Project Koraput: I’m Workin’ on a Building

by Jen Saffron
March 21, 2012 

Thy seat, O brave one,

is empty today -

fill it with your valor.

- Rabindranath Tagore

The Koraput survivors traveled an hour by bus with pick axes, shovels and pans, cramming into a tuk tuk for the last segment, arriving on the reddish land that is now theirs.  They came to dig the first house foundation on their recently purchased parcel, seeking to settle on the outskirts of Nandaguda with a total of 60 homes.

Laxman, an elderly man in a pink tank top, blue lungi and sandals, instructed the younger men to stake out the trench dimensions, and green twine appeared.  The plumb line secured with a small bamboo stick, it was time.  Pick axes raised high, they began excavating the earth into 2-foot deep footers, the older women clearing stones.  Sumitra, a sari clad woman in her early 30s, almost single handedly dug an entire trench in 95 degree heat.  I observed the frustration melting from her face, the build up of 4 years of living off crumbs.  Popun, her slight, adolescent son, looked on.

Laxman, just over 5 feet tall with a high-pitched voice, proved indomitable.  A man of about 60 in a state where the average life expectancy is 62, wielding a pick axe straight and true.  Laxman, the mason in his community, sharing his knowledge for the benefit of all.

It would be easy to cast these religious refugees as victims, to feel sorry for them, to assume they can’t do anything for themselves, that they don’t have knowledge or skills.  Not so.  Despite walking 22 kilometers in the night with their babies, through the jungle with the threat of snakes, tigers and elephants, despite the hardship of living in abandoned buildings, they choose to stay together and to keep the faith.  They didn’t fight the Hindu extremists, they instead chose to be warriors for their own lives, and in that way are becoming an inspiration to others.

The Nandaguda people notice their strength and dignity, too. As the sound of axes and shovels pitched on, a Hindu villager quietly appeared with an offering for the sweaty group: two beautiful papayas.  Earlier that same day, I spotted an older woman in a sari, approaching with a deliberate gait.  She came bearing the news to Debendra Singh, her pastor: this morning, people came to the Hindu woman’s parcel and began measuring.  Were we buying this, too?

Nandaguda runs on the timeless engine of all villages: word of mouth, women’s work, and preserving the common good. Pastor Singh already talked with the Nandaguda people, among them his own parishioners, asking them about their feelings that landless refugees sought to resettle 100 yards from them.  How did they feel that a group 20 families larger than their own, with new ideas and customs, would join them in the fields outside of Jeypore?  For the most part, people had come around to the idea.

But, the Nandaguda Hindu woman had not wanted to sell.  Was it because of the Christians, or her mistrust of outsiders?  Her parcel of land in Nandaguda, blackened by field fire, abuts the Koraput survivors’ land.  Procuring her parcel means space for latrines, vegetable gardens, a paved road, perhaps another bore well.  The future health and safety of the community depends on it.

Meeting Time, by Jen Saffron 2012

Talk turned dark as Debendra started to worry – someone saw us, someone saw the white people walking on her land, and now she will jack up the price, because she has a prize.  Who will get it?  Did someone already make an offer?  If not, Debendra had better or someone else would, and the loss would be too great.  He had already deliberated over that parcel, because without it, the new village would be hemmed in on all sides, no room to grow. How can we start building houses AND get the land?

Debendra and the Koraput men met in a circle, talked it out, and decided they would approach the Hindu woman and buy the land.  For now the priority is clear, but how it would happen would be by the grace of God.  Debendra paid a frail old man 10 rupees to find the Hindu woman and carry the word, and he went off on his ancient bicycle, in search.

Deed to the Land, with the Koraput Survivors, by Lynn Johnson 2012

 

Jen Saffron is a writer, educator and curator of photographs.  Lynn Johnson is a professional photographer. Both reside in Pittsburgh, and will travel to Koraput on March 14. Read about their experiences and check out their photography here in the Council Blog.  Find out more about their project, here.


Project Koraput: Conversation with Debendra Singh

by Jen Saffron March 20, 2012

Debendra Singh is an Indian Christian minister in Jeypore, Orissa State, India. He works as a grassroots leader, empowering the poor in one of the poorest states in India and pastoring three congregations, including a faith community comprised entirely of refugees – the Koraput Survivors – who survived sectarian violence in their village in 2008.  This interview took place in Jeypore on March 19, 2012.

