Dying to Get From Africa to Europe

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 12.00.15 PMThe immigration crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean is hard to watch. It brings to mind mass migrations by sea of Haitians and Cubans in this hemisphere in the 1980s and 90s.

But with an estimated 900 fatalities when a boat sank this week off the coast of Italy, the toll is even greater.

I’ve felt a particular burden, even from a distance. For many years I’ve traveled to Africa and on many of those trips I’ve been implored by young people to help them emigrate. Some requests come quietly. Some are insistent. All are poignant.

The refugees who drowned, and the hundreds who preceded them on dangerous crossings, are not among those with the wherewithal to emigrate legally. They lack the contacts and the legal justification required for state sanctioned immigration. They are the invisible people.

There are myriad reasons for wanting to leave their homelands. Most seek relief from oppressive poverty. Some lack opportunity in their home countries, while others face oppressive regimes that make life unbearable. And some, such as Somalis and Syrians, live in countries where daily survival is a dangerous, risky thing.

These migrants are the poor and desperate. For too long Europe has turned a blind eye to those who risk life and limb in the vain hope that they will find security, prosperity and opportunity to the north. If they survive, most find confinement in a camp that is poorly equipped, only to be returned in a revolving door of frustration and risk.

But the neglect is not only European. The developed nations view the world through the strategic lens of security and threat. Until a major crisis erupts, or an insurgency develops that presents a global threat, the response to poverty at scale is often limited, and slow.

It’s abundantly clear that poverty is a breeding ground for instability and desperation. And desperation is a motivator for civil unrest, and a tool in the hands of manipulative radicals seeking to overthrow weak, corrupt and oppressive governments.

The failure to address poverty with a consistent, long-term approach has consequences. It is a strategic as well as a humanitarian failure.

Neither you nor I can help every young person who seeks help to leave his or her country, but we can encourage public policy that addresses food insecurity and long term development. We can encourage public policy that rewards good government. We can tell our representatives that we favor proactive humanitarian policy as a preventative to military action that results from social instability. We can provide financial support and volunteer to work for those humanitarian organizations on the front line of human need.

Here are four things we can do:

  1. Become informed and speak out about the current immigration crisis so that developed nations cannot ignore the poor and desperate until they die in tragedies like the ship that sank off Italy’s coast this week.
  2. Support the work of groups like the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and others like it, Bread for the World and Church World Service who advocate for just public policy and provide humanitarian services to ease the burdens of poverty.
  3. Support the Global Food Security Act to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, strengthen maternal and child nutrition, and build capacity for long-term agricultural growth.
  4. Support global health initiatives including efforts like Imagine No Malaria which improve quality of life in regions where under-served people face hunger and disease without proper health care.

We can be persistent in attempting to improve life for those who otherwise are willing to risk their lives in a dangerous journey to improve their chances to find dignity, opportunity and prosperity.

 


This article, now two years old, remains a pertinent, practical overview of the immigration crisis in Europe with clear policy recommendations.

About Retirement

 Tail of the Dragon on U.S. 129 with 318 curves in 11 miles. Deal's Gap, NC

Tail of the Dragon on U.S. 129 with 318 curves in 11 miles. Deal’s Gap, NC

I never expected to live beyond the age of 50. Strange as that sounds, I came to accept that death would catch up to me by that time. Insurance would take care of my family and I would be gone.

There was sound reasoning for this unusual thought. In those days I was traveling the world to report on humanitarian disasters—famine, armed conflict, natural disasters—for Church World Service and the National Council of Churches, USA.

I was chasing death around the world.

Not that these organizations put me in unsafe situations. They didn’t. But great tragedies are by nature uncontrolled. Things happen.

A team I was heading was told to leave Somalia or our compound would be bombed. A rival warlord didn’t want us in town. We negotiated to no avail. But we stayed and the bombing never happened, although we did have to leave a few days later under cover of darkness.

Somalia had just slipped into anarchy, a condition that it’s still trapped in.

I was in a Soviet-made passenger jet once that landed on a rain-filled runway in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It hydroplaned, sliding sideways and throwing us around like bowling pins. I thought my time had come. But the wheels grabbed and we straightened and came to a safe stop.

After I lived past the age of demise, I got depressed for lack of longer term planning. I’ve since learned this is not as unusual as I thought. Others tell me they have had similar thoughts.

And after I figured out that I had to get on with it, I moved beyond depression to the next step in my working life.

