What are we doing to protect India’s daughters??

I’m speechless! I just watched the BBC Four documentary India’s daughter (by Leslee Udwin) about rape victim Jyoti Singh and I’m speechless. But I can’t afford to stay quiet…

To hear what these rapists and their lawyers have to say about Indian women is beyond my comprehension. The fact that people can still think like that in a country that claims to be the 3rd largest economy in the world is beyond my understanding. Where has India gone wrong? How are we living in the 21st century and still holding on to the belief that a woman should not go out at night. That if a woman is out at night, she’s asking to be raped. They claim to be a democratic country and yet the BBC Four documentary has been banned! Why? Do they really think they can hide the atrocities committed by these men I dare call humans? Do they not realise the power of social media?

Today, with a heavy heart, I feel sad to associate myself with India. A land with such rich culture that is being washed away due to ignorance. A country that treats cows with more respect than they do women. People that will prostrate in front of their guru’s and then turn around and hurt another being in the space of 5 minutes. Taxi’s in Mumbai more often than not have either a picture of a deity, an idol or even incense lit in the front cabin while the driver uses his rear view mirror to check out his female passenger in the back. I had my bottom pinched at 11 as I was walking out of a church. How can these people look “God” in the eye?

When watching the documentary, I was proud of the youth who came out protesting on the 17th of December 2012 and all the men and women who still tirelessly campaign for women’s rights. But let’s not kid ourselves. In a country with over 1 billion people, a few hundred thousand protestors is not going to change the mentality of the rest. It’s up to the government, the people that the country looks up to, to make a difference, to be the change. With the government banning the documentary being shown in India, what message is that sending to the people? That to be raped is a shame? Something that shouldn’t be talked about?!

The sad thing about the entire situation is that these men, these rapists, they don’t suffer from any sort of mental illness, they’re not psychopaths, they are ordinary men, men with families, men with children who believe raping a woman is their right over her, to show her, to teach her a lesson. It’s their mentality and mind set that needs to be changed. Mukesh Singh (one of the men on the bus) who was interviewed couldn’t understand why such a fuss was being made of a situation that to him was so common. “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy,” he said.

When an “educated” lawyer claims he would pour petrol over his daughter/sister and set her a light (in front of the entire family) if she engaged in pre-marital activities (sex), how can we expect the common uneducated man to think any better?! And while I admire the protestors who came out in the hundreds, I don’t think hanging these men is the answer. I think they need to be shamed, they need to be used as an example of what happens to men who think it’s okay to rape a woman. They need to live a slow and painful life and feel every bit of regret before they die. Dying is escapism, killing them is not truly punishing them.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I want my child to grow up in a world where women aren’t just worshipped at Diwali in the name of wealth and prosperity but looked after everyday. In their homes, on their streets, as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and daughter-in-laws. I’d prefer to believe that the idea of boys being more important exists only amongst the poor and uneducated but it doesn’t, it sadly exists amongst people I know personally.

So how do we even begin to shift the mind set of the masses? I think we need to start by making our voices heard. By reading, sharing and writing so that the Indian government starts to sit up and take notice. Until then, I’m grateful to live in a country that encourages freedom of speech. In a country that brought forward the release date of “India’s daughter” before it was banned. In a country where, for the most part, I feel safe.

http://qz.com/356299/no-jyoti-singh-is-not-indias-daughter/

http://urbanasian.com/whats-happenin/2015/03/bbc-releases-indias-daughter-on-youtube/

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Culture Shock

I’ve spent a lot of time in India in my life. I went to nursery in Mumbai for a few months when I was 4, I went to boarding school in Panchgani for 3 years when I was 11 and I’ve visited almost every year since I was 14. So the things that shock most people visiting India don’t really shock me anymore. As sad as it sounds, you become accustomed to the poverty and the dirt. Seeing helpless children always tugs at my heart strings but it doesn’t have the same shock affect as it did when I was younger if you know what I mean.

Now that I’m visiting with S though, there are many things I pick up on that really surprise me. The most recent being lack of friendliness. I find it hard to believe that people here aren’t friendly but over the last week we’ve been visiting my maternal grandmother in Pune and S being the friendly child that he is, says hello and waves at everyone (and I mean everyone!). But no one (especially other children) says hello back!!

Yesterday we went to this huge mall called The Pheonix and they had a train going round the ground floor. It stopped at one point about every 5 minutes and you could pay to have a go on it. S loves trains and so when it came round, we paid the equivalent of £1 each and got on. As we were driven around, he waved and excitedly said hello to everyone we passed by and I think 1 out of 10 people smiled or waved back.

