would notice a dramatic change in the Government's approach. It is planning comprehensive legislation for the disabled, encompassing their education, training, employment and right of equal participation. Blind and deaf people have also been recruited for certain jobs in central government, and a number of state governments have reserved a percentage of jobs for the disabled. Various funding agencies including Sight Savers are promoting integrated education enabling blind and sighted children to accept and adjust to each other.

Bushan Punani,
Rehabilitation Consultant
Sight Savers, India

Conservation swap
Global pollution could be more effectively tackled if countries would share their conservation ideas. In Japan, for example, garbage cans have covers with special holes in them to separate soft drinks cans from other rubbish, so that they can be re-cycled. But few Japanese beverage companies yet make drinks-cans with tab openers that remain attached to the cans - even though companies in the US and Canada have been manufacturing these for almost 15 years. And most countries should benefit from copying the few nations who have introduced legislation banning companies form manufacturing drinks-cans in two different metals - as this makes recycling harder.

Joan Kabayama, Educator
Ottawa and Tokyo
[image, unknown]
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from La Paz

The food donation game
Every young mother wants to join a club in Bolivia.
Susanna Rance reveals the attraction.

The first thing I heard about mothers' clubs was that you had to pay a fine if you missed a meeting. Funny sort of club, I thought, for women who had very little cash to start off with. All my neighbours on our hillside shanty town with kids under five took time away from their chores, for the weekly session.

Juana took me along, babe on her back, a toddler in tow. We puffed up the bill to the church hall, an adobe hut with a firmly padlocked door. A row of women were huddled against the wall on the dusty ground, wide skirts spread around them, shawls pinned tight against the sharp wind. Knitting needles and spindles kept their cold hands in motion as they muttered together in Aymara, their low tones punctuated by a gusty laugh or a child's cry.

The register was called and the women continued to while away the chilly afternoon leaving their homes and market stalls untended. What were they waiting for? Donated foods were supposed to be arriving some time, no-one knew quite when.

The women had set up this mothers' club on the initiative of a local leader who said they could qualify for monthly rations of flour, oil and powdered milk if they formed a regular group. It was not a new idea: mothers' clubs have been a feature of Bolivian life since the mid-sixties and there are now over 5,000 of them scattered throughout the country. The brainchild of a US aid agency, Catholic Relief Services, they were conceived as a humanitarian way of off-loading US agricultural surpluses, keeping Northern farmers happy and getting food to the needy in Latin America's poorest countries.

But the donations have strings firmly attached. As well as charging regular fees, some agencies impose obligatory activities such as embroidery and cake-making, and they forbid club members to join local organizations. A rigid hierarchical structure fosters passivity. dependency and corruption. Trafficking with donated foods is commonplace. Powdered milk is hawked on the streets in bags stamped 'not for re-sale', going far cheaper than the nationally produced brand.

Food aid comes under fire from many quarters. It competes unfairly with national agriculture: while Bolivia was once self-sufficient in wheat production, 90 per cent of the grain consumed nowadays is brought in from the US. Donations change people's eating habits and get them used to less nutritious and dearer imports. But critics point to another side-effect - the undermining of grass-roots organizations. Having become used to getting something for attending meetings, women in impoverished shanty' towns and rural areas are now' reluctant to participate in community development schemes unless loud is promised.

Leocadia, a literacy worker, told me how numbers have dropped in her women's group. 'Most organizations around here offer food aid, and we can't compete,' she said. 'We've lost a lot of people to the Adventists' Food for Work scheme. The women go out digging ditches and paving roads in exchange for their rations, They don't have much choice with the situation like it is and their husbands out of work.'

Catholic Relief officials now admit to being unsure of the donations' real impact. They feel their role as 'sponsor' has become outmoded and hampers the growth of autonomous local organizations. After thirty years in the food aid business, this relief agency is pulling out and handing over distribution to local Catholic agencies in Bolivia and neighbouring Peru.

What do women themselves have to say? Much as they may need subsidized foods, many are getting fed up with quotas, rules and regulations, and with the power held by those controlling the handouts. 'We don't get the food free, we always have to pay something for it,' complained Natalia. 'Then, they give us things like bulgur wheat that we don't normally use. A lot of that ends up as chicken feed.'

One women's centre tried in vain to mobilize against the donations. They' wisely shifted their focus and organized a committee of food aid recipients, training leaders to raise awareness about the causes and effects of the problem, and campaigning for a better deal from the donating agencies.

'If the agencies want to help us, all right,' say's committee leader Julia Lopez, a recent migrant to La Paz from a mining community. 'But we should be allowed to handle the food distribution ourselves, through our own organizations. They think they can keep us quiet with this stuff they send, but why don't they pay us a decent price for our minerals? We don't see this system of food aid as a gift, but as another kind of exploitation.'

Susanna Rance has lived and worked in Bolivia for several years.

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