The defiant skate kids of Afghanistan

September 17, 2012

Last week four children from an Afghani skateboarding charity were killed in a Taleban bomb

Back in July, during the heady build-up to the Olympics, you may have read an article in Times2 about Skateistan, an innovative, exciting charity that is encouraging children to take up skateboarding in Afghanistan. Skateistan’s founder, Oliver Percovich, came to London to pick up an award at the Beyond Sport summit on behalf of the 400 Afghan teenagers learning nollies and kickflips along with their lessons.

Last week four of them were killed in a Taleban bomb attack in Kabul’s embassy district, where they worked on the street selling scarves and bracelets. The suicide bomber who killed them was also a teenager, carrying his lethal load in his backpack.

“She was always telling us to be brave like the boys, then no one would dare to touch us,” said a girl who skateboarded with 14-year-old Khorshid, w… [more]

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Skateistan: How skateboarding took off with Afghan kids

July 17, 2012

It’s no surprise that in a world full of rules most kids want to do something with no organisation, and no adults. “This country has more restrictions than just about any other,” Oliver Percovich says, explaining how his own passion for freedom and fun led to groups of boys and girls flying across Afghanistan’s dusty relics of war and occupation on skateboards.

At 37, Percovich is getting a bit old to be a skateboard dude. He picked up the hobby growing up in Australia and Papua New Guinea, and arrived in Afghanistan five years ago with a board. Percovich hadn’t come to work for a nongovernmental organisation or serve with the army — he was following his girlfriend.

The relationship didn’t work out, but a group of kids were soon congregating around the empty Masood fountain in Kabul to watch him do tricks on his board, and have a go themselves.

“I gave twice as much time to… [more]

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India's Barefoot Revolution

January 06, 2011

What would it be like if women ran the world? In some parts of India, it’s already happening

If all revolutions begin in unlikely locations, few could be as unpromising as Borda. It’s a poor village in the poorest district of one of the poorest states in India. Only the blasting from a nearby quarry disturbs the feudal scene of ploughing with bullocks and washing in the river.

But something in Borda is different. Unlike other villages in the Western part of Odisha, the town is clean and well kept. There are water pumps and toilets. Shops are busy and there is a new college offering degree-level education. Borda has become the almost unimaginable in India: a functioning village providing basic public services, including sanitation, healthcare and education. How come? Because Borda is a town run by women.

Sangita Naika is painting a welcome to the gods on the step outside her home. She takes drops from… [more]

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The Journey of a Vaccine

October 12, 2010

Life-and-death decisions are not usually made by a mother buying nappies on a suburban high street. She may not even know that the choice could set in motion a complicated chain of events, stretching around the world, that will directly affect other women, such as Madame Akam Justine, who swats away mosquitos to deliver scores of babies on the floor of her small brick home in a remote village in Cameroon.

The work of women like Madame Justine, a traditional birth attendant favoured by women too poor, or far away, to use a hospital, is often makeshift, rudimentary and tainted by tragic conclusions. It has also never been higher on the international agenda. Reducing maternal and child mortality is one of the key UN Millennium Development Goals, and what works best is vaccination against epidemic diseases.

In Cameroon Madame Justine is preparing to play her part in a global vaccination campaign by Unicef to er… [more]

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Couple’s ordeal highlights gay rights in Africa

July 07, 2010

Love has been many things for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga: complicated, illegal, symbolic, and now perhaps not even love at all.

The two men from Malawi became Africa’s most controversial couple after their engagement in December. Any happiness was short-lived, however, as they were convicted for “gross indecency and unnatural acts”.

Their sentence of 14 years’ hard labour was commuted by President Bingu wa Mutharika only after considerable international pressure.

Condemned by some as “unnatural” and “un-African”, Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga were applauded by others for challenging the homophobia that activists say is prevalent and enshrined in law across the continent.