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Is S just over-friendly? Are children here just shy? Or taught not to respond to anyone they don’t know? I’m open to explanations…

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Sorry I’ve been a little mia for the last two weeks. Last week S and I arrived in India (and we haven’t had access to the internet until yesterday) and the week before that I was preparing for our holiday (We’re visiting three cities in India and then three cities in the Far East). I have two cousins getting married and two cousins performing a sacred thread ceremony (more on that another time). Anyhoo, as exciting as it sounds, it’s also stressful. I’m a tad fanatical when it comes to what S eats when we travel and so I spent the week before we left making lists of everything I needed to buy and bring with me. I was also a little stressed because we were taking a day flight and given that S is constantly on his feet (a ball of energy as my friend M calls him), I wasn’t sure how we’d get through the 9 hours. But it was all in vain (and thankfully so!). S was great on the flight. He charmed the pants off the air hostesses, he played hide and seek with them, he ate, he napped, he played with his toys and he watched bits of the movie Cars. I didn’t even have to bring out my Ipad once!!! 😀

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And then we landed in India….oh Mumbai, why do you have to make life so difficult? I’m all for security and what not but in Mumbai airport it just doesn’t make sense! When we got off, we were told we couldn’t get our stroller at the gate (even though the guy in London said we would). Why? Because they need to be scanned by customs in India. Okay I thought, S napped on the flight so he can walk to security and to the baggage hall. We get through security, into the baggage hall and our bags are out in 5 minutes (hallelujah!!) Not so quickly…the car seat comes out but the stroller is no where to be found. I go up to speak to one of the airline representatives and she tells me there’s a delay and everyone’s strollers are on the way. It’s 11:45pm, it’s hot, children are tired so parents are carrying them. Everyone is starting to get really frustrated!

Now we’re lucky, we came in from London where it is 7:15pm so S is not overtired but his bedtime is fast approaching and at this stage he’s starting to get cranky. And like me, he doesn’t handle the heat well. Half an hour passes and the strollers still aren’t out. They finally come through almost an hour later and we start heading to the Green Channel (nothing to declare) but not before we queue up to have our bags scanned. This is my issue with the whole scenario!! If you’re going to scan the bags and strollers before we leave the arrivals hall then why couldn’t we have got the stroller at the gate. But you know what, after feeling frustrated for about 10 minutes, I came to terms with the fact that logic just doesn’t exist here (and the next few days demonstrated that even further…but that’s another story!) It’s just such a pity because Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport has been transformed. After years of renovation and construction, they have a beautiful terminal building but scratch beneath the surface and nothings really changed. It would have been nice when modernising their airport to make arrivals more comfortable, they modernised their procedures as well.

There is however lots India has to offer and more importantly S and I are spending lots of time with family. There’s always a silver lining somewhere 🙂

Inspiring Mama Series: Samar Shaheryar & Alicia Wieser

Samar Shaheryar & Alicia Wieser

The story of friends, Samar and Alicia is quite a similar one. Allie and her husband are college sweethearts and were living in NYC before moving to Asia. Samar met and married her husband in NYC before moving out to Asia. Both women were working in finance before their husband’s jobs took them to Tokyo.

While there, they founded “Tokyo Helps”, a non-profit group to raise money for special causes. In the winter of 2010, Allie moved to Hong Kong and Samar soon followed in the summer of 2011, after the Japan Earthquake & Tsunami. Both ladies loved Tokyo but have since grown to love Hong Kong as much. In Tokyo they organised fundraisers for Pakistan & Haiti and in Hong Kong they continued to do so, raising money for Japan & East Africa.

But that wasn’t enough. In 2012, they wanted to create something that was more sustainable in a business sense. Baby Hero was conceived. They had decided to create a baby product that funded maternal and infant health. And as it is when something is meant to be, all the pieces of the puzzle fell together. A friend posted on Facebook about her husband’s friend (Dr. Shaun Morris) who was looking for a grant to help with maternal health in Pakistan. The ladies immediately got on Skype with him and started brainstorming how they were going to work together.

The idea behind Baby Hero is to provide essential wearable onsies and toddler t-shirts made out of the finest organic cotton. For every onsie and t-shirt sold, a clean birth kit is given to a mother in need and life-saving medical products to her baby.

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NM: Where did the name Baby Hero come from? I’m also intruiged by your website address. www.babyhe.ro

BH: We were discussing our idea over lunch with a particularly creative friend, Unum Muneer, and she suggested a social media campaign where parents could post photos of their babies in our clothes on Facebook: “My baby is a hero!” We loved it immediately especially as it not only references those wearing our clothes but also all the heroic babies who survive and thrive in unimaginably difficult circumstances around the world.

Website address is us staying true to our social entrepreneurship goals and keeping costs low. By using a little used domain (in this case Romania), we were able to avoid the high fee to purchase a .com and also generate a bit of interest/buzz around our website.

NM: What is your vision for the next 2 years?

BH: Our aim with Baby Hero is to bring giving into people’s daily life. Every time they purchase a Baby Hero product they set in motion an action that has the potential to save the life of a mother or baby. Over the next two years and beyond, we want to positively impact as many families as possible – make our Maternal and Newborn Care Kit available in all the areas in which maternal and infant mortality are particularly high due to lack of medical facilities and also continue to explore and fund other low-cost medical interventions. The way we achieve this goal is to continue to expand our product offerings, reach consumers globally and stay true to our vision for a completely ethical brand made with 100% organic fabric using fair-labor.