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

JS:  The last Indian census claims that approximately 3% – 5% of Indians are Christian.  Although the caste system was outlawed, it is still required to list one’s caste with your state government and since the Orissa anti-conversion laws, it’s also illegal to convert to Christianity.  You, yourself, are Dalit caste – an “untouchable”- and an Indian Christian since birth.  Although a Dalit, K. R. Narayanan, was elected India’s 10th President in 1997 and in reality there are 160 million Indians, like the Koraput Survivors, living as “untouchables” under harsh, legal discrimination and social marginalization. Indian Christians also suffer discrimination laws and sectarian violence.  This is an ingrained, corrupt system, based on inequality.  What is your hope for social change and how can you operate within this kind of reality, given your post?

DS:  We need freedom of religion, and to get that we need Christian lawyers to stand against unjust laws.  Not all of the states have anti-conversion laws. In Orissa, where RSS (Hindu fundamentalist sect) is growing, some want to finish the Christian religion by threatening people to convert back to Hinduism. This is totally related to the caste system and social control, not really even religion.  Laws exist that bar Christian children from educational rights, state benefits, and so on.  The hope is that we have the will to legally fight for the discrimination laws to change by getting our own lawyers.  For example, because of a Christian lawyer, we were able to purchase this piece of land from a Hindu man to relocate the Koraput Survivors.  The lawyer knows the law, and people in the community will keep their mouths shut because this transaction has been done in legal fashion, with the lawyer by my side, and the lawyer has something at stake, too in not being corrupt because I would blow the whistle.God has given us the wisdom to think, and to fight for justice –I cannot keep quiet.

JS:  This reminds me a lot of the kind of work of the US Civil Rights movement. Although racism still exists, it seemed impossible that the Jim Crow system would ever end. Since there are backlashes to every movement, what’s to say that the Koraput Survivors rebuild and then violence returns?

DS: Wherever, people will do violence if they want to, and we have to stand.  In 2008, 3,000 people came to Jeypore to attack Christians, but we stood strong, facing the RSS from about 25 yards off. We did not flee to the jungle, rather we stood strong together, about the same number of Christians as RSS – we lined the road, some with sticks.  If we would have run away, we would have been chased and killed.  We were saved by a big rain- people scattered, then gunfire between the RSS and the police.  Later we couldn’t leave our houses for nine days, but the police supported us.   In Talagumandi, they had no hope to stand together as they were ambushed, just a few hundred Christians in a remote village with no one to support them. Now they will live peacefully, moving to land outside Jeypore, and I am there to stand for them.

JS: So, the Koraput Survivors will move to land adjacent to Nandaguda village, and you will combine not only villages but churches.  Right now, communities worldwide are combining, especially in the developing world where refugees from movements and civil unrest integrate into established populations.  There are many populations in Orissa,with a complex collective history.  In addition to Hindu fundamentalist violence, armed Maoist revolutionaries are living deep in the forest, and Indian tribals exploited in favor of corporate land projects.  In fact, while we’ve been here, two Italian tourists were taken hostage by the Maoist revolutionaries, not far from Jeypore. So, combining a downtrodden group of Christian refugees with an established community creates a real test.  You’re one guy, taking a stand for this group of a few hundred landless people living on the complete margins of a corrupt society.  What are your fears and challenges?

DS:   I started by talking with the Nandaguda people – about 200 people came to the church to talk – I want all the questions to have answers, and they mostly wanted to know, “Are these good people?”  They are living peacefully in the village and shared their trust in me to take the position to mediate with the people in the Koraput camp, negotiating peace between these two communities. First of all, my fear is that if our Koraput survivors, while they chose to stay together as a strong group, may not cooperate with Nandaguda villagers. Then, our Nandaguda people might blame me – why have you brought these kind of people to this village, people with problems?  Nobody can say that everyone is perfect, but if someone has bad behavior, they will blame me.  So, I hope we can encourage good integration through grassroots work. For example, supporting economic growth by encouraging microloans for small businesses will help the survivors prosper.  Also, working out a government pension for the elderly – right now they get the equivalent of $4 a month. Socially I believe the survivors will see people they would like to emulate, like educated people, and they will want to get their own education.  From the infrastructure side, we will get a paved road when the numbers in Nandaguda rise, and two bore wells.   And, now it’s only primary school, but when more people come, they will build a high school.  They will have to raise the standards. We have been working in Nandaguda since 2001, so this will take time – it’s a big dream.

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

Jen Saffron is a writer, educator and curator of photographs.  Lynn Johnson is a professional photographer. Both reside in Pittsburgh, and will travel to Koraput on March 14. Read about their experiences and check out their photography here in the Council Blog.  Find out more about their project, here.


