New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 237

new internationalist
issue 237 - November 1992

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

Disillusioned
Cover of the NI Issue 236. As one who campaigned vigorously against the Gulf War, I welcome your issue The Gulf in flames (NI 236). Yet I know also that if Western governments were to decide a war were in order again, most criticism would vanish from the press and many people would again be seething with mindless blood-lust. We have now witnessed at least two wars - over the Malvinas/Falklands and the Gulf - during which all reason, humanity and compassion vanished virtually overnight from otherwise intelligent human beings who got swept along by the emotional hype of government propaganda.

I would like to think it would all be different next time. But so long as the West can continue to solve its internal difficulties by creating paper tigers overseas, I know it won't. Bombing foreign tyrants to bits is so much easier than putting our own houses in order.

Alison Stanhope
Cambridge, UK

Planet protection
I believe that an important part of a solution to environmental degradation and Third World poverty is carefully planned health education programmes incorporating and promoting the benefits of family planning techniques. I object to the excessive bias and misrepresentation of the issues in Sex, Lies and Global Survival (NI 235).

Overcrowding undermines attempts to provide health care and education in any widespread way in developing countries. Why was no space given to such studies as the Brundtland Report, which identified population restraint as part of a strategy for global survival? Why were we not given some detail about land redistribution in Kerala and how this has been successful in achieving a fall in fertility? And what about the work of Population Concern? The whole tone of the issue seemed to be stating a case for unrestrained fertility in a very emotional and unreasoned way. You have done the planet a disservice.

Jane Buchanan
London, UK

Breathless suspense
Regarding your issue on Population (NI 235), if world population growth were to continue at its present rate, in just a few hundred years there would only be enough oxygen in the air for a single breath per person. Of course starvation would end the population explosion long before this. World grain production per capita is already falling, and I suggest that the recent tragic scenes in sub-Saharan Africa are a warning of worse to come. It is not for me as a well-to-do urban male in the rich North to decree how population is to stabilize, but stabilize it must.

Dr Douglas Holdstock
Pyrford, UK

Yours untrendily
Anuradha Vittachi's issue (NI 235) was interesting not only for what it contained but for what it left out. I think Northerners of liberal temperament should come to terms with the fact that chronic poverty in the South is due not only to Northern exploitation, but also to cultural factors. They include ethical beliefs which place no value on the individual, fatalism of a religious origin, and even such things as nomadic goat farming which is a primary cause of desertification. Add to this a potent cocktail of tribal hostilities, blatant election rigging, civil services that provide no service, military impatience with civilian incompetence, destruction of the infrastructure by terrorists with bizarre beliefs, pointless wars - and you get the 90 per cent of the picture Ms Vittachi left out.

Louis do Bernieres
London, UK

Half the story
I usually enjoy reading NI although I am often mildly annoyed by what I see as a polarization of good guys and bad guys (usually North/West = baddies and South/East = poor old goodies). I have never considered buying the Third World Calendar because it shows only a part (the patronized part) of the world. Why can't you produce a 'Whole World Calendar' showing values and virtues of all cultures? After all we are continually being told today that we are one world and one people.

Mary Morgan
Southport, UK

Editor replies: The Third World Calendar allocates all 12 pictures to people, cultures and environments of the South because there is already plenty of visual information about the West, and most material produced elsewhere about the Third World is negative. The calendar aims to help rectify this imbalance.

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Brain exchange
Rosemary Thompson's contribution about unleaded petrol in NI 235 (Curiosities), smacks of hysteria - not uncommon among NI contributors - and strongly suggests to me that for the most part she is talking rubbish. If not, she is only asking us to exchange cancer for brain damage.

Peter Langley
Chalford, UK

Forest frenzy
The Canadian public's mood is becoming volatile over the indiscriminate clear-cutting of trees by the British Columbian Forest Industry and the industry is trying to transform its image by calling on American PR wizards Burson and Marsteller who 'solved' the PR problems of the former military junta of Argentina. These experts were also involved in Nixon's Watergate scandal and served former US President of the US, Ronald Reagan.

Inspired by an initial one million dollars plus promises of more, Burson and Marsteller have given birth to the 'non-aligned and independent' BC Forest Association (BCFA). This educates us about the marvellous achievements of the BC forest industry, the flawed perception we have of clear-cuts and the unfairness of the pesky media.

Contrary to the rhetoric, however, the industry is raking in handsome profits. Don't sacrifice our environment to an American-owned industry whose sole function is to extract BC resources at any costs.

Hans Krampe
Quesnel, BC, Canada

Misprint correction: We apologize for the misprint in the letter from Fay Roberts (Letters NI 233). It should have read 'black people in South Africa suffered the same (not some) oppression as conquered and dispossessed peoples everywhere.'

