Monday, 31 August 2009

Morning in Thessaloniki

[Vergina is not a misprint. It is a small town near Thessaloniki. It is where the tomb of Alexander the Great's father is believed to have been located.]

It's three in the morning
and we're walking
through Thessaloniki

in and out of rain-soaked


side by side
but not touching

I want to kiss you

to taste the morning mist
on your lips

to smell the dawn
in your hair

to wake up to you
not your memory

of course nothing happened

but autumn's desire
left unfulfilled
still lingers

like the pinewood smoke


above the misty hills
of sacred Vergina

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Indigenous Peoples' Rebellion in Central America: A Remembrance of Things to Come?

[While a lot of attention has been focused on Honduras lately, I'd like to reflect on those years not long ago when the indigenous peoples of Guatemala decided they had to take up arms against a series of brutal dictatorships.

Guatemala remains a powder keg.]

Toward the end of the 20th century and, perhaps, for the first time since the Spanish Conquest, the indigenous peoples of Guatemala were once again taking up arms against the government. As a result, some U.S. State Department officials were afraid that, by their example, Guatemala’s indigenous peoples would show their cousins in neighbouring Mexico the road to revolution.

It was an observation that wasn’t lost on at least one indigenous member of the Ejercito Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) – the Guerrilla Army of the Poor whom I interviewed at the time. When the interview took place, 1980, the EGP was Guatemala’s largest guerrilla group.

“We are fighting for our survival, for our way of life, against a corrupt government that wants to destroy us and our culture,” said the young guerrilla fighter. “We Indians have to fight together. I’ve been to Mexico, on my way to the United States. I know how the Indians there live. We can’t help them now. But we will after we win the revolution here.”

Little did anyone know that before the century ended, an armed group calling itself the Zapatista Army of National Liberation would emerge in Chiapas in 1994 and declare war against the Mexican state. However, I don’t know what influence the earlier indigenous guerrilla movement in Guatemala had –and has -- on the Zapatistas.

Although armed insurrection among Mexico’s estimated 30 million indigenous peoples was still a vague, rarely expressed possibility in the last half of the 1900s, by 1980 certain facts could no longer be ignored. And if these facts were not acted upon, the spectre of an indigenous revolution would continue to haunt Mexico. For example:

• 17,000 Nahua and Otomi who lived in the mountains of Veracruz had to eat raw worms to keep from starving to death. In 1979 30 of their children had died of hunger.
• About 150,000 indigenous peoples in Mexico were forced off their lands because of their inability to obtain credit to buy seeds and farm equipment.
• On June 15, 1980 the Mexican Army killed at least 47 indigenous peoples in Chiapas during an attempt by impoverished peasants to claim land for their own. By September of that year, hundreds of families, fearful of similar treatment, had fled into the hills and forests.
• Though the average per capita income of Mexicans was more than $1,100 per year, the indigenous peoples of Chiapas worked 16-hour days on large ranches for wealthy latifundistas (large landholders) for less than $1 a day. Conditions were similar to those of the 19th century, when Mexicans of European heritage exploited indigenous peoples and took their land, according to Mexican anthropologist Ricardo Pozas Arciniega.
• Early in 1980 seven Mexican bishops had denounced the increasing number of killings of indigenous peoples and peasants – estimated to be in the hundreds – by the army, police and latifundistas in the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Veracruz and Chiapas.
• Thousands of indigenous peoples in the state of Hidalgo formed organisations to present a united front against the government and local strong men.

The Mexican government adopted several political postures toward the country’s indigenous peoples over the years, from denying their existence to token displays of support, said Francisco Rojas Cuevas, adjutant director of the country’s National Indigenous Institute. Rojas then recounted some statistics about the country’s indigenous population.

Approximately 1 million indigenous people did not understand Spanish, he said. The indigenous population was divided into 56 ethnic groups, the largest of which was formed by the 1 million who spoke Nahua, the language of the Aztecs. The second largest ethnic group was made up of indigenous people who spoke Maya, or one of the closely related languages, and live, for the most part, in southeastern Mexico. Indigenous peoples in parts of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras also speak Maya.

In 1932, the indigenous peoples of El Salvador began what has been called the first attempt at a communist revolution in Latin America. More than 30,000 people were killed during the uprising. After the army emerged victorious, the indigenous peoples, fearful of further repression, stopped speaking their native languages and never again wore their traditional clothing. But El Salvador’s indigenous peoples achieved a kind of notoriety at the same time they almost lost their culture. For the country’s guerrilla movements toward the last decades of the 20th century took their inspiration from that bloody uprising half a century earlier.

Nowhere, however, were the indigenous peoples of Central America as militant as in Guatemala. There, they not only joined existing guerrilla groups, but more significantly, formed their own, all indigenous revolutionary organisations.

Squatting in a small, hot, humid room behind a church, a university-educated Quiche man and 15 other Guatemalan indigenous men and women from surrounding villages were planning an armed insurrection. They had already made arrangements to get arms and training from the EGP.

“This is a separate organisation,” said the EGP guerrilla attending the meeting. “We will help them all we can, but it is their organisation. They are not responsible to us.”

Meanwhile, in Guatemala City, sitting in the air-conditioned office of the daily newspaper, La Prensa Libre, the managing editor said rumours were spreading throughout the city about an all-indigenous group calling itself Gregorio Yuxa.

“If this is true,” said the editor, “it would be the first time that the Indians of our country have formed their own revolutionary organisation. Up until recently, we didn’t even think they would join the other guerrilla groups, such as the EGP, much less form their own organisation.”

Because of the assumed passivity of the indigenous peoples, their growing militancy caught not only Guatemala by surprise, but the U.S. State Department, as well. In 1979, then-assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Viron P. Vaky, told a congressional subcommittee that Guatemala’s guerrillas were “isolated from the large but unassimilated Indian population in rural areas.”

But Vaky’s September 1979 testimony contradicted a secret U.S. intelligence report prepared five months earlier. That document did not appear in the subcommittee’s report. In the classified document, intelligence officials SAID Cuba was “impressed with (the EGP’s) initial success in recruiting members of Guatemala’s Indian population.”

The indigenous resistance to the government was highlighted during the occupation of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in 1980 by peasants from villages in the Quiche province. Their villages had been under military occupation since 1975, when the EGP killed an influential local landowner. The occupants in the embassy were part of a delegation of 89 indigenous people from the province who had come to the capital three weeks before to protest what they called “army atrocities,” including the disappearance of more than 100 local peasants.

Earlier, in October 1979, another delegation of indigenous people had gone to Guatemala City to register a protest about the army’s abduction and presumed murder of nine peasants over a two-month period. They were sent home with the promise that an investigation would be conducted into the matter. The investigation was never conducted, while 60 more peasants from the area were reported to have been killed between November 1979 and February 1980.

The plight of the indigenous peoples received worldwide attention when the Guatemalan police stormed the occupied Embassy. A fire started during the attack and killed 39 people, mostly native people. One of the two survivors, Gregorio Yuxa, was kidnapped from his hospital bed and killed by right-wing terrorists the following day. The recently formed guerrilla group carried his name.

Spain broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala over the government’s handling of the embassy incident.

Meanwhile, the army’s counter-insurgency drive in the Quiche province continued to cause increased friction between the army and the indigenous population. There were complaints that soldiers raped native women, terrorized the towns and villages, and made arbitrary arrests. To counter the Guatemalan army’s increasingly bad image among the country’s 3,574,800 indigenous peoples – 54% of the population – the government resorted to an extensive advertising campaign to portray the soldier as “the Indian’s friend.”

But the public relations blitz fizzled, in part because most of the propaganda was disseminated through television commercials depicting friendly gatherings of soldiers and indigenous peoples. Most indigenous peoples, however, did not own television sets. Most did not even have electricity.

The EGP selected Quiche province as its centre of operations because of the widespread land conflicts, and the continuing turmoil over police and army brutality in the area.

The conflicts over land arose from the fact that in most of Quiche the land is in the hands of a few landowners. One part of the province had more widespread land distribution, but even there it was dominated by a few large coffee plantations, and landless indigenous people were a source of cheap labour.

The lot of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples worsened since 1970, with many small tenant farmers forced off their land by large landowners. With an eye on the rising price of coffee on the world market, the area’s latifundistas moved to increase their profits by producing a bigger coffee crop with the land obtained from the tenant farmers. In addition, the more landless peasants, the more available cheap labour for the coffee grower to choose from.

When the army occupied Quiche in 1975, the soldiers found ready collaborators among the area’s landowners and labour contractors. They were quick to identify suspected EGP sympathizers, who were then handed over to the army. They also enlisted the aid of the ladinos (mixed indigenous and European heritage), who often owned small plots of land, as spies in communities where it was thought there was guerrilla support.

“The ladinos in Guatemala are afraid of a race war,” said an EGP guerrilla. “They have exploited the Indians for centuries and now they are afraid of us. But it is a struggle of the Indians, the poor ladinos and the workers against the government. We try to stress that to our people.”

Until 1979 the army’s method of curbing guerrilla activity was to arrest or kill anyone suspected of being sympathetic to the guerrillas. The tactic was used successfully against guerrillas during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The insurgents were routed.