Project Koraput: I am this, I am that. I am not this, I am not that.

by Jen Saffron
March 19, 2012

“It is impossible to think of a democracy which recognizes ‘untouchability’
as a part of one’s individual Dharma or as a permissible
form of religion or social prejudice.”

- wall text from the Freedom Struggles Museum at the Red Fort, Delhi

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

Church in Nandaguda, a village of mud houses along a dirt road off of a dirt road, proved not unlike any Pentecostal service in the U.S.  Except for the woman rattling off a prayer in Oriya language and the offering, which included a juvenile chicken, several coconuts, repurposed plastic containers filled with rice and $8.  This will be redistributed to the Koraput survivors – the poor giving to the poorer.

While Lynn documented the service, I slipped from the altar’s plastic chair to the back, sitting on the floor among the women and small children, staying out of Lynn’s compositions and making eye contact with parishioners, making note of the strong spirits despite tough poverty.

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

After service, I looked up from my backpack and found myself surrounded by the villagers, asking for blessings on their heads! Looking each person in the face and hearing their prayer requests, across languages, I came to a new place of humility, especially when I arrived at the four shining young women in bright yellow, aqua, and green saris, the women who led the church singing. Debendra Singh says, “When you sing, the pouring of the spirit is like wind that moves, touching everybody.  The wind has no barriers.”  These young women are like that – no barriers, the wind.

Following lunch of heaping mounds of white rice with gourd curry, we took off into the hill country to meet the Koraput survivors.  Along the hair-raising mountain route where our driver played “chicken” with oncoming trucks, we passed graceful women in saris, walking with wide pans of dirt perched on their heads, hacking at the red clay and mixing concrete.  Coolie work.

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

All around us, people teeter on bamboo scaffolding, haul large rocks, dig latrines, and clear out clogged trash from open sewers.  This is the coolie work of the “untouchables”, the lowest caste, people everyone else relies on to do their dirty jobs.  Standing in gorgeous flowing fabrics, they are picked up at the coolie stop in the morning and hauled off to filthy worksites to make things right for the rich.

Before the violent attacks on their village, the Koraput Survivors owned small shops, sold kerosene out of their homes, peddled fabric door to door, tilled the land.  They had their own.  Now, they are coolie labor, performing backbreaking work under the Indian sun.

Approaching the Koraput camp, families calmly came out to greet us, shaking our hands with a traditional greeting. We entered the camp yard with a cooking fire – upon sat two cauldrons, each a yard in diameter and filled with dal and rice. Church service was in the same yard, under a stretched burlap tarp, plastic lawn chairs up front for the honored guests and parishioners seated on the ground.  Same deal – we retreated to the back to observe, listen, and document.

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

Following benediction, instead of asking for blessings on their heads, a town hall meeting sprang forth. The pertinent topic while passing around photographs Lynn brought: how to use the $2500USD that we collected.  Micro-loans?  Food?  Build one house and two foundations?  What about the other 57 houses?  It’s a big dream, and big dreams come with big frustrations.

We could feel the group darkening as the Pastor interpreted our questions and people responded.  A little pit formed in my throat as it became apparent they thought we would finance all 60 homes.  In fact, we’re no saviors, we’ve come with questions.  We’ve come to commence rebuilding with them, not for them.  I started thinking of Ivan Illich’s essay, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” After solid deliberation, it was determined to continue building consensus after people could talk it over.

The next day, Lynn crafted 75 individual portraits of people in the camp, of their dignified faces in the late afternoon light.  This is important camera work – to make a portrait of the one who is never regarded, establishing and celebrating the faces of the untouchables, society’s throwaways.  It was a celebration – gathering around laughing and watching friends sit for portraits.  We asked their name, age, and what they used to do for a living, before their tragedy. Cow seller.  Goat butcher.  Seamstress.  Completing their university degree.

Photo by Lynn Johnson, 2012

Over lunch, I took respite in a cool, concrete room and talked with one of the few who speaks English.  I asked him what he would do if he had a micro loan.  “I’d sell men’s shirts,” Bhubendra Patra said, “just like my father.”  Hopefully, a dream realized, soon.

Jen Saffron is a writer, educator and curator of photographs.  Lynn Johnson is a professional photographer. Both reside in Pittsburgh, and will travel to Koraput on March 14. Read about their experiences and check out their photography here in the Council Blog.  Find out more about their project, here.