I tell you this, because I reached the age of mandatory retirement for my current position this year and I was forced to accept it.

In fairness, I requested to leave a few weeks earlier than planned for various reasons and I’m grateful this was allowed.

But the rule itself is an arbitrary holdover from the past. Retirement is being re-defined. The old concept of sitting on the beach all day lolling in the sun, or playing golf is looking like an anachronism for a lot of people. But stereotypes die hard.

A young man who doesn’t know me well told me I looked so much younger and relaxed after my planned retirement was announced. If I looked younger and relaxed it wasn’t for the reason he assumed.

Those who know me know I don’t embrace rules with a loving caress. I’m offended when anyone tells me what to do, even if it’s a doctor who’s telling me for my own good! But I abide most of them. This one is inescapable.

I understand that some people enthusiastically embrace retirement, or at least they embrace doing their own thing on their own time without the constraints of workplace rules. They take retirement as soon as possible.

I resist the rule and I resist the stereotype. In her book on her retirement Mary Lloyd writes of those of us who have reached this age. She says, “We’re stereotyped as out of shape, in need of huge amounts of medical attention, and focused on our grandchildren and finding the right retirement community.

…We need to see the truth—that when you leave, you may have as much of your life to live as you spent in the workforce.

…There’s so much life left in us when we reach this point. There’s so much to gain by claiming it. If we live our lives authentically after we ‘retire,’ we will be healthier physically, emotionally, spiritually. But, more importantly, we will be on fire with life.

…We need to change the way we undertake this transition. Our assumptions and expectations of the years after we retire need to change—individually and as a society. Those of us who have gotten that far, need to stand up and say confidently, ‘No, that’s not me at all.’ And then go out and be who we really are.”

Now, still on fire with life, I have the opportunity to respectfully lay aside the Book of Discipline, the law book of the church that requires mandatory retirement, and say, “No, that’s not me at all.” And then I will go out and be who I really am.

There are still many roads to ride, many words to write, many photographs to take, many human needs to be addressed, much injustice to confront, and much more to learn. There is a future to be grasped.

Most importantly, there is a life to be lived authentically.

And by the way. I’m not retiring. The rule says so. I say, to hell with the rule.


 

A postscript: According to Age Wave research more than half of the Boomers who are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 a day view retirement as a time to re-set, not as the occasion for winding down. Colleges and Universities are beginning to recognize this age group as a potential new market made up of those pursuing “capstone” careers.

We Must Be As Persistent as the Parasite

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 5.11.41 AMA few years ago I heard a Navy physician speak about a particularly difficult drug resistant strain of malaria in Cambodia. He was a specialist in malaria research. He speculated that the strain had developed during the U.S. war with Vietnam.

Malaria was rampant in the region. People affected by it took medication haphazardly to relieve the symptoms. But if the full course of treatment is not followed, the parasite can develop resistance.

He theorized this had contributed to a more virulent parasite. It’s resistant to artemisinin, currently the most effective drug to treat malaria. His concern was that the parasite could spread.

The Parasite Spreads

Now it appears this may be happening according to a study in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The parasite may be moving to a wider area, or reporting and documentation may be locating more cases.

In either case, the study points to the need for persistence to contain and prevent this parasite from spreading. The risk is that this strain could reach beyond Cambodia to India, Africa and other parts of southeast Asia.

If this were to happen it could reverse the enormous gains made against this disease in the past decade. This has happened before and the result was an increase in deaths and loss of productivity across whole regions of the world.

The study rings an alarm bell.

Continuing the Fight

We must continue the fight against malaria. The full range of technologies must be used:

  • continuing research to replace artimisinin where resistance occurs;
  • bednets to prevent night exposure;
  • effective education to assure people use medications properly;
  • getting counterfit drugs off the market;
  • residual indoor spraying for interior protection;
  • research to potentially alter the mosquito host and the parasite;
  • enviromental cleanup and water management to control mosquito breeding areas;
  • repairing broken, inadequate health systems.

Most importantly, donors, researchers, and health care providers must remain as persistent as the parasite.

Malaria is not a fad from which we retreat when it’s no longer the cause of the day. If the disease rebounds, the death toll will be worse than before, and that would be tragic.

Sustained, ongoing, dogged determination to contain this disease is the best approach. It’s not the easiest approach, but we know the results of doing less: needless suffering, lost productivity, countless deaths.