But by the late 1970s, the army began to recognize that their strong-arm tactics had become increasingly counterproductive, as they received progressively less cooperation from the indigenous population. In early 1979 the military decided to modify its tactics. A permanent army garrison was set up in Quiche, and in July 1979 a major “civil-military” campaign was started.

Since then, the army strategy aimed at winning over the local population by sending in doctors, dentists and free food and medical supplies.

The indigenous population, however, remained suspicious of the army and the government it represented. They cited dozens of cases of government repression.

Among them were:

• Peasants in two towns – San Marcus and Huehuetenango – left their homes in record numbers because of a wave of kidnappings they attributed to the military police.
• A peasant leader was kidnapped in the northern province of Peten in February 1979, another in Guatemala City toward the end of the year.
• Sixty peasants in another town in Peten were accused of being guerrillas. Several were arrested.
• Two peasants – assistants to the local priest – were kidnapped in Guatemala’s south coast and carried away in cars with government license plates.
• Men “dressed like soldiers” assaulted a village in the eastern province of Zacapa.
• Two workers at the Palo Gordo sugar mill, in the western part of the country near the Mexican border, were kidnapped.

In addition to the increasing numbers of indigenous peoples joining guerrilla groups, entire villages rose up against their occupation troops. For example, in the village of Senahu in the northeast, a group of indigenous woodcutters – men and women – attacked a police patrol that was carrying off one of their friends on charges of violating the forestry law. In another case, two youths were picked up by the Treasury Police for distributing subversive material. More than 300 people in the village of Chalva surrounded the police and forced them to hand over the youths. On another occasion, 200 indigenous people from the village of Chajgual surrounded the city hall at Santa Maria Cahabon, demanding that six peasants jailed for defending their land be freed.

Obviously, the discontent of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples was widespread.

“We’re not fighting for communism or capitalism or socialism,” said a young indigenous guerrilla. “We’re fighting for our survival.”

To help them with their struggle, the indigenous peoples counted on the support of Marxist-oriented guerrilla groups such as the EGP and sympathetic elements of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We just can’t stand idly by and watch these people get slaughtered,” said Father Donald McKenna, a 30-year-old Irish priest who served his parishioners in Quiche for two years. As an advocate of the theology of liberation, McKenna, who was on the government’s death list, was convinced that the church had to take the side of the poor and that “if we have to fight alongside the Indians, so be it.”

As the revolution in Guatemala escalated, indigenous people were increasingly being driven farther and farther north. Many of them were forced to seek refuge in neighbouring Mexico, whose border with Guatemala is virtually open.

Weapons were being smuggled to the EPG using the same routes that had been used for years by gunrunners and drug smugglers. Some Guatemalan guerrillas were already using the Mexican border as a refuge from government forces.

But there was good reason to believe that the traffic in guns and guerrillas would not affect only Guatemala. As refugees and guerrillas brought with them the latest reports of the Mayan revolt in Guatemala, sharing experiences with their Mayan cousins in Chiapas, Quintana Roo and the other states in Mexico’s southeast, the indigenous peoples of Mexico took notice. The Zapatista movement was a beginning.

The final chapter has yet to be written.

Liberation Theology: Its Legacy in Mexico and Central America

The young priest said Mass for his parishioners, just as he had a hundred times before, and lying on the altar were the tools of his trade: a Bible, a wine goblet, a lit candle – and a .357 magnum revolver.

After Mass, he climbed the stairs to the bell tower of his Spanish colonial church, where he scanned the surrounding countryside. He was on watch for government troops. They were the enemy. As a priest, it was his job to bring the message of the Church to his flock, but he was also a member of a revolutionary guerrilla network, which had brought its own message to the people: it is time to rise up against your oppressors.

For the priest they were one and the same message.

Nor was he alone.

All over Central America in the 1970s, priests and nuns were re-evaluating their traditional role within the Church, and the role the Church should play in effecting social change. They were calling for a “theology of liberation,” and their call has had serious consequences, threatening to divide the Church irreparably. It had also affected them on a personal level. By 1980 more than 50 priests had been killed for their activities, including an archbishop.

In 1979, the debate over the role of the Church in Latin America had swept past the local parishes to the highest levels of the Roman Church. When Pope John Paul II journeyed to Puebla, Mexico, to inaugurate the Third Latin American Bishops Conference, it was clear that the quiet, charming colonial town, known for its staunchly conservative Catholic population, had become the backdrop for a theological battleground that would determine the future of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America.

Liberation theology draws the Church into an active role, demanding that it help the poor meet social and economic needs and liberate the oppressed from authoritarian regimes. Some priests, supported by dissident bishops, argued that only through establishing communist governments can the poor and oppressed be liberated. A few had gone so far as to join guerrilla movements. Most followed a more moderate line, contending that neither communism nor capitalism is suited for Latin America, and that a new political and economic order is needed.

In Puebla, those espousing liberation theology were officially excluded from the conference, but some got around it by becoming personal advisers to sympathetic bishops who were delegates. For example, Gustavo Gutierrez, the principal spokesman of liberation theology, became the adviser to eight bishops. But the cards were well stacked against what has become known as the Church’s progressive faction by Colombian Archbishop Alfonso Lopez Trujillo. The conference was controlled by political conservatives led by Trujillo; Belgian Jesuit Roger Vekemans; and the Roman Curia’s Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, who was Trujillo’s power broker at the Vatican.

The dominance by the conservatives was not unexpected.

Ever since the conquistadores set foot in the New World, claimed the land and all its people and then sanctified their conquest with a priest saying Mass, the Church has been considered one part of the traditional triumvirate of power in Latin America, along with the military and the large landowners.

In the 1970s and 1980s, however, the identification of the Church with the rich and powerful was not so clear. An increasing number of the continent’s poor were apt to think of their parish priest as a defender of their interests.

The radical change had surfaced only in the last 10 years, largely due to the theology of liberation. Although most advocates of liberation theology condemned communism as well as capitalism, it was Marxism that forced the Catholic Church in Latin America to confront the plight of the continent’s poor and oppressed. In the mid-1960s, with guerrilla activity spreading throughout the continent, young theologians began to question their traditional view of Latin American Catholicism. They turned to Marxism as an analytical tool to help them understand the causes of economic and social under-development on the continent that seemed to underlie the growing revolt.

Marx was respected as a sociologist in many parts of the Third World, and the use of Marxian analysis was dominant among scholars from countries with colonial backgrounds.

But an acceptance of Marx the sociologist did not necessarily lead to support for a Marxist ideology, much less communism, which most liberation theologians rejected as a political system incompatible with Christianity. What attracted the theologians was not Marx’s formulas for a new society, but his suggestion of the interrelationship of experience and theory – that one supported and furthered understanding of the other. As a result, the dissident theologians developed a series of new religious and sociological insights based on Latin America’s historical condition as an economically and politically dependent continent. The work that resulted became known as the “theology of liberation.”

Gutierrez, a Peruvian, was the principal spokesman for this new theology. He studied at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where he met Camilo Torres, a Colombian priest from a well-to-do family. The two students argued about the role of priests among the poor in Latin America. Torres, who espoused direct involvement by priests in revolutionary activity, later took up arms with the Colombian guerrillas, and was a prototype of an increasing phenomenon in Latin America, the guerrilla-priest. He was killed in his first battle. Gutierrez is among those who declined to follow in Torres’ footsteps.

“Those who attribute violence to the theology of liberation do not know what they are talking about,” Gutierrez said in an interview. “The theology’s position on violence is the same as the Church’s traditional teaching on “just wars” that dates to St. Thomas Aquinas: that violence is possible as a lesser evil and last resort against a greater violence, such as tyranny, but that no Christian willingly accepts such a choice.”

Within the theology of liberation, the “choice” ranges from the non-violent preachings of Brazil’s Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, to the Spanish missionary priest, Gaspar Garcia, who became a comandante with the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN guerrillas in Nicaragua. Camara rejects violence in any form. Not only is violence un-Christian, he said, but it does not work. Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Camara’s influence stretches from Brazil to other parts of the world. His teachings are especially revered in Third World countries.

“We are replacing the force of arms by moral force, the violence of the truth,” wrote Camara in his book, “The Desert Is Fertile.” In it he offered a plan for his followers to counter institutionalized violence: “Love will help them to decide firmly that the goal is not superficial reform but the transformation of human structures...”

“What we need to find for Latin America is a line of socialism adapted to Latin American needs,” said Camara during an interview. “I am thinking of a conscious participation by more classes of the population in the control of power and the sharing of wealth and culture,” he said.

Though battle lines have been drawn between those who advocate violence and those who condemn it, both sides agree that capitalism has been a failure in Latin America. Some conservatives in the Latin American Church also question the behaviour of multinational corporations and the terms of trade imposed by the industrialized nations, especially the United States. At the Puebla bishop’s conference, various participants criticized the United States and its large corporations for much of the misery in Latin America. One archbishop exhorted the underdeveloped countries of the continent to shake off whatever kind of political, economic and social colonialism the United States exercises over them. At the local level, many among the clergy direct their criticism not toward the theoretical problems or questions of American economic dominance, but at daily concerns – housing, sanitation, and social services. In some cases they do so under the threat of death.