Project Koraput: Going South

by Jen Saffron

Arriving in Delhi’s airport last night, we encountered a string of uniformed porters, drivers, and relatives, hanging over a rail like parade spectators, some holding paper signs with an expected guest’s name.  Our driver, Sanjay, held a sign that read, “Mr. Lynn Johnson” and after his look of surprise when Lynn introduced herself, we whisked off to the car.

Later that evening, jet lagged and hungry at midnight, Lynn and I ordered room service.  The lamb, nan, and wicked spicy cauliflower arrived for Mr. Jen Saffron and I signed.

Throughout the world over, social codes, mores and even laws dictate who are the served and who are the servers, and in the developing world, women are not the served.  This strata, illustrated the second we landed in India, is layered with complex social traditions and gender stereotypes that will deepen as we travel out of India’s capital south to Orissa, one of the top five poorest states on the subcontinent.  As Pastor Singh, our contact in Jeypore shared, women in his region are completely dependent and ruled by men.  In Orissa, chronic malnourishment impacts 48% of all women and their life expectancy is 59.

It is a known fact that the uplift of women in the developing world holds the key to improving the quality of life for billions.  Improving the status of women positively impacts children, families, and community development.  A woman who earns her own income reinvests up to three times more of her earnings into her family as compared to a man. UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, strives to identify key indicators for success in health, economic opportunities and self determination.

We also know that women in the developing world like India, while the least involved in causing the devastations that impact their lives, are totally beholden to these same travesties – violence, hunger, and climate change among them.  In fact, Lynn will continue from our journey to Calcutta to photograph among other projects, education and micro-finance programs for Ripple Effect, an organization of women photographers documenting the impact of climate change on women, and promulgating those images to help women become agents in turning the tide.

Arriving in Orissa from the comforts of our privileged American lives, how can we be of service?  Now it’s our time to be the servers, but that’s a choice, not a burden.   We’ll never have to be a beast of burden to an upper caste, and navigating the unknowns and realities around that should prove interesting as we begin documenting the resettlement of the Koraput Christian refugees in a couple of days.

Jen Saffron is a writer, educator and curator of photographs.  Lynn Johnson is a professional photographer. Both reside in Pittsburgh, and will travel to Koraput on March 14. Read about their experiences and check out their photography here in the Council Blog.  Find out more about their project, here.


Project Koraput, India: The Call

by Jen Saffron 

In 2011, photographer Lynn Johnson embarked on a trip to India, documenting for National Geographic’s March 2012 cover story.  Her journey enabled her to follow the Christian Apostles, including St. Thomas in India, where she documented refugees – survivors of religious violence now settled in the community of Koraput in India’s Orissa State. She discovered what other news sources, such as the BBC, had already witnessed: religious violence.  

Three years ago, the Christian village of Talagumandi was subject to a wave of violence plaguing this eastern, predominately rural area, with many killed and the entire village burned down and returned to farmland. The extremists demanded that the Christians convert back to Hinduism or risk death.

Those who survived fled to the forest and eventually wandered toward the village of Koraput, where they took up residence, and still live, as squatters in a collection of abandoned buildings.  Extremists seek to regain social control over this impoverished class, keeping them out of schools, and passing laws to bar them from community funds, property ownership, government support, etc. Their only advocate in the area is Pastor Debendra Singh, an Indian who leads a small congregation in nearby Jeypore.

Pastor Singh, 2011, Lynn Johnson

“Jennifer, I am mailing you $100 for that India thing,” my mother sighed through the phone, “and this is after Connie Peduzzi’s son asked me for money for the American Heart Association.  Everyone wants money from me and it’s getting really old.  I don’t know how to decide.”

“I know, I know, Mom.” I said, skirting the familiar Italian Catholic guilt trip.  She did, however, have a point.  How are we supposed to decide?

With close to one billion people going hungry and one in eight people lacking clean water, where is one person to start?  It’s a personal choice: our call to action and its terms, costs, and benefits.

When Lynn Johnson returned from her trip in India, she recounted the life-changing conversation with one young man, Anil, who was tied to a pole and beaten for eight hours.  After listening to his testimony, she made her choice to answer her call to action. Lynn invited me to come on her journey to help transform the situation for 500 refugees in Koraput.  It’s a place to start, and I said yes.

Anil, 2011, Lynn Johnson

We started talking with people, some we knew and some we didn’t, schooling ourselves in microloan programs for women, the history of the caste system in Orissa, and religious intolerance both East and West. We started G-Chatting and receiving updates from Pastor Singh.  We set up a bank account to handle U.S. donations for Koraput infrastructural necessities – such as a well – to lay the foundation for sustainable living.

