Recognizing Ramadan in Pittsburgh

 

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This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council intern, Jalyn Evans

Over a billion Muslims around the world are ending their season of Ramadan at sundown on July 28th. Ramadan is a 30-day period in which Muslims fast–abstaining from daytime food and drink. Learning about this sacred time for Muslims provides us with a background for understanding the values, ethics and principles of Muslim cultures around the world.

Deeper than Hunger

Abstaining from food and drink is only one manifestation of fasting during Ramadan. The Muslim word for fast literally means “to refrain.”  A time to refocus attention on God and purify the spirit, Muslims are called to practice self-restraint from bad habits and ways of thinking, such as gossiping or holding grudges, during Ramadan. Muslims also seek renewal for broken ties between family and friends, making right any ill feelings toward others. Ramadan is a time for spiritual growth, reflection, and self-evaluation.

Ramadan in Pittsburgh!

Sheikh Atef Mahgoub

The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh celebrated the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday, July 13th, during its annual Humanity Day. At this celebration, Educators were honored for promoting acceptance and understanding of different faiths. Read the full article here.

The Center hosts an array of Muslim programs and events reaching out to those who are interested in the Muslim faith, these include Arabic classes and community outreach efforts.

Located at 4100 Bigelow Boulevard, the Center offers tours and is open for all regular prayer times.  Click here to learn more.

 

 

 

 


BRICS vs. G7: Renewal of East-West Tension

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Written and researched by World Affairs Council Intern, Jill Fronk

It has been a little over two decades since the end of the Cold War, and already a new burst of cold air is beginning to blow through. The crisis in the Ukraine is drawing a line in the sand with the G7 nations on one side and the BRICS on the other. The G7 is a group of financial and economic ministers from Western nations, formerly the G8 before they ousted Russia over its current actions. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are emerging economic and political powers, who make up a new growing bloc of influence and power. These emergent powers are a diverse set of governments who struggle to find common ground, but when it comes to a struggle with Western powers they will side with their BRICS compatriots.

Lines Drawn

All international groups have their moment of coming of age, where the international community recognizes the legitimacy they have to influence world events. BRICS’s moment was during the Syrian crisis, when the majority opposed any further military action out of respect of Syrian sovereignty.  Syrian President Al-Assad sent a letter to the BRICS’s summit in South Africa in 2013 requesting their help against Western interference in contradiction with the UN Charter. This letter cemented their legitimacy as a global power bloc, and the potential beginning of a new world order. It also began the clear division in goals between BRICS and Western countries, along with political divisions within BRICS itself.

Now there is the separatist movement in the Ukraine, with Russia annexing Crimea much to the condemnation of Western powers.  Even with political divisions, historical disagreements with the U.S. and other G7 countries push the remaining BRICS countries towards Russia.  It gives rise to old feelings of east against west, the Soviet Union versus the U.S.  As the sanctions against Russia continue, Russia turns to China for help to stave off a worsening recession.  We all flashback to a rocky Sino – Soviet alliance at the beginning of the Cold War which ended in a war in the 1960s.  Only today, their bond is much stronger and sealed in a gas deal that will be paid out in their own domestic currency instead of the U.S. dollar, which is the traditional currency used in trade deals.  This is a symbolic move for the BRICS by undercutting the hegemony of the U.S. dollar as the international currency. BRICS have been attempting to overthrow the U.S. dollar for years, but there is not a viable alternative making any change difficult.  However the symbolism of using domestic currency is not lost on the U.S.

The Beginning of a New Era

This week at the sixth summit of BRICS countries located in Brazil this year, the separation from the G7 grows wider.  Their goal is to finalize plans for the New Development Bank (NDR) and Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) to reduce dependence on Western Institutions. These two agencies will assist developing countries by giving loans for things such as infrastructure projects and economic shock waves from countries like the G7. This is in response to failed attempts to increase BRICS’s influence in global governance especially with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. A top priority is to ensure equal voting rights within the NDR and CRA which is one of their major issues with Western institutions. These two new international agencies will give developing and emerging economies a new option with the allure of no policy requirements that the IMF and World Bank are infamous for demanding. But really the main goal, is to knock down the U.S. and other G7 countries a peg or two, to show that their time of domination is coming to an end.

Russia’s reactions to G7 pressure over Ukraine can be seen as a signal in the readiness of Russia and the other BRICS countries to counter Western influence. The current state of the world is filled with general uncertainty, economic insecurity, and a sense of unfairness which can be seen in the high number of separatist movements in the last couple of years. The world is ripe for the picking for BRICS this new world division. This leaves an opening for an economic power shift from West to East and the beginning of a new era of bipolarity.


A Day of Celebration?: Independence Day Around the World

 This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council intern, Jill Fronk.

