Ctrl.Alt.Shift: Episode 2

My final big project with Ctrl.Alt.Shift is Ctrl.Alt.Shift: Edpisode 2. In a follow up to our podcast on gender equality for International Women’s Day in March this one is all about Climate Change & the Environment. We explore the topic through debate, music, spoken word and comments from some of the people across the world who are already being effected by Climate Change.

Check out the article on the Ctrl.Alt.Shift site here or go straight to listen to the podcast at SOAS Radio here.

Thanks to the team for working so hard to get it done and, of course, to the excellent SOAS Radio for hosting it.

Any feedback welcome!

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CAS @ Oil In A Teapot, Tate Britain

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on Thursday 21 April 2011.

There’s nothing we like more at Ctrl.Alt.Shift than a quick bit of protest on our lunch break. That’s why Amy Hall jumped at the chance to head down to the Tate Britain this week and join climate change campaigners Climate Rush as they mourned BP’s sponsorship of the arts…

The sun blazed down on a crowded lawn outside the Tate Britain as members of Climate Rush gathered for an afternoon picnic, aptly named ‘Oil In A Teapot’, to mourn the lives lost in the BP oil disaster exactly one year ago.

But they were also mourning what they see as a cultural loss, showing their sadness that cultural spaces, such as the Tate, have to accept funding from companies with dodgy ethical reputations such as BP.

Dressed all in black, with their suffragette inspired red sashes, the group posed for photographs on the steps of the Tate along with artwork produced by artists from Louisiana which was greatly affected by the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The paintings were then displayed alongside the picnic with and a version of a Turner painting, altered to show an oil spill. This was later delivered inside the Tate with ‘Love Oil Painting, Hate Oil Funding’ written on the back and a message asking them to stop accepting BP’s money.

Passers by couldn’t help but take a look at tea party (grabbing a cucumber sandwich in the process). Many people had never heard of the link between BP and the Tate and were intrigued to know more about why the group were there. The stunt was part of a wider week of action against the relationship between the arts and BP coordinated by Art Not Oil.

“A year ago today BP caused an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jennifer Sherriff of Climate Rush. “80% of the oil is still in the ocean and toxic dispersants were used. BP has not only destroyed the environment of the area but 11 people died and livelihoods were ruined. They are still not paying the compensation they should be and are breaking the law.

“BP needs to stop trying to fix their image through corporate sponsorship. They need to be held to account.”

BP has described the last 12 months as Year of Change for the better. But many from Louisiana say their communities and livelihoods have been destroyed.

Since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the company has also started extracting oil in the Canadian Tar Sands a project not just controversial for its massive effects on climate change but also to the lives of First Nation communities who suffer high levels of cancer and devastation to their natural environment.

The First Nation communities from Canada have joined with those in Louisiana in solidarity in their campaigning.

Questions are again being asked about arts funding, especially in the wake of cuts to public funding for the arts. Should it matter where cultural spaces get their money from? Are companies like BP legitimising themselves in Britain while people across the globe suffer at their expense? And perhaps most importantly, does art have an obligation to be moral?

Find out more about the campaign at the Art Not Oil website.

Photos: Climate Rush

Corruption: The Planet’s Most Talked About Issue

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on Monday April 18 2011.

Corrupt governments, institutions and businesses make people angry and are often a major catalyst in getting them to take action. We are continually being told to behave ourselves and follow the rules, but when the people in power don’t do the same it can seem unfair.

Concerns about corruption around the world are reflected in a recent poll commissioned by the BBC, which states that corruption is the world’s most talked about issue. The World Speaks poll asked over 13, 000 people across 26 countries what issues they had been talking about most, and what were the problems they faced which they saw as most important.

While corruption was the most talked about issue, the people polled saw the most serious challenge facing them as extreme poverty. Corruption was the second most important challenge facing people. This was especially clear in countries including Brazil, Egypt, Colombia and Kenya.

The issue of corruption was one of the biggest triggers for the recent uprisings in Egypt, with the former president Hosni Mubarak being detained over corruption charges last week.