In 1980 alone, four priests working with poor Indians in rural Guatemala were murdered by right-wing terrorists affiliated with the country’s military dictatorship. The most recent case occurred in the predominately Indian state of Quiche in July 1980, when a Spanish missionary priest, Faustino Villanueva, was murdered in his church office by two men. Villanueva, a follower of Camara, had spent more than a dozen years in Guatemala. Warned by fellow liberationist priets that his work with the Indians endangered his life, he replied: “Why would they want to kill me? I’m not politically involved.” He declined offers of protection by his parishioners and refused to abandon his work.

Less than eight miles from where Villanueva was murdered, another priest made a decision to take up arms against the government he held responsible for his friend’s death. Donald McKenna was an Irish priest who had been active in Guatemala for two years. A committed follower of Camilo Torres, McKenna was convinced that violence does have a role to play in the modern Church. With his name on the Guatemalan government’s death list, McKenna carried a .357 magnum revolver, stored Molotov cocktails on the premises of the church, and met frequently with guerrillas and planned revolution.

Soon after Villanueva’s funeral, gunmen made three attempts on the life of the bishop of Quiche. As a result, the bishop took the extraordinary action of removing all priests and nuns from the state. He then flew to Rome to discuss the assaults with the Pope. At this writing (1980)there are no clergy in the state of Quiche. But Father McKenna, with help from his friends in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was making plans to return.

To the south, in El Salvador, nine members of the clergy were killed between 1977and 1980. At the bishops’ conference in 1979, the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar A. Romero, made an impassioned plea for official condemnation of the Salvadoran government’s attacks against the Church. With tears rolling down his face, Romero, an outspoken critic of the government, begged for action by the conference attendees, saying, “They are killing my church.”

Romero, a Nobel prize nominee and influential advocate of liberation theology, was murdered in his church while saying Mass earlier in 1980.

On April 2, two traditional enemies joined hands in Mexico City to condemn Romero’s murder and to show solidarity for the revolutionary movements in El Salvador and Guatemala. Communists and liberation clergymen stood together for the first time under the banner of Mexico’s Communist Party, which later adorned the country’s most sacred religious shrine, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico.

But the same country that offered tight security for the clergy attending the bishops’ conference and which allowed a show of solidarity for a fallen archbishop, appears to have been responsible for the murder of a simple priest trying to serve his impoverished parishioners three years earlier. The U.S. military intelligence branch became interested in the case of Father Rudolfo Aguilar through their monitoring of leftist activities in Mexico. The murder of the activist priest is described in a report by U.S. intelligence agents as follows:

Aguilar was the parish priest of a poor neighbourhood in Chihuahua, which Mexican authorities claimed was sympathetic to leftist urban guerrillas. The priest frequently intervened on behalf of his working-class parishioners with various government agencies. He was usually successful in obtaining needed services for the his people. The neighbourhood needed a sewage system. In order to empty into the Sacramento River, the pipes had to pass through land owned by the mayor of Chihuahua. Aguilar pressured the official to get him to allow the pipes through his land, but the mayor refused. The mayor was afraid the value of his land would decline, although the river was already polluted by industrial waste. The governor of Chihuahua, under pressure from the mayor, sent a letter to that state’s archbishop, demanding that Aguilar be removed. Eight days later, on March 2, 1977, the priest was found shot in the back of the head. State police officials announced that Aguilar was a member of the 23rd of September Communist League, at that time Mexico’s most active guerrilla group. They officially concluded that the priest show himself while handling firearms.

But according to confidential U.S. military intelligence reports, father Aguilar was killed either by the Chihuahua State Judicial Police or the federal government’s illegal, anti-terrorist organization called “La Brigada Blanca,” the White Brigade.
The reason for his death, said Chihuahua’s archbishop, was that Aguilar “dared to cry out for justice on behalf of poor people.”

Mexico has also been the scene of a little-known struggle between progressive members of the Roman Catholic Church and the government. In 1977, Arturo Lona Reyes, the bishop of the southern city of Tehuantepec, issued a strong protest against what he called government-sanctioned killings of students, peasants, and workers.

“We cannot remain silent in the face of these murderous deeds,” said the bishop, who is an advocate of liberation theology, “and we denounce the lack of respect for human life. There is no doubt that the poorest people are once again the victims. We will neither accept the excuse of incompetence (by the authorities); nor are we satisfied with vague promises that these gory deeds will be investigated and justice done.”

Soon after his denunciation, assassins attempted to murder the bishop.

In Guerrero, also in southern Mexico, Bishop Fidel Cortes Perez, another follower of the new theology, repeatedly received death threats. The chancery was robbed, gunshots were fired into the church patio, and the bishop’s chauffeur was attacked by three men and a woman who tried to kill him.

Mexican authorities failed to respond to the new church activism until 1972, when, according to members of the clergy, a paramilitary group calling itself the Anti-Guerrilla Squadron kidnapped two priests, one of whom they reportedly severely tortured.

The campaign was stepped up in 1977. In addition to the incidents involving the two bishops, two priests were murdered and two kidnapped, and several church organizations were raided. In every case, the priests involved were advocates of the new theology and were engaged in applying its principles through work with Mexico’s slum and rural poor.

This, then, was the backdrop – division in the Church, activism in the local parish, murder and government harassment f clergy – that Pope John Paul II faced when he arrived in Mexico to inaugurate the Third Latin American Bishops Conference.

The Pope’s universally acclaimed warm welcome by Mexicans – millions greeted him wherever he went during his week-long stay – lay in stark contrast to the reason for his coming: to attempt to narrow the extreme differences that plague the Latin American Church. At first, liberation theologians were convinced that the Pope had come to speak out against their activism. En route to Mexico, the pontiff had said, “Jesus Christ was not a political figure, a revolutionary...” He continued his theme in a speech at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, admonishing priests “not to give in to socio-political radicalisms which in the long run become inopportune, counterproductive.” Lecturing the clergy, the Pope continued, “You are spiritual guides who try to orient and improve the hearts of the faithful. You are not social leaders, political leaders or employees of temporal power.”

The opponents of the new theology were delighted.

Two days later, however, the pontiff journeyed to the south of Mexico, and before an audience of 40,000 Indians in the Oaxacan town of Cuilapan de Guerrero, adopted a tone that shocked Church conservatives and elated proponents of the new theology. Abandoning the speech that had been prepared for him by Vatican advisers, the Pope passionately addressed the problems of poverty and powerlessness, denouncing the “exploitation, plunder and abandonment” of Latin America’s indigenous peoples and peasants.

“It is not just nor humane nor Christian to continue with certain unjust situations,” the pontiff said, and he emphasized that all private property has “a social mortgage” that must be attended to. If common welfare demands it, he went on, then expropriation is in order. Uniting his cause with that of the poor, the Pope continued to stress the obligations of the wealthy and powerful toward the less fortunate, and the growing impatience of the impoverished masses for “dignity” and “recognition.”

The response by the audience of indigenous peoples was tumultuous. But at the pontiff’s side, astonished bishops sat in disbelief. Afterwards, one of his entourage judged the speech as “the most severe that any Pope has delivered.”

By the time the Pope ended his visit, both factions of the Church felt he had strengthened their claims to true interpretation of Christ’s teachings. If anything, the pontiff’s sojourn heightened the divisions, with both revolutionaries and members of the region’s authoritarian regimes quoting from his various speeches.

Today (1980), 20 months after John Paul’s historic trip to Mexico, the Church in Latin America remains bitterly divided. The same divisions that plagued the delegates at the Puebla bishops’ conference continue to fuel instability, both in the Church and in the society it serves.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Reflections On Che, Revolution, Central America and Honduras

[Having recently seen Benicio del Toro’s cinematic biography of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, I got to thinking about guerrilla warfare in Central America, which I covered as a war correspondent in the 1970s and 1980s, and the current events in Honduras. This led me to put down some thoughts about the world’s most famous revolutionary.]

Since he was tracked down and slain in 1967 by the Bolivian army, with assistance from the U.S., Ernesto “Che” Guevara has become a legend throughout Latin America, indeed, the world.

An American journalist once described him as a “cross between a faun and a Sunday-school print of Jesus.” Che Guevara did have that visual quality, but of course that was not what Guevara was. He was a revolutionary – he lived and died thinking about, living and pursuing revolution.

For the revolutionaries in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico, Che Guevara’s presence was still felt toward the end of the 20th century. His books on guerrilla warfare were best sellers at university bookstores throughout Central America. In Nicaragua, posters of Che were tacked up next to those of Augusto Cesar Sandino, that country’s own rebel hero. Guevara’s face could be seen on walls, doors and sidewalks in the barrios of virtually every Central American city. His face graced T-shirts and car doors, as well.

Che remained a source of inspiration for the dozens of guerrilla groups that prowled the region’s mountains, jungles and urban slums, many of whom I accompanied as a war correspondent at that time. Considered the consummate guerrilla fighter, he was admired by communists and anarchists alike.

Che Guevara was not revered by everyone, of course. For governments threatened by revolution, for the wealthy and much of the middle class, Che was the anti-Christ. He represented destruction, a tearing down of the social order, and with it, everything they held dear.

When Salvador Allende’s left-leaning regime in Chile was overthrown by a military coup, one of the first acts of the new military junta was to blow up a statue of Che that Allende had erected in a working class suburb in 1971, with Castro himself on hand to dedicate the sculptor. Significantly, rather than simply tearing down the monument, the government first blew off the head of the figure. It was the end of Che Guevara in Chile. The revolutionary was dead, both as a major influence and as a symbol.