ANN JESSIE GLEN JENNISON

[image, unknown] Ann Jessie Glen Jennison, Office Manager and Distributor for New Internationalist, Australia, died on 1 September 1992 aged 84. She was a stalwart supporter of the magazine who devoted herself to NI until January 1992 when she was no longer able to work because of cancer. Her hard work, courage, support and unfailing good humour will be greatly missed.

Born in an era when education for women was viewed as a way of filling time between birth and marriage, Ann refused to accept a fate of factory work or domestic service. She trail-blazed her way to Melbourne University - setting her pace with the vigour and determination which characterized the rest of her life, most of which she spent working as a farmer.

She was always for the underdog. And her zest for living inspired all who knew her. In 1970 when Community Aid Abroad advertised a position as assistant in the projects division, Ann applied and got the job. She was 62 years old.

Ann Jennison always insisted she was never old. She was a unique, brave woman, born before her time; a feminist who advocated freedom of choice for everyone and taught us all by her example. She had a deep belief in the worth of humanity. And her life was dedicated to the purpose of living by her deep conviction that each one of us has a valuable role to play in contributing to the good of all.

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

LETTER from LAHORE
Letter from Lagos

A lesson too late
Maria del Nevo learns why education is not a human right
but a privilege for many Christian children in Pakistan.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY I met Putras during my first stay in Pakistan, when I lived and worked for two years on a cathedral compound in the heart of the city. This place seemed to be a perfect haven of peace and tranquility, and initially I imagined it as a kind of Garden of Eden.

But once I met Putras I soon realised how superficial this image was. Indeed, the better I got to know him, the more the compound came to symbolise the gaping divide that exists within the Pakistani Christian community, between the small number of privileged church clergy and their flock - the two or three per cent of Pakistani people who are mainly sweepers, sanitation workers or bonded labourers.

Putras was six years old, the eldest son of a sweeper who had to keep a family of seven on a monthly salary of 1,000 rupees ($36), which he earned at the church school. The family lived with the other sweeper families in a small area at the back of the compound which was surrounded by a high wall and a gate.

Each family lived in one room no bigger than 10 by 12 feet, with a narrow verandah at the front where they cooked their food. In the centre of the quarters stood a communal hand-pump and near the gate a communal latrine was hidden behind a torn old curtain.

With no school to attend, the children sat throughout the day listless, naked and grubby, surrounded by piles of rubbish where flies swarmed. It was difficult to imagine that only a stone's throw away, wealth and magnificence sheltered the families of bishops and padres.

Then one day Putras walked through the main gates of the compound sobbing. He had been working with a car mechanic: thirteen hours a day, seven days a week, earning one rupee ($0.4) per day. And now he was crying because the other boys in the shop, all Muslim, had been bullying him. He was tired and hungry and didn't want to go back to work next day.

When the wives of the clergy realised that the children of their sweepers were either spending their days idle or working in places where they were being exploited, they opened a school in the church hall.

The sweeper-quarters remained squalid, dirty and diseased. But the children came out in little groups each morning and walked across the compound, neatly dressed, books under their arms, talking and laughing. Enthusiastically they sat on their mats on the floor, balanced their books on their laps and recited the Urdu alphabet in loud unison.

Soon afterwards Putras was sent to me every morning for an hour, when I taught him the English alphabet and counting. He was slow but he never missed his lessons. And when I left Pakistan a year later in 1988, Putras, then eight years old, was still attending school.

I never forgot him during the two years I spent in the UK, and when I returned to Lahore I made it a priority to visit him and his family.

Putras was eleven and as tall as I. I couldn't wait for his mother to finish her welcoming chatter, to enquire how he was getting on. 'Oh Putras left the school,' his mother said. I looked questioningly at Putras. And he stared steadily back. His mother explained that he had struggled at school; couldn't concentrate and was restless; wanted to go out to earn money to help his parents feed his brothers and sisters, and provide medicines for the youngest child, a victim of polio.

Then Putras himself spoke: 'I'm an apprentice for another mechanic. I earn two rupees ($0.7) for a nine hour day, six days a week. When I've learned more then I'll start my own business.' The chance of education had come just too late for him, he said.

The family walked back out with me into the fly-infested quarters. A child was urinating into the drain beneath the hand-pump. 'They haven't done anything to improve things here then,' I said, referring to the church leaders. 'They don't care,' Putras' mother said bitterly, 'they never even come here to see how we live.'

I looked at Putras, less dreamy than I remembered. And I realised that for him, like so many other Christian children in Pakistan, education had never been a right, but a privilege for those who had the time to learn.

Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who now lives and works in Lahore.

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