In Colombia corruption is often associated with widespread abuses of human rights, and journalists and lawyers who try to defend human rights are frequently stigmatised, threatened or murdered.

The world is facing uncertain and tough times economically, and climate change seems to be taking a back seat, despite the threat being as real as ever and a massive contributor to global poverty. According the World Speaks poll, public concern about the issue has lowered significantly in major industrialised nations since 2009, partly due to the disastrous Copenhagen summit in 2009.

Apathy towards climate change could also be because people in industrialised countries are not as yet affected by it, unlike people in developing countries. However, in emerging economies like Brazil and India people now see climate change as a serious problem, with deforestation, pollution and natural disasters being among the symptoms.

Unsurprisingly, the most discussed issue in Britain was the state of the global economy, with the perceived seriousness of this problem increasing significantly since 2009, as unemployment and public sector cuts begin to bite hard.

Public services are also a concern in Mexico, the only country to rank education as the most talked about issue. Although Mexico has almost achieved universal primary education, the education system has been described as corrupt, with only 45% of Mexicans finishing secondary school.

GlobeScan Research Director Sam Mountford said: “We shouldn’t be surprised that people are venting their frustration about a problem that often stops governments getting to grips with the raft of other serious challenges that they are now seen to be facing.”

People are feeling stretched in all directions and more clear links need to be made between issues. Corruption and climate change will increase poverty, as will unemployment. Educational problems are often symptoms of poverty and corruption. Working across areas of expertise and in solidarity with people across the globe will be the best way to combat these multiple issues: it seems the world is getting smaller, and more people than ever are opening their eyes to what’s happening to their planet.

Paving The Way For People With Disabilities In Lebanon

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 22 2011

The Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union’s mission is to promote dignity through equal opportunities and ensure the social and economic integration of people with disabilities in Lebanon. Amy Hall finds out more, and looks at one particularly inspiring case study; the story of 19 year old Naghem Hasha…

People are only ‘disabled’ because they are in situations that make it harder for them to do things than ‘able bodied people’. Lack of facilities, discrimination and little of understanding mean that people can miss out on education, employment and face social exclusion.

This is especially a problem in Lebanon where Christian Aid partner, the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union(LPHU), calculate 7% of the population have some kind of disability. Poverty can take many forms, and although in Lebanon things like life expectancy are high, many people are locked in poverty by laws and structural inequality. People with disabilities are often marginalised from public life.

Naghem Hasha is a 19 year old student and wheelchair user who is determined to prove negative perceptions wrong. Tabitha Ross, Christian Aid’s Middle East Communications officer, spoke to her on a recent trip to Lebanon.

“People look at you and treat you differently,” says Naghem. “If I cared what others say, I wouldn’t even leave my room. I can prove that I am more than my chair. It doesn’t matter what others say and think – what matters is what you say and think of yourself.”

It is partly this determination, and help from LPHU, which means that Naghem is now the first wheelchair user at her university. Young wheelchair users in Naghem’s home region of the Bekaa do not usually have the chance to study at local universities, but LPHU raised awareness at the university about inclusion and accessibility and Naghem now studies Business there.

“My friends from school who had disabilities did not go to university, even though I went to school in Beirut,” explains Naghem. “Some of them didn’t go because they had to live at home and they couldn’t find a course in their area; some had difficulties in getting accepted, or there was no disability access in the university. Some didn’t want to enter a world in which they would be different.”

However, Naghem has had no problems with discrimination at university and says she is treated like anyone else. She is cautiously hopeful about the future: “There’s still lots of barriers here to doing what you want. As much as I can, I liberate myself from my situation, so we’ll see what I am able to achieve.”

The Director of her university, Saad Hamzi, thinks Naghem’s future is bright. “She’s open and loves people and they love her back. She’s very active and has been getting good grades, especially in maths.”

It also seems Naghem’s pioneering spirit has paved the way for more local wheelchair users to be able to attend university. “Naghem has really opened the way for others, says Saad Hamzi. “She’s encouraged us to accept others like her case, or even more complicated cases.”