Yesterday we received a snapshot of a land deed being signed. The refugees bought their own land as a direct result of money raised at fundraisers held here in Pittsburgh.

As trained photographers, people working in the field to write and document other people’s plights and triumphs, we are trained to observe.  We disappear into the background and watch, sometimes appearing with small notebooks, asking questions such as, “What is your name, how old are you, and where are you from?” We don’t get involved. In fact, we are trained how to assess sources and work from neutrality (or at least fairness).

When we return from the field to the “majority world,” we craft our observations and experiences into exhibitions, magazines, and installations designed to engage the consciousness of viewers, who are also of the majority world (you). This is an imperfect set-up as we all know. The oft-toted phrase “raising awareness” can offer a glimmer of shared experience, but then what?  Whose awareness are we raising? To what end?

These are the questions we’re taking with us as we embark on a new journey to create a community project based in a model of mutuality. Coming together with Koraput, we seek to create a new community, inextricably linked and moving forward, together – a seed of peace.

This is a lofty goal, it’s been a challenge to us, personally and professionally, and we’re going for it.

Jen Saffron is a writer, educator and curator of photographs.  Lynn Johnson is a professional photographer.  Both reside in Pittsburgh, and will travel to Koraput on March 14. Read about their experiences and check out their photography here in the Council Blog.  Find out more about their project, here.


Running for Global Ed

On any given Saturday morning you can count on seeing members of the World Affairs Council braving the cold Pittsburgh winter and running 8+ miles, past PNC Park, across the 31st St. Bridge, up the Penn Avenue hill towards the Children’s Hospital of UPMC, or through the Strip District’s wafting aromas from the various restaurants and cafés opening up downtown.

Just a couple of fitness freaks? While many members of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh do like to keep in shape, these runners have a specific goal they are working toward. They are getting ready to run the Pittsburgh Marathon and Half Marathon on May 6th as part of the WorldRunners Team, the group of people who have committed themselves to raising money and awareness for the Council’s global education programs.

“I’m supporting the Council because I think that students in the U.S. now, more than ever, need to be educated on world events so that they will be prepared tocompete in the global marketplace when they graduate and go out to look for jobs,” says Ryan Hoffman, a student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and a member of the WorldRunners Team.

This is the first year that the World Affairs Council has been an official charity for Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon’s Run for a Reason Charity Program, along with about 40 others in the Pittsburgh area. The Team is really excited to use the Marathon as a way to help bring the Council’s various award-winning education programs, including the Student Ambassador Program, International Student Summits, and the Global Travel Scholarship Program, to underserved schools throughout the Pittsburgh region. Go Team!

If you’d like to join or support the team, you can go to their FirstGiving page to get involved.

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Year in Review: International Affairs in 2011

Happy New Year, everyone! 2012 is off to a snowy start here in Pittsburgh, and this seems like a perfect time to review what has happened over the past 360-some odd days.

As always, the global stage was full of tumult and change: 2011 saw the deaths of influential world figures (Warren Christopher, Muammar Gaddafi, Vaclav Havel, Steve Jobs, Kim Jong-Il, and Osama bin Laden, for example); uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa; the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq; devastating natural disasters (earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, typhoon in the Philippines, floods in south-east Asia, and famine in the Horn of Africa); and economic crisis in Europe.

We’ve scoured the web to find some of the best of the “2011 in Review” resources, and compiled them below. Are there any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.

2011 Year in Review (Reuters): Photos and descriptions of the most important news stories of the year, including a dramatic 60-second multimedia video presentation of the key stories, and some of the top images from 2011.

Best Articles of 2011 (Foreign Policy Magazine): Although not necessarily highlighting the most important news stories of the year, here are the most-read articles from foreignpolicy.com in 2011.

Best International Relations Books of 2011 (Foreign Affairs): In every issue of Foreign Affairs, scholars review recent academic and nonfiction books.  At the end of 2011, the reviewers were asked to select the best ones.  Here you will find the best books in a number of categories, including: Western Europe; the Middle East; the Western Hemisphere; Eastern Europe; Economic, Social, and Environmental Subjects; Asia; Africa; the United States; Military, Scientific, and Technological Subjects; and Political and Legal Subjects.

Personal Favorites from 2011 (A Realist in an Ideological Age): Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and writes a blog, A Realist in an Ideological Age, for Foreign Policy.  In this post, he shares his favorite blog posts from the past year, all of which are worth a read.