But their campaigning role, propelling gay equality into African consciousness, may have pushed their relationship to the brink of collapse. Mr Chimabalanga appears to be on the verge of seeking asyl… [more]

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A Race Apart: the beauty queens of the apartheid era

June 25, 2010

The Miss World finalists are now at the World Cup, but the women who represented South Africa in its past have divided memories

So far the game has not been beautiful for the World Cup’s “33rd official team”. They have gone largely unnoticed in South Africa’s impressive new stadiums, despite displaying frozen grins, tiny T-shirts and little resentment at being overshadowed by the men on the pitch.
This team are not footballers, but 31 Miss World finalists who arrived in Johannesburg two weeks ago to join their national squads on a mutual journey that will, for one, end in victory, fame and wealth.

Their intervention in this most testosterone-driven of tournaments is, ostensibly, to promote “Beauty with a Purpose”, now a central theme of Miss World, and a point enthusiastically endorsed by President Zuma when he emerged, looking smitten, from a meeting with Miss South Africa, Nico… [more]

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‘If they gave me a house, I’d take it tomorrow’

April 06, 2010

All I want is to die under this mountain.” Noor Ebrahim, a slightly-built former messenger for Reader’s Digest, has returned to the area where he grew up. Now retired, he likes to remember the old days; he can point out his school — “it was tough” — the mosque where his family prayed and the spot where his father ran a ginger-beer business. Today, though, this area of Cape Town is a wasteland. Table Mountain towers over the once-famous multiracial community of District Six, which was destroyed by apartheid bulldozers and has never been rebuilt.

Reconstructing District Six could have been the ultimate regeneration project for a country keen to show the world an integrated face as South Africa prepares to host the World Cup. The murder last Saturday of the right-wing AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche, and the release of figures that highlight growing economic inequality, point to something di… [more]

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Kenyan women united in freedom and football

February 13, 2010

In a society where girls are punished for refusing sex and HIV is endemic, football has become an educational tool

The Ukunda Queens collected their trophy in the dark. It had been a great afternoon of football, with 22 young women from the rural province of Kwale in Kenya slugging it out on a rain-drenched pitch to become district champions of the women’s league, undeterred by a herd of goats that occasionally wandered into the action, displaced from their usual home on the terraces by the crowd which had gathered to cheer, buy cashew nuts and argue the merits of each team.

“The Ukunda Queens are good but look — the other side don’t even have shoes,” said an elderly man. It was true. Ukunda’s barefoot opponents, the Dar Queens, slid helplessly in the mud. But Dar’s supporters had travelled for hours on minibuses to reach the ground and were unwilling to concede defeat. “God willing, th… [more]

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Maki Mandela: “As Nelson's child, I can say I am proud of him”

February 13, 2010

In the week that London marks the statesman’s 90th birthday, his daughter reveals how she overcame her resentment that he was a father to the world, but not to her

Nelson Mandela arrives in London today for what is likely to be his last major public appearance; a 90th birthday charity concert in Hyde Park, starring Amy Winehouse, Annie Lennox and Razorlight. As with most events in his life, Mandela’s farewell will be acted out on a global stage, but the purpose of the event – to raise money for Mandela’s Aids charity 46664 – is intensely personal. For a man accustomed to sharing himself with the world, family tragedies have sometimes proved just too painful. No one knows this better than Maki Mandela, his eldest surviving child. “My father had a lot of pain in his life. He has lost three children, and both of his sons. He is very aware that there is no one to carry on the n… [more]

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How one man gave Congo’s women hope

January 28, 2010

Life is hell for women caught up in the conflict in the Congo. But one remarkable doctor helps survivors to build a future

Why are the lives of African women worthless? It’s a question that Denis Mukwege asks every day that he works with the raped and mutilated women of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As a young doctor he treated women in far-flung villages who would otherwise have had little chance of survival. He had wanted to deliver babies. Instead, he saw things he had never expected: the women who came to him had untreatable conditions, caused by torture and rape. There were old women, young girls, babies. The villages he visited had been devastated by planned outbreaks of sexual violence; the men murdered and the women made outcasts for ever. He saw his country plundered in an endless conflict, and his own life turned upside down by stories too horrible for nightmares.

Dr Mukwege fo… [more]

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