LPHU’s mission is ‘to promote dignity through equal opportunities and ensure the social and economic integration of people with disabilities’ – and it seems that for Naghem, they are well on the way to doing that.

Egypt’s Child Workers

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 22 2011

In the midst of the recent revolution in Egypt, Amy Hall takes a look at the on-ground rehabilitation work with Egypt’s next generation…

Egypt has become famous for its recent revolution, toppling one of the world’s longest serving presidents, Hosni Mubarak. Protesters were unhappy about their standard of living, the lack of accountability and transparency in society, and high levels of corruption.

Despite its high profile as a tourist destination, 20% of people in Egypt live below the poverty line and there are 2.7million child workers. Tabitha Ross, Christian Aid Communications Officer for the Middle East, visited Egypt last year and spoke to some of these children, working in limestone quarries.

13 year old Haytham Abdulazuz works at a quarry full time: “I didn’t like school because the teacher hit me and was always unpleasant to me. It’s better to work here and have some income for me and my family.”

Mina Said, now 15, left school at 13 but is now back in education thanks to help from Wadi el Nil, a Christian Aid partner organisation Christian Aid supports Wadi el Nil to train and empower adult quarry workers to claim their rights, such as the right to education for their children.

Mina said he suffered no violence at his previous school but the low quality of teaching meant he felt he was better off earning money for the family. “The subjects were difficult and there was not enough time and the teachers didn’t explain clearly so I felt lost.”

Mina now says he enjoys school and wants to stay in education; “If you don’t finish school, the only place for you is the quarry, and many men die there.”

Mina was keen to go back to school, partly after he broke his arm in an accident at the quarry where his family had to pay two thirds of the medical costs. However, he says he was nervous: “Sometimes they won’t take boys back if they’ve missed too much, but Wadi el Nil arranged with the school for us to go back, and made sure we could catch up by providing special classes. I really enjoy it with my friends, about 10 of us, who all came from the quarries.”

16 year old Issa Khalef Hana works in the quarry part time and goes to school hoping that his opportunities will increase if he finishes his education. He also says the owner of the quarry where he works treats his workers a lot better than others as he “covers the electric cables and doesn’t fire you if you have to take some days off, or have an accident.”

As Egypt works to build a more positive future it is hoped that less children like Issa and Haytham will have to risk their lives working in quarries and more, like Mina, will be able to go to school. This is the generation that will want a better Egypt for themselves and their families so their children won’t be spending their childhoods in quarries – and Christian Aid and Ctrl.Alt.Shift will be behind them all the way.

Freedom Of Expression In Lebanon

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 9 2011

Amy Hall reports on the work of Mouvement Social in Lebanon and how they combine creative space with academic excellence and support for young people…

In education when too much emphasis is put on exams, league tables and grades, the opportunity for creativity can be neglected. But the arts can also be a great healer and outlet for frustration.

Mouvement Social, a Christian Aid partner in Lebanon, promotes the value of creativity, as well as access to a good academic education. They are a volunteer movement of young people who provide social services to Lebanon’s poorest and most marginalised communities, including making sure children who have been excluded from school get a good education.

Christian Aid Communications Officer Tabitha Ross visited Lebanon and spoke to young people who had been to Mouvement Social schools. Children traumatised by conflict can be disruptive in school which often leads to exclusions. Widespread poverty means many parents can’t afford to send their children to school if there are no free ones locally. Also, some children are excluded from Lebanon’s school system on grounds of nationality,  such as the children of Syrians or Kurds working in the country.

Ali Al Afee, who is 14 years old, is a pupil at one of Mouvement Social’s schools. He was expelled from his last school after a cycle of violence: “I got angry whenever someone spoke to me. I also used to hit teachers – and the teachers used to hit me too, with a big stick.”

Ali lived through the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 during which his neighbour was killed after a bomb fell on his house. Now he dreams of being a film director: “I like the arts. The theatre helps people to express themselves and talk about the important things in life.”