BBC Travel Slide Show

See more photos from this BBC Travel Slide show on Independence Days from around the world here.

Here in the United States, Independence Day is a time of reflection, national pride, and celebration.  It is a day marked by family grill outs, concerts, festivals, and evening fireworks.  Independence Day unites this country in patriotism as our cities deck themselves out in red, white, and blue.  But what about the rest of the world? Do they commemorate the day they joined the ranks of sovereign nations with joyful celebrations or is it simply another day?

Countries Who Celebrate the Day

South Sudan

The world’s newest country has its Independence Day on July 9.  This year will mark its third year of independence from Sudan in 2011.  For the South Sudanese people, it is a day to remember those who were lost in their long struggle to secede from their northern neighbor, as the memory of their loss is still fresh.  It is a day to remain hopeful of their future as they begin to face the harsh realities in creating a new nation.  As they contemplate these hopes and fears, the President addresses the nation on their current condition and the future hopes he has for South Sudan.

The official celebration is held in Juba, the nation’s capital, where there is dancing, singing, and prideful flag waving.  Throughout the nation, there are parties, prayer, and festive evening fireworks.

Cambodia

Having gained independence from France in 1953, Cambodia honors the day with joyful celebration every November 9.  The main festivities are centered on the Independence Monument where the King lights a Victory Fire with the country’s politicians, generals, and diplomats in attendance.  They hold a parade that goes down Norodom Boulevard towards the Monument while enjoying various streets foods such as beef skewers and papaya salad.  Each year a new big event is held.  In 2002, white pigeons and balloons were released into the air, while in 2004 a grand ceremony was put on to commemorate the day.  The homes proudly have their flag flying and cities bath themselves in blue and red—the nation’s colors.  The day ends in a spectacular show of fireworks.

Indonesia

Independence Day, or Hari Merdeka, observes Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands in 1945.  Only the Dutch refused to accept their declaration of independence which led to four years of unrest and diplomatic meetings until Netherland accepted it in 1949.  It was not until 2005, that the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia’s Independence Day as August 17, 1945.  Indonesians take great pride in their country with preparation for the day beginning weeks in advance.

  • Preparation begins with red and white decorations going up all over town with the words Dirgahayu Ri (Long Live Indonesia!) seen everywhere.
  • The city and neighborhoods clean up in preparation, or kerja bakti as the clean-up is called in Indonesia.
  • Political observers and social scientists write opinion pieces on the country’s progress since independence and challenges it will face in the future.
  • The day before the President gives the State of the Nation Address.
  • On the 17th, they have a flag hoisting ceremony that is held out of honor and respect to flag and country.  It is attended by the President, Vice President, military brass, families of the current and preceding president, diplomatic corps, and honored guests.
  • High school students are chosen for their marching skills to hoist the flag.
  • Neighborhoods have games and contests: Krupuk (shrimp eating contest), bike decorating, cooking contests for Krupuk and nasi tumpeng (cone of yellow rice).
  • The most popular game is pinjat pinang.  An Areca palm tree is erected in a public space greased with a mixture of clay and oil.  Prizes, such as bikes and TVs, are at the top for whoever reaches them.
  • The Sunday after Independence Day the President holds a parade of artistic floats and marching bands.

Countries Who See the Day Differently

Brazil

The World Cup host’s Independence Day is September 7 marking the day Brazil became independent from Portugal in 1822.  Brazil does not have as much fanfare about the day as the U.S. and other countries, but they do have fireworks in the evening.  They hold a military parade at the Eixo Monumental with similar parades at all of the state capitals.  They see the day more as a day to protest then to celebrate.  Last year, Brazilians used September 7th as a time to protest government corruption and excessive spending in preparation for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Brazil’s Independence is one of the few that is celebrated around the world.  In New York, Brazilian Day is held on September 1st for immigrants, Americans, and foreign visitors.  This celebrations includes eating native food, samba dancing, and drinking caipirinhas.  Similar festivities occur in San Diego, Toronto, Los Angeles, London, and other major cities in the world.

Afghanistan

August 19th commemorates the day the Treaty of Rawalpindi and Shah Amanullah Khan’s victory over the British Empire in 1919.  Afghanis used to celebrate their independence with a weeklong celebration called the Jashen Festival.  It included a Presidential address, military parades, concerts, food clubs set up by government ministries, and a display of the nation’s national costumes.  When the Taliban took control the day almost became forgotten because of their ruling policies.  Today, the celebrations are much smaller.  The government holds a small official ceremony with no speeches and a small military parade ending quickly with the President laying a wreath of flowers on the Minaret of Independence.  Youth forums and civils society organizations hold smaller festivities for local areas focusing on the Afghan flag.  Many people today still find great pride in their country, but feel that the day lacks any real meaning because of the large foreign presence in their country.  They do not feel as if they are a completely sovereign nation which is what they are supposed to be celebrating.