Che’s influence was due to a number of factors and quirks of history and personality. In the first place, there is his association with a kind of revolutionary purity. Che, the middle class intellectual, descended from a family of aristocratic and military background, who spent his life with the poor and formally uneducated – and paid for his purity with his death. It is a near-perfect, Christ-like image, a martyr who offers his life for his fellow human beings. It is still a powerful image for a continent dominated by the Catholic faith.

For many Guevara also represented idealism. A Cuban university student, a woman in her early 30s, put it this way in 1980: “When we won the revolution, Che didn’t settle down in a big mansion, like some of the other leaders. No, he left Cuba to fight for the poor people of Bolivia.”

Oddly, Che was revered for his realism, as well. He was not an armchair revolutionary, but a man of action, leadership and charisma. Not one to be satisfied spinning out theories, Guevara took to the field to try them out. Yet he was also a thinker and writer.

Guevara’s life, spent in a host of countries in Central and Latin America and in Africa, reflects another trait admired by his followers: Che was always an internationalist, fighting under the flag of change and revolt, roaming the world like a 20th century knight errant, a modern Don Quixote, who tilted at capitalism like so many windmills.

Although among many revolutionaries, Che Guevara is a godlike figure, during his time as part of Castro’s government in Cuba, he was responsible for very human mistakes. Charged by Fidel with reorganizing the economic base of Cuba’s faltering economy, Che had little success in the job, and had a falling out with the Russians over the direction that Cuba’s economy should take. Ultimately, Guevara resigned and left Cuba to lend his talents to Africa’s revolutionaries.

While I was in Cuba on an assignment, I heard a joke about Che’s dismal handling of the economy. Fidel asks Che if he remembers when, after the fall of Batista, he asked his colleagues, “Which one of you is an economist?” Che quickly raised his hand. So, Fidel put him in charge of economic reform. “Do you remember?” Fidel asks Guevara. “Yes, very well,” Che replied. “Then what the hell happened?” Fidel asked. “I thought you said you were an economist.” Che smiled. “I thought you asked, ‘Who is a Communist?’ So I raised my hand.”

Some Cubans as late as 1980 were still unhappy that Che left. In Havana, one young Cuban, discussing her feelings about Che, ironically mused, “Now there was a real revolutionary. We wouldn’t be in such an economic mess if he were still alive.”

Ernesto “Che” Guevara studied medicine in his native Argentina. After graduation in 1953, he travelled to Bolivia, where he became acquainted with leftist ideas and decided to go to Guatemala, where a newly elected leftist regime was in power.
On his way, he visited Costa Rica, where he studied Marxism and for the first time encountered Castro-led revolutionaries who were bent on overthrowing the Batista regime.

On his arrival in Guatemala, he offered his services to the government and was assigned to with indigenous peoples in a health programme. But before he could get started, the regime, whose agrarian reform programme threatened the holdings of the United Fruit Co., was toppled by a CIA-backed coup in 1954.

Che fled to Mexico, where he made a living as an itinerant photographer. It was in Mewxico that he met Fidel Castro, who convinced him to join his band of revolutionafries, who were about to invade Cuba.

After training for months on a ranch outside of Mexico City, the handful of armed men and women left Mexico aboard a U.S.-made yacht renamed Granma and headed for Cuba in November 1956. The rest if history.

Che was a man of action. But he was also a thinker, a planner, a strategist. He was a man who plotted things out, and he wrote down his observations to help revolutionaries benefit from his experience. His major contribution to the theory of armed struggle was his book, “Guerrilla Warfare,” in which he contended that popular forces can defeat an army, and that they can create the conditions for making revolution.

His major contribution to revolutionary strategy was his belief that the countryside is the basic stage on which guerrilla warfare should be played out. In 1979 the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) guerrillas in Nicaragua ousted the Somoza dictatorship while following Guevara’s tactics and strategy. They waged war mostly in Nicaragua’s rural areas, supported by popular uprisings in the cities. The Sandinistas also were careful, in most cases, to follow Guevara’s advice on the treatment of prisoners: “A wounded enemy should be treated with care and respect unless his former life has made him liable to a death penalty.”

Along the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border (which I covered), Sandinista guerrillas frequently handed over their prisoners to the Costa Rican Red Cross. Sandinista field hospitals were filled with wounded guerrillas and Somoza’s national guardsmen.
The guerrillas in Guatemala were also using Guevara’s book as their military Bible. Guevara stressed that “attempts to take the lives of particular persons are to be made, though only in very special circumstances; this tactic should be used where it will eliminate a leader of the oppression.”

In response to the Guatemalan military government’s reign of terror against indigenous peoples, peasants and liberal elements of the Roman Catholic Church, guerrilla commando groups concentrated their efforts on assassinating military leaders and heads of right-wing terrorist groups. They generally ignored local police, minor officials and the general population.

This is a far cry from the tactics that are being used by Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Although most Central American revolutionaries professed to revere Che and followed his ideas concerning armed struggle, some were involved in activities that Che would not have approved. In El Salvador, for example, military personnel unlucky enough to fall into the hands of the guerrillas were sometimes executed. Guerrillas in El Salvador at times used terrorist methods not only against the government and that country’s ruling oligarchy, but also against the general population. Their attempts at times to frighten the masses into cooperation were contrary to one of Che’s major tenets of armed struggle: “We sincerely believe that terrorism is of negative value, that it by no means produces the desired effects, that it can turn a people against a revolutionary movement...” Without the support of the people, according to Che, guerrillas degenerate into bandits, and are left without a base or a programme.

El Salvador’s small size (8,260 square miles) and large population forced most guerrilla activity into the city. Che felt strongly that urban guerrilla activity was secondary to the war in the countryside. Urban guerrilla warfare alone, according to Guevara, can at best produce a bloody stalemate with the government forces. It cannot bring a guerrilla victory.

Although Che believed that conditions could be created for a successful revolutionary struggle, he was careful to caution against armed insurrection until all peaceful attempts at change had been tried.

“Where a government has come into power,” he wrote, “through some form of popular vote, fraudulent or note, and maintains at least an appearance of constitutional legality, the guerrilla outbreak cannot be promoted, since the possibilities of peaceful struggle have not yet been exhausted.”

Guevara’s spirit and his theory of armed struggle are still alive today. But he remains a tarnished figure, partly because he failed in his final attempt to follow his own plan for revolt. There are assumptions in Che’s theories that cannot be taken for granted in the, for example, volatile political climate of Central America. Unity of city and country cannot be guaranteed. Radical groups with the same ends often differ about the means to achieve them. Often, a government is not strong and loathsome; it can be weak and pathetic. It does not inspire affection, but neither does it stir people to revolution.

Until recently, Honduras fell into this category.

Guevara also failed to take into account the native suspicion of outsiders. He understood that revolutions are made from the conditions within a country. Yet he failed to realize that their success is dependent on leadership emerging from among the population itself. Significantly, Che never led a successful – except for his role in Cuba, where the real leadership rested with Fidel Castro, a Cuban.

Still, Che’s theories constituted a road map on which could be traced the progress of revolutionary movements in Central America.

As peaceful means of change are rapidly being exhausted in Honduras, one wonders whether Che Guevara’s ideas for revolution will once again be taken up by people when they feel they have exhausted all possible peaceful means of ousting the illegitimate government in Tegucigalpa.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Nigerian Governor Responds to International Outrage Over Campaign of Terror Against "Witch Children"

The recent campaign of terror against Nigeria's "witch children" elicited international outrage. As a result, the governor of Akwa Ibom State has guaranteed the staff and children at CRARN their safety. Below is letter of apppreciation from the programme director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, CRARN's UK partner. The letter was received by the Consortium for Street Children (UK)( Stepping Stones Nigeria is a member of the Consortium. Until recently I was the executive director of the Consortium, now I'm their senior advisor, which is how I was copied in on the letter of appreciation.

Dear Friend,

Just to quickly update you with what is happening in Nigeria in response to the recent campaign of intimidation that has been launched against the CRARN Children and their carers.

In response to the international outrage that greeted this incident, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State,Godswill Akpabio, has visited the CRARN centre today [July 9] and ensured the staff and children that there security and safety was guaranteed by the Akwa Ibom State Government. In addition to this the Governor has donated 10 Million Naira (around £40,000) and numerous other food items to CRARN and the children.

This is a most welcome development after a rather challenging week.However, the false charges that have been levelled against Sam Itauma and the CRARN Staff by Evangelist Helen Ukpabio remain a serious threat.Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN are currently working with our legal team to get a high court injunction and prevent Sam and the staff from having to travel to Lagos to face these charges. Hopefully this matter will be resolved in the next few days.

I would just like to extend my sincere thanks to you for the support that you have offered us during these rather challenging times. The fight against the abuse of child rights due to the belief in witchcraft is far from over but I believe today marks another very positive step forward in our efforts to protect and save the lives of the children that we work with.