Shots Seen ‘Round the World (Foreign Policy Magazine): Fifty of the best/most important photographs from 2011, as selected by Foreign Policy.

Top 5 Foreign Policy Books in 2011 (Foreign Policy Association): The FPA asked its staff, editors, writers and bloggers to select the best books about foreign policy. Here is what they came up with.

Top 5 International Documentaries of 2011 (Foreign Policy Association): The FPA asked its staff, editors, writers and bloggers to select the best international documentaries on issues related to U.S. foreign policy. Here is what they came up with.

Twitter’s 2011 Year in Review (Twitter): It is no secret that social media is playing an increasing role in current events. Here is a look at some of the key stories, hot topics, and important moments of 2011 — as seen on Twitter.

Your Top 10 Stories of 2011 (The Guardian): Links to the top ten news stories of the year, as selected by readers.

The Year in Foreign Policy (Foreign Policy Association): The FPA looks at several key foreign policy events that promise to shape the coming year, including the 2012 election.

Year in Review (Foreign Policy Blogs Network): The FPA’s blog network has a number of great, topic-specific “Year in Review” posts, all of which can be found here. Read about 2011 in Russia or Israel, or the year in Global Food Security or War Crimes (to name just a few).

 


A Delicious (And Educational!) Blog

We recently stumbled across a fantastic local blog and wanted to share it with our readers — particularly those of you who are searching for some new foods to try!

Señorita Cibulka, the brains behind Señorita Cibulka Savors, teaches high school Spanish and is encouraging her students to try out some of the Latino/Hispanic restaurants and stores in the Pittsburgh area for extra credit.  She highlights local restaurants and shares her experiences there.  Reading her posts is a great way to learn about some new Hispanic/Latino dishes and restaurants, and discover some of the rich cultural resources we have right here in Western Pennsylvania.

You can find her blog at http://srtacibulkasavors.blogspot.com/

OYW Summit – Save the Date!

Saturday night at the One Young World Summit in Zurich, it was announced that Pittsburgh won the bid to host next year’s summit. The 2012 One Young World Summit will be held from October 18-22.

For more information, check out the Pittsburgh Business Times’ article: Pittsburgh to Host 2012 One Young World Conference.

Pittsburgh looks forward to welcoming the world once again!


OWY Summit – Thoughts After the Second Day

Well, it’s been a whirlwind first two days at the One Young World Summit here in Zurich. We’ve been hard at work, discussing some of the most pressing issues of the day with other young professionals from around the world. All told, there are approximately 1,200 delegates here, from 170 different countries, all sharing their ideas, their passions, the projects they are working on, and their visions of a better world.

It’s given the Pittsburgh delegates some food for thought. In our discussions outside of the plenary sessions, we are constantly discuss ways we can incorporate the lessons we are learning here into our everyday lives back home. I think this Summit has demonstrated just how small the world really is, how global, and how important it will be for Pittsburgh to look beyond the city limits in order to fully participate in a fast-changing world.

The biggest theme to come out of the Summit thus far has been the need for increased corporate social responsibility and sustainable business practices. Yesterday and today, we started with a series of sessions on Global Business where we heard from top executives from Shell, Hewlett Packard, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), Barclays, and Siemens. Each of the speakers presented their various development projects from ending energy poverty to ensuring enhancing access to technology throughout the developing world. Some of the most interesting perspectives, though, were provided from the audience, many of whom come from developing countries who are themselves working to find solutions.

Today’s plenary sessions covered a range of topics with a host of exciting speakers. Jamie Oliver kicked off with a discussion of the challenges posed by both hunger and obesity. Roger Federer provided a taped introduction to the plenary session on the impact of sports programs on community engagement. The interfaith dialogue with Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, and Jewish speakers resulted in an intense exchange of ideas on how we can end sectarian conflict.

For me, the most exciting plenary session of the day was the one on changing media featuring Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian internet activist that started the “We Are All Khaled” facebook page that helped spark the recent revolution in Egypt, and Oscar Morales, founder of One Million Voices against the Farc. This plenary offered a great discussion of how social media is changing the way we connect with one another, the importance of free speech for democracy, and the ways in which each of us can hold corporations and governments to account.

All in all, this has been a very rewarding, and very exhausting two days. In between plenary sessions, we’ve ridden across Lake Zurich, sang happy birthday to Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Bob Geldof, and run out of all our business cards. I’ll be headed back to the U.S. on Sunday, with a load of new contacts, new friends, and new ideas for how I can work to foster more global engagement in Pittsburgh.

-Caitlin, Program Officer at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh


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