Russia

Russia does not really have an Independence Day in the typical sense, but a day when they moved towards a more open society.  June 12, 1990 marks Russia’s adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty from Soviet rule.  December 25, 1992, the Russian Federation adopted a new constitution and political system along with choosing June 12 as a national holiday.  In 2002, the name changed from Independence Day to Russia Day because the people were confused about what they were supposed to be independent from.  Russians celebrate by honoring all things Russian.

  • There is a grand military parade that recaptures the Soviet military parade of Revolution Day while the bands play songs that are an important part of Russia’s legacy.  Cavalrymen wear traditional uniforms prior to the Russian Revolution.
  • Some people wear traditional dress and take part in traditional dances and music.
  • There is a concert in the Red Square with fireworks at night.
  • Lubyanka Square holds a drift racing competition with drivers from Russia and abroad.
  • People have the opportunity to touch a two meter high “matryoshka” (Russian Nesting Doll) and see a kite performance.
  • Track and Field events are held outside the Kremlin.
  • President Vladimir Putin gives out “Russia medals” for achievements in science, humanities, and culture.

Day of the African Child: Celebrating 50 years of African Unity

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“I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.” – Nelson Mandela

This post was written by Jalyn Evans, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern

June 16, 1976, 10,000 students took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa, refusing to attend poorly funded schools which administered education in a language they did not know. The Bantu Education Act of 1953, a pillar of the Apartheid project, required non-white students to be educated in a way that suited their culture, ultimately preparing non-white South Africans for manual labor roles in the society. Penalties imposed on political protests, even non-violent protests, were severe, ranging from life sentences in prison to beatings and death. The protest in Soweto turned violent when students were greeted by police forces armed with teargas and loaded firearms. Over 20 students were killed in the chaos between police and protesters.  This was a major strike in the fight to dismantle the apartheid government, which legally instituted racial segregation in 1948.

Soweto’s 1976 movement for education equality is kept alive in spirit by the South African holiday, Youth Day (June 16th) and namely the African Union (AU), a renowned organization dedicated to the “development and integration” of the African continent. The AU commemorated this year’s Day of the African Child (DAC) centering initiatives on “child friendly, quality, free, and compulsory education for all children in Africa.” The event which is held annually at the Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia entailed:

  • inter-generational dialogue between children and experts;
  • a talent show;
  • a mini-marathon;
  • and a press conference.

See the video linked below for more information:

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From DAC to IDAY: A Growing Movement

The Day of the African Child has become an international movement through the support and emergence of organizations and non-profits from nation to nation.  Established in 2005, the non-profit organization IDay has a network of 8 European and 16 African countries with more than 240 member associations. Click here to see example of IDAY supporters.

IDAY’s vision

A world where all barriers to education are eliminated and where all African youth have access to quality basic education.

Get Involved!

Here are some ways that you support the Day of the African Child and IDAY movement in your country:

  • Organize an IDAY celebration in your country;
  • Help the IDAY International team with translations, design, information technology, organization of the June 16 events;
  • Raise awareness about IDAY and get in contact with other organizations in Europe or in Africa that operate in the field of education in Africa and might be interested in joining IDAY!

Human Trafficking, Pittsburgh, and the World

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Over the past couple years, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh has incorporated Human Trafficking events into our calendar. Highlighting this important global issue comes naturally to us, in no small part due to the fact that the Project to End Human Trafficking is based here in Pittsburgh. We have screened the film Not My Life, which tells stories of human trafficking from around the world. We have also screened the film Girl Rising, which tells the stories of girls around the world who are not able to go to school, including a girl who is kept as a slave.

This week, we will again focus on human trafficking at our 17th Annual Summer Institute for Teachers with a screening of Not My Life and a discussion with Robert Bilheimer, the film’s director, and Anne Rackow from the Project to End Human Trafficking. This is especially timely in light of the U.S. State Department’s release of the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, which was published this month. Published annually since 2001, the U.S. State Department uses the information in this document to engage foreign nations on issues involving human trafficking.


2014 World Cup in Brazil: Let the Games Begin!

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This week marks the beginning of the 2014 World Cup—an international soccer tournament played every four years on par with that of the Olympic Games. Whether or not you are true fan of soccer (or football, as it is commonly referred to throughout the world,) it’s hard to not get excited for the upcoming festivities.

Soccer is unique as it is a sport that is known, played, and watched just about everywhere on the planet. Given this wide reach, soccer also serves as a mechanism for bringing societies together. As the World Bank highlights, playing soccer helps to build teamwork and teaches young people important life lessons about hard work, dedication, and relying on others. Let’s not forget that by playing a game of pickup soccer with friends, young people are engaged in something other than the violent and harmful realities of the street life.

