Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Monday, May 16, 2016
Environmental activism may not have been what Maxima Acuña de Chaupe had in mind when in 2011 she refused to sell her 60-acre plot of land to the biggest gold-mining project in South America.
She did not belong to any movement or organisation but she doggedly held on to her land in spite of her claims of beatings, death threats, intimidation and court proceedings, becoming a symbol of resistance in her native Peru and above all its northern region of Cajamarca which rejected the $4.8bn Conga gold mine after five demonstrators were killed in clashes with the police in 2012.
In 2011, the Peruvian government granted a 7,400-acre mining concession for the Conga Mine to US-firm Newmont Mining, the majority shareholder, and Peruvian mining company Buenaventura. The plan was to mine two freshwater lakes for gold and copper while draining two more to use as dumps for toxic mining tailings.
But Maxima Acuña - and the farm where she grows potatoes and rears guinea pigs - stood in the way.
The Goldman prize – the world’s most prestigious environmental award - is in recognition of the courage she has shown in so far preventing the mine from destroying the two highland lagoons, her farm, and the supply of fresh water for thousands more people.
“In Cajamarca, we know what mines can do. In no time it would have poisoned the trout and the livestock. If we don’t have water we don’t have a life or a future,” she told the Guardian. Since refusing to sell her home she claims she has been constantly spied on by Peruvian police working as security contractors for the mine; she and her daughter have twice been beaten unconscious and her home twice demolished.
She recalls the first time: “I was grabbed my six police men, three on each arm grabbed me from behind and they beat with their batons, they threw me to the ground then beat my son, who was taking photos, on the arms and chest and took away his cell phone.
“The special forces police hit my daughter in the head with the butt of the machine gun. Four of them cornered my youngest son and pointed their machine guns at him, warning him not to shout, not to call out, not to try and run,” she said.
In a bid to evict her, Newmont took Acuña to court in 2012 accusing her of illegally squatting on the land which it claims to have bought. The local court ruled in Newmont’s favour, giving Acuña and her family a suspended prison sentence of almost three years and a fine of nearly $2,000 - a large sum for a subsistence farmer in Peru.
Acuña appealed the decision in 2014, arguing that they had owned the land since 1994. A higher court lifted the criminal charges against Acuña and Newmont was ordered to stop its eviction proceedings.
But, the issue of land ownership was not settled and Acuña continues to be summoned to a local court accused of illegally squatting on the mine’s land, says her lawyer Mirtha Vasquez, of local NGO Grufides. Mine security personnel intimidate bus drivers not to allow her or any of her family onto their buses, forcing them to walk for up to eight hours to nearest town, she claimed.
As recently as February this year she says thugs raided her home, destroying her crops and slitting her dog’s throat. It survived after emergency veterinary treatment. She says that after living with intimidation and harassment for more than five years she says she feel “energised and encouraged to know there are people standing beside me”.
“I never had the chance to go the school, I never had to chance to learn even a letter but I know how to resist, to fight and that’s why I will never be defeated by the mining companies,” she said.
A spokesperson for Newmont said that it no longer anticipates developing the mine in the foreseeable future, and that several of the allegations made against it are “just factually incorrect and unsubstantiated.”
In a series of documents, it said that the dog appeared to have been injured by barbed wire and not by company personnel, the company had removed potatoes from its property but not the family’s land, and it says it has acted lawfully, in the presence of Peruvian police, removing illegal structures from its land.
It said it was not monitoring the family with a video camera it had installed as it was not facing their building, but it was monitoring company property following a number of incidents of vandalism and theft. Newmont said that it had acted in good faith showing respect to neighbouring communities and there is no evidence of violence having been used against the Chaupe family.
“Regretfully, despite repeated direct and indirect attempts, we have not succeeded in securing agreement from the Chaupe family or civil society organisations to establish a dialogue to reach a resolution. However, we will continue to seek ways to establish good-faith dialogue,” the company says in the documents.
At least 61 activists have been killed in Peru over the last decade, with almost 80% of deaths related to mining, according to human rights NGO Global Witness, making the country the fifth most dangerous place to be an environmental activist.
Peru recently weakened its environmental laws in order to boost mining investment. It also made it easier for the police and army to get away with killings by reducing their criminal responsibility if they cause injury or death on duty.
“The miners are taking the gold from Cajamarca but that gold is bathed in blood, so many tears have been shed by poor people here, people have been killed for defending the water and the land. The miners don’t assume their responsibility for that,” Acuña said.
Monday, May 2, 2016
NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV VIA GETTY IMAGES
Love is one of the most common human emotions. But it’s celebrated in extraordinarily different ways around the world.
In the remote village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, Muslim brides are returning to the old tradition of gelina, or face painting, to mark their transition into married life.
Emilia Pechinkova is one of those young Muslim brides. The 24-year-old is a Slavic Muslim, part of a group often referred to as Pomaks. The elaborate wedding rituals of the Pomaks were suppressed while the country was under communist rule.
In an effort to recapture their forefathers’ customs, Pechinkova and her fianceTsanko Perchinkov celebrated their love during a traditional three-day wedding ceremony, according to Getty. The festivities were captured by photographer Nikolay Doychinov on April 22 and 23.
During the gelina, Pomak brides are painted over with a thick cosmetic creme mask called belilo. An expert make-up artist spends up to two hours applying the mask and embellishing it with sequins arranged in floral patterns. Then, the artistapplies lipstick and darkens the bride’s eyebrows. According to CNN, the face painting process is a symbol of the bride’s purity.
In order to keep the mask intact for the next several hours, the bride usually keeps her face very still. After an imam says a blessing, she is escorted by her family members out of her childhood home and to her groom’s house, where her husband will take off her makeup.
Although these rituals have been part of Pomak culture for years, they were suppressed during the time that Bulgaria was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. According to Reuters, the regime at that time tried to force Muslims to adapt the traditions of the country’s majority Christian Orthodox population. The traditional Pomak wedding ceremony was reportedly banned and was onlyresumed after the end of the communist era.
Today, Muslims are the largest minority religion in Bulgaria, making up about 8 percent of the population.
Scroll down to see images of this fascinating wedding ritual.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Thursday, April 7, 2016
In countries like Bangladesh, young people face lots of challenges. Millions of kids have been denied a good education, and the basic literacy and numeracy skills that are needed for most well paid jobs are out of reach. It's even tougher for girls, who are excluded from some lines of work, and the opportunity to fully participate in the economy.
But innovative solutions are something that Bangladesh is definitely capable of. After all, Muhammad Yunus is from Bangladesh, and he pioneered the idea of microfinance loans for low income entrepreneurs, which has connected millions of entrepreneurs (particularly women) to business opportunities that have changed lives for the better.
So here's another great story.
In the video above, we get to meet some groundbreaking Bangladeshi girls. A partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Bangladeshi Government, and the European Union has created a new way for girls to overcome educational disadvantages, and enter a line of work that was previously not a genuine option. That's right, they're training to be motorcycle mechanics!
The program combines basic literacy and numeracy skills with practical training, and is producing a new generation of skilled women. One of the trainees, Khadija, explains that "When we first joined, people used to doubt if girls like us can do this", but the girls are proving that they're up to it. It's not just a school for girls; there are boys there too, and they're working together. Khadija goes on to say "We started working and slowly we became able to provide good service. When customers saw that we could service motorcycles as well as do other things, they stopped doubting us".
This is a fantastic step forward, and it's trailblazers like these who are building societies where women can build skills and succeed in their fields of choice. It's what we all deserve!