NM: Even with the existence of several NGO’s and charities, the infant mortality rate remains high, especially in Africa and South Asia. Why is this?

BH: This is a very good question. It is an issue of scale and weak healthcare systems especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Infant and maternal mortality solutions are harder to scale up as they often require multiple remedies, greater equipment or expertise. This is why we, and Dr. Shaun Morris, our partner who developed the Maternal and Newborn Care Kit we are funding, believe it can be so effective. While there is evidence that all the low-cost and easy to use interventions included in the Kit improve infant health, no one has packaged them together in precisely this way. We anticipate the Kit will reduce newborn mortality in the study population in Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan by up to 40%.  To determine if we can actually achieve this benefit, we are conducting a randomized controlled trial.  If our trial is successful, we would then take steps to scale up delivery of the kit to a wider population.  One of the problems with ‘aid’ in the past is that interventions have often not been properly studied and sometimes the impact is quite a bit different than had been anticipated. As the Kit is cheap, effective and easily portable, it is very scalable and can even be funded and implemented by the local community once aid groups step back.

NM: I love the idea behind the factory you work with. Could you tell my readers a bit about how the factory you work with also plays into your vision for women.

BH: We love the factory we are working with in India too! Assisi Garments is an organic, fair-trade factory in Southern India founded by Franciscan Nuns. Many of the women it employs come from disadvantaged backgrounds – widows who carry a great stigma in the local community, women who have been abused or are otherwise on the margins of society. They also employ disabled workers. All their employees work in safe conditions and are paid a decent living wage. When you buy one of our garments, you are positively impacting so many lives – the organic farmers and cotton producers, the workers at the factory who are being paid and treated fairly and of course the families who receive our Kit and whose mothers and children will lead healthier lives as a result of it. This to us is the perfect circle and the only way to do business – to take care of our planet by choosing an eco-friendly fiber, by taking care of our fellow human beings by making sure to use fair labour and giving back through our product and to do it all while remaining an economically sustainable business. Our goal is to eventually have our own fair-trade factory that boosts the local economy in the areas in which we are distributing the Kit. This is how you start to level the playing field and eradicate poverty – economic self-sufficiency and aid working together.

NM: For those of us who don’t live in Hong Kong, can we buy Baby Hero onsies and toddler t-shirts online?

BH: YES! We ship internationally – everywhere. And we’re currently working on our Spring/Summer line – expanding our offerings – so keep an eye out for more products!

If you’d like to get involved or donate, please visit http://babyhe.ro/pages/get-involved

To buy one of these adorable onsies and t-shirts, visit their online shop.

With Baby Hero, you can make a life saving difference to a mother and child in need.

Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat

I was browsing the web last night when I came across this article.

http://expatchild.com/expat-brats/

As I went through the list of clues, many of them resonated with me. Especially considering myself a “third culture kid” and not really knowing what to say when I’m asked where I am from. But I definitely don’t think of myself as a brat. While I found the article interesting, I think brat was a wrongly used term.

I was born in Monrovia and lived there for 3.5 years. My family then moved to London. When I was 7, we moved to Nigeria. I went to school there for 4 years and at 11 went to boarding school in India and at 14, switched to boarding school in Dublin. I then ended my education studying for my degree in London. At 21 I lived between 3 different countries, working and volunteering with children and in early 2008 I moved to Hong Kong where I have lived for the last 5.5 years. I’d call myself an expat kid (or child of the world) but not really a brat. I was born in Africa, of Indian descent, with a British passport – confusing or what?!

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But, like with most things, I think the way children perceive things is down to their parents. Growing up, for the most part, we had domestic help, drivers, club memberships and I flew before I could walk. But my parents raised me to say please and thank you, even to people working in our home. Our house help were always treated like a part of our family. And if my brother and I were out of line, we were definitely set straight. We were always told, God gave you two hands, use them.

Ofcourse, saying this, there are things that we took for granted. I remember going to the supermarket with a friend once and I started bagging things as I always did, putting all tins together, all fruit and veg together. He soon showed me the error of my ways. I’d always driven to the supermarket or had the shopping done for me. He pointed out that when you were walking home with your groceries, you had to balance the bags out so there was a mix of heavy and light items in each bag. You learn something new everyday, that lesson has stayed with me since.

In my opinion, her list were more “isms”. I would think of a brat as a child with lack of manners, lack of empathy and snobbishness. I don’t think you have to be an expat kid to be a brat and vice versa.

I personally think if you’re lucky enough to be an expat kid, it is a privilege. I have an accepting nature of all cultures, I love to travel and see new places, meet new people. I have friends in almost every part of the world, I can clean and manage my own home if I need to but also appreciate and value the help if it’s there. Given all that, I’d love to raise my son as an expat kid. He’s been to 10 different cities in 19 months, I guess we’re on our way 😉

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What do you think? Were you an expat kid/third culture kid? Do you think it gives you a broader outlook on life and more accepting of different cultures?