With very best wishes,

Programme Director

Stepping Stones Nigeria,
24 St Leonard's House,
St Leonard's Gate,
LA1 1NN,

Tel Office: 0845 3138391

Protecting, Saving and Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable and
Disadvantaged Children In the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

Registered UK and Wales charity number 1112476
Company number 05413970

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Campaign of Terror unleashed on Nigeria’s ‘Witch Children’

A coalition of Nigerian and International civil society organisations and churches have strongly condemned the recent campaign of terror that has been inflicted upon the so-called ‘child witches’ at the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre (CRARN) in Eket, Akwa Ibom State by Lagos-based police officers. The work of CRARN, and the children they care for, was shown on Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme on ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ in November 2008.

On Friday 3 July 2009, in the afternoon local time, a group of men appeared at the CRARN Centre claiming to be donors who wanted to donate goods and toys to the children. Shortly after, the men identified themselves as police officers, and unlawfully arrested two CRARN staff members and mercilessly beat many of the children whilst searching for CRARN’s Founder and President, Sam Itauma. Two young girls aged 11 and 12 years old were beaten unconscious and are currently receiving treatment in a local hospital. Five other children suffered injuries at the hands of these men, who then left a round of bullets in Sam Itauma’s bedroom, presumably to act as a warning that his life is in danger.

Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director of the UK-based NGO Stepping Stones Nigeria, and partner of CRARN, said: “We condemn the actions of the police in the strongest possible terms and call for the Akwa Ibom State Government to ensure the safety of all CRARN staff and children. The beatings of these innocent children further highlight the depravity of these so-called men and women of God who label and abuse children as witches. However, we will not be intimidated in our fight to protect the rights of vulnerable children and ensure that children are no longer labeled as witches. We know that the truth is on our side”.

Stepping Stones Nigeria believe that this campaign of terror is a direct response to Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme, ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’, which highlighted the role that Mrs Helen Ukpabio, self-proclaimed pastor, evangelist and founder of the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church in Nigeria, and film production company, Liberty Films, have played in spreading the myth of child witchcraft.

Helen Ukpabio has recently filed legal complaints against Sam Itauma and CRARN at the Special Fraud Unit at the Ikoyi Station in Lagos for “fraudulent activities and threat to life”, charges which the coalition argues are clearly fabricated in order to threaten and intimidate. The police officers were accompanied by Mr Victor Ukott, the Lagos-based lawyer who is representing Mrs Helen Ukpabio. Staff at CRARN, Stepping Stones Nigeria and the Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation have also recently received numerous threatening phone calls, which would appear to be linked to this campaign of terror. CRARN staff have also been threatened by persons regarding the upcoming court case of “Bishop” Sunday Ulup-Aya, who was featured on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme bragging that he had killed “up to 110 witches”.

Sam Itauma, Founder and President of CRARN, said: “It is clear that forces of darkness are intent on taking my life and I remain deeply concerned for my safety and, most importantly, that of the children at the CRARN centre. I therefore plead for the Akwa Ibom State Government to offer us its full protection and ensure that its international image is not further damaged by this worrying situation”.

The coalition urgently calls on the Akwa Ibom State Government to:

• Award their full protection to Sam Itauma, other CRARN staff members and the children to ensure their full safety now and in the future;
• Carry out in-depth investigations into the activities of Mrs Helen Ukpabio and the Liberty Gospel Foundation Church, prosecute anyone found to be labelling children as witches and close any church found to be labelling children as ‘witches’ through deliverance or other methods.
• Arrest and prosecute the police officers who unlawfully arrested and detained CRARN staff members and beat and injured innocent children;
• Support the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the false legal charges that are being levelled against Sam Itauma and CRARN staff.

Notes to Editors:
1. Coalition members include: Stepping Stones Nigeria, Stepping Stones Nigeria Child Empowerment Foundation, Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network Centre, Consortium for Street Children, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Street Invest, Mboho Akwa Ibom Association (UK and Ireland), Ibom People’s Forum, Ibibio Nation, Eket Development Congress USA, The Covenant of Grace Ministries, International Christian Ambassadors of God, Grace Chapel London.
2. ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ Dispatches Programme was aired on Channel 4 in November 2008. The documentary graphically details how the belief in witch craft leads to the widespread abandonment, torture, trafficking and killing of children in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The documentary has since won a prestigious BAFTA award and Amnesty International’s Media Award in the UK
3. Following the airing of the Dispatched documentary, The Akwa Ibom State enacted the Child Rights Act making it illegal to brand a child a witch. On its website the Akwa Ibom State Government states that it “will not fold its hands and watch evil elements of society dehumanise, demoralise, bastardise, displace, stigmatise, or persecute our children for personal gains.” The Government then states how it will:
• Place full legislative machinery against labelling of children as witches
• Advance high powered investigation into every element of the issues involved and all allegations against persons involved in stigmatisation of children as witches
• Prosecute all persons found culpable of this crime of child labelling
• Deploy social resources for the support, comfort and enjoyment of all categories of children all over the state
• Possibility of closure of every organisation involved in this evil stigmatisation of children
• Government will not spare any culprit involved.
For more information please go to:

4. For more information about the work of Stepping Stones Nigeria, CRARN and the issue of child witchcraft please visit

5. For more information about this press release please contact Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director, Stepping Stones Nigeria, a UK charity, on or 0845 313 8391.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Support Your Favourite Charity -- and Keep People Marginalised

The recent success of the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon in getting the government to pull back (which is, when all is said and done, probably only a tactical retreat) from privatising vast areas of the fragile rainforest, leads me to think that we need to radically restructure the way marginalised people around the globe (and in our very own neighbourhoods) are supported by us, the public, through our favourite charities.

I believe that non-profit organisations as they currently work, however well intentioned, may well be part of the problem, instead of the solution to addressing social problems, whether at home or abroad.

In brief, I believe they tend to keep people marginalised.

Thousands of indigenous people, armed only with bows and arrows and spears, mobilising throughout the Peruvian Amazon against ill-conceived government development policies caught the imagination of many of us.

Few of us knew that they were able to accomplish their well-coordinated protest because they have spent decades organising themselves, locally, nationally and internationally.

They have steadfastly refused to let others speak on their behalf. They have struggled long and hard to be in charge of their own future, of their own paths to development. Of course, with the help of alliances with sympathetic organisations, many of them charities from the U.S. and U.K.

The organisations formed by indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon are first and foremost accountable to their communities, not to the Peruvian government and certainly not to international donors. During my stay as a guest of the Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa (CAH) in the 1980s, I saw how CAH directors of programmes (health, education, etc.) had to report directly to the community at bi-annual meetings. And the community could replace a director on the spot, if their performance was found lacking.

If we examine the charities, the nonprofits, in our own communities, especially those that exist to address the needs of marginalised people, how many of them have marginalised people as trustees or on their board of directors? How many are actually managed by the very people the organisation purports to help? I suspect very few.

Instead, in many cases we have nonprofits managed by professional staff members, often with the help of volunteers. The staff answers to trustees who are very often chosen for their ability to raise money from the community; that is, they are people of means. And too often the objectives of programmes are determined or, at the very least, greatly influenced, by donor organisations. The more money, the greater the influence. And the larger the charity, the greater the bureaucracy.

The first rule of thumb of any organisation is to guarantee its own survival. This can easily conflict with the goals of the very people the organisation says it wants to help.

Now, there are charities that have helped marginalised people to establish their own organisations, and have done so without creating any kind of dependency. But such organisations are few in number.

So why are there not more organisations created by and managed by marginalised people? Perhaps they’re too dumb? Or they don’t have the skills to run an organisation? Or they don’t have the resources?

I doubt it.

When marginalised people start to organise themselves, they make the transition from being objects of our pity and compassion to becoming a threat to society and those groups that are benefitting from the status quo. By donating to a charity that works with marginalised people, we know that we are supporting a well-known organisation, approved of and regulated by the government. Few of us demand that our favourite charity address the causes of poverty or inequality. Instead, we want to know that our dollar or pound will help to feed a child or provide clothing or shelter. In return we get a letter of thanks. It makes us feel good.

I believe that any charity, any government aid or development policy, has to help marginalised people to empower themselves, to organise themselves, to help them to choose the path to development they believe is best for them – if they want to make a real difference.

Any other approach is just business as usual.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Heart of the Resistance in the Peruvian Amazon - A Personal Journey

Following the tragedy that is unfolding in the Peruvian Amazon, I recall the first time I visited the region about 20 years ago. What I experienced along the banks of the Rio Maranon makes me think that unless the Peruvian Government negotiates a peaceful settlement (and soon), the conflict will get worse, resulting in even more lives lost.

The indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon are fighting a battle that Native Americans in the United States lost in the 19th century and many of us around the world are losing, often without even a word of protest: the right to determine our own social, cultural and economic development.

The right to determine our own future

I was invited to visit the Peruvian Amazon by Evaristo Nugkuaq, a remarkable man I had met in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1980s. He had organised the indigenous peoples of several Amazon Basin countries so that they could better defend themselves and their rights against ill-conceived government development plans, often aided by The World Bank and other international agencies. The son of a feared headhunter, Evaristo had wanted to become a doctor. But he dropped out of medical school and went from tribe to tribe, starting in Peru, convincing them to set aside their differences and unite. His first success was the formation of the Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa (CAH), a nongovernmental organisation made up of the two once warring tribes. Later came AIDESEP – the coalition of indigenous peoples’ organisations of the Peruvian Amazon; it is AIDESEP that is leading the current strike against the Peruvian government’s attempt to sell off the Amazon to foreign investors. For his work, Evaristo received in Sweden the Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternative Nobel Prize.