Every four years, the World Cup highlights this love of the game found across the globe. National pride comes front and center as countries compete against one another, and even those who don’t regularly watch the game become a “soccer fan” for the summer. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)—soccer’s global governing body—estimated that 3.2 billion tuned in to watch the tournament. That’s half of the world’s population. This year, the audience is expected to be even larger.

The 2014 World Cup officially kicked off on Thursday, June 12th in Brazil. For the next month, soccer teams representing 32 countries—spanning six different continents—will compete in a series of games to determine the world’s best soccer team. Through a competitive selection process, Brazil was chosen to host the 2014 tournament, and has been busy preparing for the past four years. Interested to see the progress Brazil has made? Thanks to Google Earth, you can walk the streets of Brazil just as though you were there in person. Check it out!

Of course, here in the United States soccer hasn’t reached the level of love and obsession as is found in other parts of the world, placing American fans at a slight disadvantage this time of year. That certainly doesn’t stop Pittsburghers from taking part. A number of bars, restaurants, and organizations across the region will be airing this year’s games. You can find a full list here and here. Be sure to check out the games and learn a bit about the world in the process!

Don’t worry, even if you are a novice soccer fan there is still time to learn the ins and outs of professional soccer. Sports Illustrated’s has put together a beginner’s guide to the World Cup found here! For more in-depth coverage of the games, see their Planet Futbol website.


Thailand: Then and Now

 By: David, a Senior at Sewickly Academy

DB1I embarked on my trip to Thailand not knowing what to expect. I had never been to Asia; the only interaction I had ever had with the magnificent continent was through movies and food. I was excited but nervous. What if this experience was completely different than what I expected? How could I be sure I would enjoy it? I was planning to spend three weeks in Thailand, most of which would culminate in the beautiful mountains of Northern Thailand near Chiang Mai. I heard so much about this country, the delicious food, and the happy people; but, for some reason I wasn’t convinced until I saw it for myself.

My experience in Thailand was organized through Rustic Pathways. While there, I was able to participate in a range of service learning experiences which included working on a Thai Elephant Conservation Project and volunteering at the Hill Tribe Support and Refugee Project. I was ready to take on the country, dive right in, and see what it was like to live in one of the most culturally rich regions of the world.
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As a volunteer with The Thai Elephant Conservation Project, I had the opportunity to work with elephants on a daily basis at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand, and under the supervision of professional handlers.  While there, I not only bonded with my elephant and mahout (elephant trainer), but I learned to feed, ride, and bathe the elephants as well.

DB3From the conservation project, I traveled to Bangkok to see the historical Grand Palace, the Wat Arun Temple, and floating markets. The hustle and bustle of the people, gold buildings, and high-paced urban environment was very different from Lampang.  There is absolutely no shortage of temples and attractions in Bangkok!

The final leg of my trip was by far the most inspiring. I spent two weeks immersing myself in the Karen culture of Northern Thailand, preparing lesson plans and teaching classrooDB4ms of Karen students. The Hill Tribe Support Project was created by Rustic Pathways to offer opportunities to Karen students of the Mae Sariang province—who would otherwise not be exposed to such experiences. By offering these students the opportunity to graduate high school, the likelihood of attending an institution of higher education is even greater. Not only did this experience expose me to the depth of Thai culture, but allowed me to learn a great deal about myself.  I learned to make the most out of every opportunity I am given and to never take anything for granted.

As I look back on my incredible journey through Thailand, I think of the people with whom I interacted and how wonderfully proud they were and the rich culture they possess.  In a land dominated by majestic Buddhist temples and so many happy, peaceful people, it was hard for me to hear about recent political events that have caused the country to reach a new level of turmoil.  On Thursday May 22, 2014 Thailand’s army seized power of the government.  Journalists, scholars, and politicians have been ordered to surrender at army bases and General Prayuth Chan-ochoa, backed by the Royal King of Thailand, says there is no timeline on when a new democracy will be elected to run the country.  As of now Thailand is under martial law, the military has deployed troops along key intersections throughout the city and has set a curfew of four hours (Midnight to 4 a.m.).  Thailand’s economy has been negatively affected by political unrest resulting in a lack of business confidence in theregion along with an increase in inflation—which rose from 2.45 percent to 2.62 percent in a month’s time.

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So what’s next?  With no timeline for a new government to be set in place what can we expect in the preceding months? Certainly with each passing day the people of Thailand grow more impatient and mass gatherings, which are forbidden by the military, show there is immense pressure for a return to a democratic form of government.

With all that is taking place, it is important to remember how strong and welcoming of a country Thailand truly is—something I experienced during my own travels. I have faith that the people of Thailand will build a government that they can all be proud of, putting an end to the political turmoil.

 


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