16 year old Hanan Madyak’s parents had been too poor to send her and her sister to school before she found out about Mouvement Social alternative education centres, which are free. After training in photography she is now an intern at a studio that has offered her a job when she finishes her education.

“Mouvement Social created a 180° turnaround in my life,” she says. “If I’d not come here, I’d have stayed at home, learning nothing. There’s many girls in this situation.”

Hossam Houhou is now aged 17 and says his life has also turned around. He went to extra classes and a summer school provided by Mouvement Social and now helps run the issues based theatre workshops on things like domestic violence, drug abuse and the differences between people.

Mouvement Social also puts great importance on achievement in the more academic areas of school as Ali explains: “The rules here are strict.  There’s an evaluation system and you get penalties for violence… I think it’s a good system.”

Mouvement Social’s combination of creative freedom and high standards of academic teaching are made stronger by its commitment to Citizenship, defined by Hossam as: “How to accept the other.”

“The solution is to work on yourself and accept others, and then society will change.”

CAS @ Bristol’s Start The Bus – International Women’s Day Highlight

First appeared at Ctrl.Alt.Shift on March 23 2011

March 8 2011 was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Amy Hall reports from Ctrl.Alt.Shift’s celebrations at Bristol’s Start The Bus…

The first International Women’s Day was established in 1911 when more than one million women and men attended rallies calling for women to have the right to vote, work and take an active part in public life.

Fast forward 100 years to 2011 and the day is still relevant; women are more likely to suffer lack of access to education, healthcare and employment. This is not just a problem in so called ‘developed’ countries; women in the UK are still under represented in parliament and more likely to be living in poverty.

Ctrl.Alt.Shift celebrated International Women’s Day in Bristol, collaborating with Bristol University Feminist Society to present a bill of inspiring female performers. The struggles of other women across the world is what inspires Sophie Bennett, the society’s president. “We really need to show solidarity with women all over the world”, she explained. “Its now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in some areas of conflict so we really need to show support for those women as well as celebrating our collective achievements.”

Jonathan Godwin, 20, told us it was time to full recognise the achievements of women: “The heads of most companies, and even the head of the UN, are traditionally men. An obscenely high proportion of work and progress made in the world is made by women and not enough recognition is given to that.”

Start The Bus is slap bang in the middle of Bristol’s city centre, a dark and atmospheric venue with kitsch decorations and on March 8, it was packed with people ready to be inspired. There was a laid back, acoustic vibe to the night as 11 varied artists took to the stage; a healthy mix of originals and covers – songs by strong female artists like Tracy Chapman and Florence ad The Machine were big features, as well as insightful original tracks.

The intense and beautifully soulful voices of Rima Doal and Celestine, whose cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit caught the attention of the audience, were juxtaposed with Charlene, a woman who despite being a lone dancer communicated a whole lot of expression. Folky, sweet stories with ukuleles and guitars also got a look in with Esther Taylor and Jenna Fentiman. DST changed the pace, with two MCs and a DJ rapping over some mixes of hip hop tracks with conscious, original lyrics.

Stand up comic Elf did a short set of funny anecdotes from her life as a former model and writer of (bad) erotic fiction as well as her relationships with family and friends. We caught up with her after her performance and she told us how important she thinks gender equality is. “As a female comedian I want to be known not as a female comedian but as a good comic, especially in a world that is very constrained by whether you happen to be a male or a female.”

Mirelle El Malgrissy and Angela Morgan stripped it back with acoustic guitars and powerful voices, as did Becca Sanders who could sing a dictionary and make it sound full of emotion and insight. Lionheart headed up the evening armed with a banjo and wistful stories including one about a man who she should have realised was bad news by the way he treated his books.

The night was buzzing and full of talent. Natasha Kendrick, 23, is a student at Bristol UWE: “International Women’s Day celebrates all the talents that women have and that’s really been highlighted tonight by all the fantastic performers we’ve heard. It would be fascinating to be here again in 100 years and see how many more achievements we have to celebrate.”