When I arrived in Lima, Evaristo arranged a guide to take me on the three-day journey to Naparuca, an Aguaruna village on the banks of the Rio Maranon, one of the tributaries of the Amazon River. Naparuca was Evaristo’s home; it was also the CAH headquarters.

The journey began with a bus trip along Peru’s barren coast to the city of Chiclayo. In Chiclayo we went to a small warehouse owned by the CAH. It was used to store mostly plantains that the CAH sold to wholesalers to help pay for their economic and social development projects. From Chiclayo we took a truck across the Andes to Bagua Grande, the site of a recent violent conflict between police and protestors. My guide and I were packed in the back of the truck with dozens of other passengers. We had to stand up; it was too crowded to even squat. As we crossed the Andes under a full moon, several men armed with shotguns kept a lookout for bandits.

We arrived in Bagua Grande early in the morning, where we switched to a Toyota pickup, again crowding onto the back, standing up on our long journey along a muddy road, down to the Rio Maranon. Several times along the way the passengers – men, women and children -- had to get out and push the truck to free it from the mud.

At a small town on the banks of the Rio Maranon, a young soldier asked for my passport details. When I asked why, he said, “In case you don’t come out.” I asked him to explain. He said that some French students and their non-Native Peruvian guides had recently been killed by a small group of indigenous people. Their bodies were never recovered. “Why didn’t you tell me this?” I asked my guide. “It’s no problem,” he said. “They entered without permission. You have permission.” Later I was told by other Aguarunas that they had heard the Frenchmen were killed for allegedly molesting several native women.

My guide negotiated with an Aguaruna to take us in his peke-peke (a dugout canoe powered by a small motor) to Naparuca.

By late afternoon we stopped at a village for the night. The Rio Maranon is much too dangerous to navigate in the dark. It is dotted with dangerous whirlpools that can overturn a boat. Every year several people drown because of the whirlpools. We were received graciously by the head man of the village, who fed us and regaled us with stories about how the Agaurunas and Huambisas had run out Werner Herzog’s film crew in the early 1980s because “they disrespected us.” The incident is recorded in a documentary film entitled Burden of Dreams by Les Blank; it is available to purchase online.

In Naparuca I saw how the CAH had organised a health clinic, health posts in every village, along with schools. CAH leaders explained that in the past the government sent only the most incompetent teachers and health workers to the area. These were people who didn’t want to be there, but they didn’t have enough money to bribe officials so that they could be assigned in a town or city. “So we made a deal with the government,” one of the CAH leaders explained. “You train our people to be teachers and paramedics and we will run our own clinic and schools.” The government agreed.

Since its inception the CAH formed alliances with foreign development NGOs. It helped provide some leverage in their dealings with the central government. But even here the fierce independence of the indigenous people did not allow them to just take the money and run. While I was in Naparuca I was told that the CAH had recently turned down a grant of about $60,000 from a British NGO. When I asked why, I was told, “Because they treated us like children. They didn’t respect us.”

This fierce independence, based on honour and pride, has to be taken into consideration if the current crisis is to be settled peacefully. The indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon will never negotiate away their freedom. And their freedom is intimately connected, like an umbilical cord, to their land and its resources.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Put An End To The Bloodshed, Stop Privatising The Amazon

"All the Amazonian countries have made preposterous claims that the great, empty Amazon jungle can finance national development, that it can provide an alternative for overcoming historical, structural problems," Evaristo Nugkuaq explained to me in 1990.

We were sitting in his office, the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples' Organisations of the Amazon Basin, better known by its Spanish acronym -- COICA. Evaristo was not only COICA's president, but also its founder.

I had first met Evaristo in the mid-1980s when I lived in Arlington, Virginia. As part of a career change, I was a graduate student at the School of International Service (SIS) at The American University in Washington, D.C. Somehow I had heard that Evaristo was going to address a group of environmentalists. I decided to go. After his speech, we spoke in Spanish for a while. Evaristo invited me to visit the Peruvian Amazon and find out first-hand the challenges indigenous people were facing. Not long after I did just that. It would be the first of several trips to the rainforest near the border with Ecuador. As a result Evaristo and I became friends. Whenever he was in the D.C. area we would get together with my family. Over the years we lost touch, as I began my work in international development.

But back in 1990 Evaristo's warning that ill-conceived government development plans would threaten the Amazon would prove to be all too prophetic.

"These flippant and irresponsible claims," said Evaristo, "which have been the basis for development policies over three decades, are of great concern to us -- not only because of their disastrous consequences for our indigenous peoples -- but also for the threat they pose to the very future of the entire Amazon Basin."

Now, 19 years later, the Peruvian Amazon is up in arms. Evaristo's people, the Aguaruna, have joined other indigenous people to fight for their land and its resources.

According to news reports up to 31 people died, with dozens injured, in clashes on June 5 between Peruvian police and Amazon tribes protesting against government efforts to attract foreign energy and mining companies to the rain forest. Tribal leaders and the Interior Ministry said 22 protestors and nine police officers died.

In response, angry protestors took a group of police hostage near an oil pumping station owned by the government. They threatened to set it on fire unless police called off efforts to break up demonsgrations in the Amazon Basin.

Approximately 54.8% of Peruvians live in conditions of poverty. This figure is up from 48.4% at the end of 2000. Those living in extreme poverty constitute 24.4% of the population, compared with 15% in 2000. Many of them are indigenous peoples. The top 20% of the population controls more than 50% of the country's wealth.

The attempt by the Peruvian Government, under Alan Garcia, to confront this challenge by “privatizing” the Amazon can only lead to further bloodshed.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Change the Political System , One Beer at a Time

Barack Obama notwithstanding (and we have to wait and see whether he surfs the system or he gets wiped out by the bureaucracy), a lot of people around the globe think politicians are a joke. A bad joke granted. If they were on Britain’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell would buzz them so fast they’d get whiplash.

Not only don’t politicians represent us (They represent special interests: the best government money can buy), but they have nothing in common with the bloke who works hard, tries to keep his family together and is lucky if he, or she, has enough money left over at the end of the week to buy a pint at the pub.

Many years ago when I was wandering through Mexico, a politician told a crowd, “The ruling party has screwed you over for nearly 50 years. All I’m asking for is a chance.” The crowd roared with laughter. He was confused. It wasn’t meant to be funny. Then someone in the audience explained it to him: “You want your turn to screw us, right?”

They may have been campesinos, peasants, but they knew exactly what he was talking about, even if he didn’t.

The only way a politician can really represent us is if he or she (Damn, I hate this he or she business. It’s important, I know, but so damn ineloquent.) puts the public before the party. I really don’t give a damn if the politico is Lib Dem, Labour, Tory or with the Drag Queens Unite Party

The political system has to change. It has to become democratic. But that requires some effort on our part.

We (all of us who don’t know each other but nod our heads in greeting on our way to work in the morning) have to take responsibility for our neighbourhoods. We have to decide what kind of life we want to lead, what kind of neighbourhood we want to live in. What kind of country we want. What legacy we want to leave our kids. It doesn’t matter about age, gender, ethnicity, disability or capability. We’re all in the same boat. When it comes to screwing people, politicians firmly believe in equal opportunity.

No one in Westminster or in Congress or any similar seat of power is going to lead us. They can’t. That’s because they have run out of answers. It has nothing to do with party politics. They’ve all run out of ideas. Just not out of hot air.

It’s up to us to lead: the single mom who can’t spend enough time with her kids because she’s got two jobs, the grandparents who are taking care of the grandkids because their parents have given up on life and are drinking or drugging themselves into a stupor, the guy who works in a warehouse in a dead end job but keeps going day after day because he loves his family, the gay couple who manage to stay together despite the stigma and the stares from their so-called Christian neighbours , the Asian family working hard to get ahead but isn’t quite accepted because of their clothes or accent, and the Black family that battles age-old stereotypes every time they step out of their home, even if people do say that some of their best friends are Black.

We have to get together. That’s the first step. We have to talk. Isn’t that what Joan Rivers says? We have to have a beer together or a glass of juice. Even if you don’t drink, I’ll still talk to you. We need to share our frustrations and, more importantly, our ideas and our talents.

There’s a lot that we can accomplish together. But we need to take that first step. We don’t have to storm the Bastille. Just go to your nearest pub, sit out in the garden and talk to someone you don’t know. Get to know each other. That’s a start.

And have a cold one on me.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Needs Assessment Part 5: Advice From Children on How to Prevent Children From Taking to the Streets

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website:


The children interviewed came up with the following recommendations:

Informal Vocational Training/ Mafunzo Ya Ufundi:
They recommended that street children who have completed primary education be supported on informal vocational training such as carpentry, tailoring, masonry, electricity and brick laying. The IVT will enable the street children to learn and develop skills to become self employed. They mentioned that children finish primary education at age 14 and as a result cannot become self reliant which is the reason they end up as street children.

Deo (16): Informal vocational training would enable ex-standard seven children to get skills and become self- employed. Other older street children too would join the training instead of becoming street children.

Pili (14): I think the informal vocational training is a perfect idea. A good example is that of the street children who were supported by Faraja Trust Fund on informal vocational training. After the training they were given working tools and start up funds, they are now self-employed and therefore are earning some money instead of engaging in sex work.

Special School for Older Street Children (Shule ya MEMKWA).
About 96% of the children interviewed recommended the establishment of a special school for those who missed school in order to enable them (older street children) to have an opportunity for education. They said that in the whole community there is only one special school located at Jitegemee primary school but older street children are too shy to go to school there. And besides, the school is opened only in the morning until noon and that is not street-children friendly. They said that The Faraja Street Side School and The Roman Catholic School are located far away from Kwa Mahita community. They suggested opening a special school in their community which will be open the whole day in order to enable many street children to access it.

Idd (12): In our community a lot of children aged 10 and are not in school. They are shy to register at a special school at Jjitegemee because of their age and the school is opened only in the morning .At this time of the day children are busy in the street looking for food or money.

Mudi (13): The special school for street children is a good idea but my worry is that the street children may join the school but later on will drop out because while they will be going to school in the morning, after school in the afternoons, they will still face the problem of hunger at home. Unless there will be a food program at school, many children will probably drop out.

Play Grounds
The lack of play grounds and open space and lack of an official program to support sport and games at Kwa Mahita community is one of the reasons for the increasing number of street children and other deviant behaviours which include hanging around at the video shows. They mentioned that in Chamwino there is only one football ground known as Macedonia which is always occupied by older youth and drug abusers. The children recommended that the establishment of open spaces for sports and games will enable many street children to engage in healthy and productive activities instead of loitering and hanging out on streets.

Hadija (15): I believe that if there is an opportunity for youth to participate in sports and games for sure many children will be busy instead of hanging around in streets or vijiwe. Unfortunately, in our community we neither have such opportunity nor any programs or sponsors who are willing to train us on sports and games such as football, netball, drama, choir or music.

Restriction of Video shows.
The children came up with the recommendation that the local government, in collaboration with the community authorities, should either close all the video shows or restrict them to be opened after work hours and on weekends as well as prohibit children from attending the video shows during school hours.

Community Economic Empowerment
Economic empowerment through soft loans was another suggestion that the children made in order to alleviate poverty in the community. The loans would enable their parents/guardians to establish IGAs, generate enough income and therefore be able to provide basic and social needs such as food and education to their children.

Hadija (15): We believe that other project like MEMKWA or informal vocational training will not be successful as children will eventually drop out due to lack of food and other support from their parents/guardians. We therefore recommend that the first thing to do is provide loans to our parents/caregivers to enable them establish IGAs and generate income in order to be able to meet basic needs including food and other family needs.

Life Skills and Behavioral Modification Training
The majority of children in the Kwa Mahita Community are ignorant of sexual and reproductive health information, HIV/AIDS and related issues, drug and substance abusers, child sex workers and other health issues. It therefore, important that life skills and a community peer education program are established targeting street children at vijiweni so as to empowered them with such skills. This will enable them assess and avoid some risks and prevent themselves from HIV/STIs infection and make informed choices for their lives.

Youth (19): There are numerous vijiwe at Chamwino for children and adults too. Some of them have become drug addicts. A special intervention is needed so as to re-habilitate them.

Needs Assessment Part 4: More Findings by Children

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website:


The group discovered that sexual and reproductive health knowledge is an area that many children are ignorant about. This is evidenced by the fact that there are many young mothers (from age 13 and older). During FGDs, some children said that they knew about AIDS and that it can be prevented by condoms. They also mentioned that the major challenges are the scarcity of condoms, and the fact that men do not want to use condoms during sexual intercourse.

Joyce: I know one girl. She is my best friend. One day she got a partner and they went together to one of the local guest houses at Tupendane. She was paid 1000 Tsh. Her partner refused to use a condom. My friend told me that she refused to have sex without the condom, but her partner then paid her Tshs 2000 more! Eventually my friend agreed and they had unprotected sex. A few days later, my friend discovered that she had been infected with STIs.

Youth: Frankly speaking many youths here at Kwa Mahita are ignorant about sexual reproductive health information especially on STIs and family planning and AIDS, which are the reasons for early pregnancies.


Children interviewed said that street children hang around at different locations such as Ngerengere River where they swim and catch fish, jobless corners/spots (commonly known as vijiwe, maskani or camps), Morogoro central market, Sababsaba market/Mawenzi market, Msamvu and Morogoro bus terminals engaging in different activities. In Chamwino the most preferred areas include: video shows (mabanda ya video) and the Tupendane pombe shops. In the evening they hang around the Macedonia football ground where they sell and abuse drugs/substances or fight.

Jobless corners: Vijiwe/vilinge
Jobless corners, or Vijiwe as they are more commonly known, are special areas where street children meet most of the time. Children of both sexes meet at these places. In Chamwino there are several vijiwe which include: Pombe shops, Ngerengere river, Maji Chumvi, mabanda ya video (video shows), saloons and so on. At vijiwe the children sell and abuse drugs. The most common drugs include bhang, cocaine and mandrax. Some of the children at one of the kijiwe said that they get drugs from their bosses in Morogoro town specifically from the shambani-(the fields/rural areas) and at Manzese Street. Vijiwe are a dangerous places where children learn deviant behaviours such as bad language, petty theft, fighting, sex work/sodomizing, and become tough and ready for street life.

Some of the vijiwe where street children hang around at Chamwino.

Sudi: Not all vijiwe are bad places for children. Some children spend their time at vijiwe by discussing positive and development ideas such as business.

The study also aimed to identify which activities street children are involved in. Two groups of respondents were interviewed, girls and boys.


The girls responded as follows:

Child Sex Work
Both groups said that in the streets some of girls engage in sex work. The older children (16 years and above) engage in sex work at one of the night clubs (Kahumba) at night in Morogoro town. At the Tupendane pombe shops girls (12 years and above) sell some food stuff, vegetables, fried fish and vegetables. At the same time as they are doing this they are waiting for their customers, mostly drunkards who offer them money for sex. The maximum they can give is 1000 Tshs, and then they take them to one of the nearby guest houses (Chenzema or Zimbabbwe guest houses). Those drunkards who cannot afford to pay for guest houses normally have sex with girls in unfinished buildings or in the bush.

Youth (20): Some drunkard men pretend to buy all commodities sold by the girls. If the total price is 2000 shillings for instance; they buy all and can even add 1000 shillings more after they take the girls to the guest houses.

Youth (14): Sometimes the community organizes a local disco (commonly known as disco vumbi ) which are normally organized during girls initiation ceremonies. Lots of girls attend during the night. This serves as the meeting place where men fish out child sex workers and have sex with them in one of the unfinished buildings, nearby bushes or in the alleyways.

Zulfa (14): I know girls; some are my close friends and my neighbors. Every evening they go to Tupendane to watch video shows. Some of the girls rest out side the video shows waiting for men. They tell me that they are paid Tshs.1000 for sex and go to guest houses for a short time (Chapuchapu). If they are lucky they can have sex with five men a day, they earn their living that way.


The boys responded as follows:

Child Labour
The boys involved in the study acknowledged that street children are becoming a social problem. They stated that children in Kwa Mahita community wake up in the morning heading to different locations. Some go to Morogoro central market or Mawenzi, Ngerengere River, quarry mines or other places where they try to find any work to do. At the markets, they are ‘employed’ to do any available activity such washing kitchen utensils at restaurants, collecting cabbages, or carrying water or food for little payment.

At Ngerengere River, children interviewees said that they are employed to dig soil, make bricks, fetch water and carry bricks for Tsh.300 a day. Some children said that they earn a living through collecting scrapes and selling them. At the quarry mine, children stated that they dig sand, fine gravel and stone as well as load them onto trucks. Some girls said that they work as house maids.

Mtoto: We always wake up early in the morning and wait for trucks at Daraja la Mahita. The trucks pick us up from there and take us to the quarry mine at Lugala to work.

Ali: At the quarry mines the work is tough, sometimes after loading sand into the trucks they treat us unjustly and they do not pay us. We get little money and we save so as to buy school needs.

Other Activities Street Children are Involved In
The street children said they engage in activities such as collecting iron scraps, carrying luggage, washing cars, child sex work, making bricks, digging gravel and soils, selling food stuff in streets, selling drugs, selling plastic bags etc.

Healthy Issues Facing Children
The lack of health services is a big challenge on Kwa Mahita Street. It is even worse for street children. Children at Ngerengere River, for example, explained that they were urinating blood (meaning that they are suffering from bilharzias disease) but are unable to access treatment due to the fact that their parents or guardians have no money and therefore cannot afford the costs of treatment. Another challenge is that most of the parents in this community are ignorant of the damage that bilharzias can cause. The boys also pointed out that some of the children are suffering from skin diseases as they sleep on sleeping mats. They complained that the major problem is the lack of access to medical care and treatment when they fall sick as their parents are poor but also no hospital, health centre or dispensaries are located in the community.

Saidi: Many of my friends have urinated blood. Many children urinate blood, some even urinate huge blood clots (mabonge ya damu). Me too I have the same problem. But I have failed to get treated. As always my grandmother says that she has no money to take me to the hospital for treatment.

Of the 40 children that were interviewed, 35 children were suffering from bilharzias. In one of the community meetings at Kwa Mahita, some children came forward and confessed that were urinating bloods

Child (13): My friends told me that you are looking for children who urinate blood. I am one of them. I have been urinating blood for the past three months. I have reported this to my father only for him to tell me that he does not have the money needed to cover the medical costs. Please help me because I cannot tolerate the pains I am feeling any more.

Deviant Behaviours of Street Children.
The children articulated some of the deviant behaviours which include pick pocketing, shoplifting, wallet snatching, sodomy, rape, drug and substance abuse and child sex work.

Youth (15): At the river, older street children waylay girls who come to fetch water at the stream grab and rape them, when there are no girls around they sodomize the young children. There are also street children who are willing to be sodomized by older children for money. They give them money and take them to the nearby grave yard and sodomize them.

Girl (13): I have seen older girls who pimp young girls for men and in turn are paid. This mostly happens at Tupendane pombe shops.

The Problems That The Street Children Face in Streets.
Life is not easy in the streets; it is survival for the fittest. The children revealed that they encounter so many problems. Girls said that they are sometimes raped by adults or when they are peddling, people just take their commodities without paying them. They are beaten up by older children, cornered by police, employed to do difficult jobs for little payment and are sometimes not paid at all.

Girl (14): One day my friend and I were peddling bananas at the central market in Morogoro town in the morning. We passed across an action mart. There were men selling clothes. They called to us insisting that they wanted to buy some bananas. They took all the bananas. They did not pay rather told us to come back to collect the money in the afternoon. The bananas cost us 5000 shillings to buy. We returned to collect our money in the afternoon. The men told the two of us to remain outside and asked one of us (she was older than me) to go inside to collect the money. After a while she came out with the money. One of the men told us to always bring them some bananas. Another day we brought them banana as usual, and they asked two girls to go inside to collect the money. I waited for them outside. After a short while, one girl who had come for the first time came out in tears and the blood was oozing out between her legs. She was threatened and told not to tell anyone at home or she would be killed. I had seen and experienced enough, I never went there again.

Needs Assessment Part 3: Why Children Move to the Streets

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website:

Reasons for the Increasing Numbers of Street Children

During data and information collection, the children group applied two methodologies which included: Focus Group Discussions and questionnaires. The children group findings were as follows:

Absolute Poverty in the Families
Interviewed children said that many residents of Kwa Mahita community live in absolute poverty. The poverty results in there being families that to fail to provide basic needs such as food to all of their members. This situation compels some parents or guardians to send children into streets to do petty business or work at the quarries doing brick making or collect scrapers in order to earn some money so as to supplement family income for buying food or scholastic materials and other needs.

Juma: At school teachers demand school contributions. Unfortunately our parents are unable to pay and as a result we have to look for money by doing whatever activity we find in the streets. By doing so we are able to pay the school fees, as well as buy school uniforms and stationary.

Shida: .Some days I miss school because my grandmother asks me to peddle vegetables in order to get money so as we can buy food at home.

Children Mob-Psychology
Some children responded that not all children who go into street have problems at home. Some street children are from middle class families but are just imitating other street children.

Koba: In the street, children earn some money and as a result they are able to pay to watch videos, buy school uniforms and other items at school. This situation encourages other children to go to the streets so that they too can earn some money.

Irresponsible Parents
Children revealed that there are some parents who are totally irresponsible in caring for their children and see no point of sending their children to school. Children who are at the age to go to school but are not registered often choose to go to the streets. Some parents who send their children to school, do not provide them with scholastic needs, uniforms and school contributions or monitor the academic progress of their children. For children whose basic needs are not met, they opt to look for school needs by themselves in the streets. The fortunate/lucky ones earn enough to support themselves and pay for their education but the majority do not and eventually drop out of school and become street children.

Omary: I do not know how to read and write. I have never gone to school as my father did not send me to. My father says that I am 12 years old. I always feel bad when I see my peers and even the young ones from other families going to school. I have a young sister who is 10 years old, but she too is at home, not going to school. My friends and I collect iron scrappers and sell them so as to earn some money.

Twaha: I always buy my school uniforms as my father says that he does not have money to buy me uniforms. There is no way I can earn some money to buy uniform, except in the streets.

Video Shows
Almost all children interviewed admitted that video shows play a major role in increasing the number of street children. In order to be able to watch the video shows, children have to wake early in the morning to find any activity that will pay them some money to cover the cost of admission to the video show. Some children miss school. Children pay Tsh 30 for action pictures but have to pay extra Tsh.20 for pornographic pictures. Children come to watch video shows as many families at Kwa Mahita do not own video.

Juma: Children like to watch videos here because there are no videos in their homes that is the reason they are ready to do any activity in the street so as to get money for the video shows.

Sele (9): We are always allowed to watch the video free of charge from morning until evening on the condition that we clean the hut and the surroundings. But other children have to pay an entrance fee which is about 50 shillings for action picture or pornography. It doesn’t matter whether you are a child or not so long as you can pay you are free to watch.

Needs Assessment Part 2: The Children's Findings

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website:



This is a group of children that was collecting information from the children on Kwa Mahita Street. The children were under the guidance of an adult for security purposes as well as for proper information documentation.

Direct observation:
The children group walked and visited Kwa Mahita Street in order to observe the people, surroundings, resources and general environment in the community. The following are their findings:


Housing Conditions
Kwa Mahita community is one of the streets at Chamwino slum area. The area is not officially surveyed. Houses in this community are in poor condition, most of them are small mud huts, trees and roofed by grasses or hard papers. Some of the huts are in bad condition to the extent that can fall at any time. During the rainy season, water trickles from the roof to the ground. Therefore are few modern houses. There is very small space between houses.

Environment and Sanitation
Kwa Mahita community like other communities in the Chamwino slum area is unsanitary. There are no dust bins or designated areas for keeping garbage. As a result the residents contaminate the environment with garbage. The situation puts the residents in this area in jeopardy of frequent outbreaks of cholera and other infectious diseases.

Only a few families have permanent toilets. Most of residents have no permanent toilets. They have built their toilets adjacent to their houses/huts and they are poorly constructed i.e. made of grasses, pieces of corrugated iron and nylon papers, no doors, no roofing and with mud floors. This makes them unfriendly to users as well as being dangerous especially during the rainy season when they do overflow or collapse. These toilets are also used as bathrooms.

Transport and Communication
There is one major mud road called Mahita which joins the main road to Morogoro town. This is the only road that is passable throughout the year. The rest of the roads are poor and impassable especially during the rainy seasons. The area is accessible by private town buses commonly known as dalaldala which provide services from a neighboring street called Tupendane to Morogoro town about four to five kilometers away. Most of the residents use bicycles as means of transport.

Health Services
In Kwa Mahita there is no health centre or dispensary except a few drug stores and unknown number of traditional healers. The residents face a lot of problems as far as health services are concerned. The most affected are pregnant women who are about to deliver as they have no options except are forced to go to the nearest public health clinic located about 5 km away. Another private hospital is located about 8 km from Chamwino but is too costly for the majority of Chamwino residents. The health status of the population is poor due to moderate to severe malnutrition. The major cause is poverty which makes them no able to afford a balanced diet. Some of them eat only once per day

Markets and Shops for Food Stuff
There are neither markets nor shops. There are few kiosks (magenge) that sell small food stuffs. The residents have to buy food stuffs and other items from Mwande street, Tupendane or Mawenzi market located about 4 km away.

Family Relationships
Though it was quite impossible to know about family relationships through direct observation, the children observed one family that couples were fighting during daytime. The woman was complaining over her husband’s behavior of drinking too much local beer. Production activities at the family level at Kwa Mahita are mostly done by women while men drink local beer (gongo) at local bars known as pombe shops on Tupendane street.

Child Sex Work
Many children aged 12 and above practice sex work especially at the Tupendane pombe shops. Many children hang around the area some selling food, fish or other goods while waiting for their customers, mainly drunk persons. After getting their customers, they go to nearby guest houses to entertain them for short time bases.

Child Labour
During the morning many children were seen going towards Morogoro town, possibly to Mawenzi market or Morogoro central market where they work for little payment until evening. Some children were seen along Ngerengere River digging sands, making bricks and carrying bricks or water for payment which is about sh.300 (about 0.23USD) a day. In other places, children were seen collecting iron scrappers for sale. In quarry mining areas children were seen digging and loading sand into trucks. Girls were seen selling bananas, vegetables and food stuff in the area.

Video Shows
The group observed about 8 huts that show videos on the neighboring Street of Tupendane. These huts/sheds (commonly known as mabanda) are made of sticks, papers or nylon papers with roofs of palm leaves. They are open from 8:30 am until 11:00pm. Many children were seen in these video huts and some were outside peeping in. These were children who could probably not afford to pay the entrance fee of 50Tsh (0.03 USD). Each banda has the capacity to hold 60 people. In some of the mabanda that the Children Group was able to enter and observe, there were adults too, but half of the spectators were children aging from 3 years and above. They were watching action pictures restricted to viewers over 18 years old.

Activities Done by Street Children in the Streets
Children were seen peddling vegetables, fruits, plastic bags and food stuffs. Some were working as child laborers at Ngerengeree River, quarrying and pottering. Along the rivers, some children were busy washing cars and selling and abusing drugs. At the Tupendane pombe shops some girls were selling food stuff and some child sex workers were waiting for customers.