Campaign anticipates misuse of bed nets

Teresa Ad‹o Jo‹o (second from right) receives instructions about the proper use of her new mosquito net from Ilda Nanjembe during a 2012 distribution by The United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria campaign in Bom Jesus, Angola. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Teresa Ad‹o Jo‹o (second from right) learns about proper use of a bed net from Ilda Nanjembe during a 2012 distribution by The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign in Bom Jesus, Angola. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Bed nets intended to prevent malaria are used in fishing communities in Zambia to fish for food, which is sold in the local market, according to a report in the New York Times. The nets also trap fingerlings necessary for future stock. This decimates stocks and causes environmental harm.

The issue highlights an unintended consequence of the global effort to combat malaria, an effort that has reduced the death toll by half in the past decade.

The net distributions I have seen by the Imagine No Malaria campaign anticipated the problem of net misuse.

Before a distribution, community health workers and volunteers were identified and trained. During a pre-distribution education period, they learned how to prevent malaria, request permission to enter homes to hang nets, and explain proper use and care of nets.

Media campaigns, community meetings, fliers and word-of-mouth alerted local people to the future distribution. Communities were prepared in advance to welcome health workers and volunteers into homes. The trained volunteers hung nets and demonstrated how to use them.

As followup, health workers were assigned for six months to sectors to monitor net use and record the use rate. This identified issues for future distributions and reinforced behavior change practices that are critical for regular net usage.  For 9 to 12 months after a net distribution, there are regular check-ups to ensure proper use and care of the nets.

In the Bo District of Sierra Leone, for example, health workers determined 98 percent of the nets were in use six months after installation. In addition, Imagine No Malaria nets were not distributed around fishing communities. The use of nets for fishing is likely localized to those communities.

In the past, nets distributed without such precautions sometimes appeared in local markets and were used for many unintended purposes. But net providers learned and adapted.

Underlying problems

Secondary uses of netting, as with many other items, are common in many communities lacking resources.

While this doesn’t mitigate the environmental harm, it does emphasize that people are using nets to get food and fish for sale. The root of the problem is food self-sufficiency and a healthy local economy.

It’s compounded by lack of awareness of the harm done to fish stocks.

The story also points to the need for alternatives to nets where practical and for more education.

A greater emphasis on screens and doors in living quarters is proposed. Due to construction practices and cost, this is more practical in some areas than others.

Indoor residual spraying is practical and safe, and it is used in some regions.

Responding to the challenge

Media campaigns can encourage proper use of nets and point out the harm done by this particular secondary use. Local leaders can speak against harmful fishing and build community support for prevention.

Addressing the diseases of poverty is a complex challenge. Solving one problem can lead to others. Unintended consequences reveal themselves.

Disease, poverty, education, food sufficiency and environmental stewardship are interrelated, complex human concerns. We are challenged by them to find life-enhancing solutions.

The story points to the need for thoughtful, comprehensive development to address these interrelated issues of life and death.

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This post was edited to remove a sentence that said the NY Times article did not refer to new nets. The article quotes a fisherman who says new nets are better because they don’t have holes.

Ecumenical partners brought healing after Khmer Rouge’s ‘hell on earth’

 

A worker cultivates rice on a collective farm in 1980s Cambodia. Photo by Larry Hollon.

A worker cultivates rice on a collective farm in 1980s Cambodia. Photo by Larry Hollon.

Today is the 36th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea, known more commonly today as Cambodia.

Shortly after the fall, and after Vietnam occupied Cambodia, I went to the country to produce a film on reconstruction. Cuban hydrologists and Polish veterinarians went into Cambodia under an ecumenical partnership brokered by ecumenical leaders including Paul McCleary, head of Church World Service.

The people were still reeling from the trauma. It’s estimated that up to one-quarter of the population died in the genocide. Led by Pol Pot, the revolutionaries attempted to create an agrarian, collectivist society.

Instead, they created hell on earth.

The killing fields

At first dissidents were killed. But the attacks enlarged to include the educated and even those who wore glasses because they might be intellectuals. Teachers, lawyers and professors risked identification as part of the anti-revolutionary elite.

Under coercion, neighbors, family members and even children reported on those presumed guilty of anti-revolutionary acts or thoughts. Families were divided. People were uprooted and forced to labor in collectives. Mass murders were common.

This was the time of the killing fields.

The country’s infrastructure was dismantled. Telephone lines were torn down. The electric grid was destroyed. Modern technologies were counter to the idealized rural society the revolutionaries envisioned.

The teams put in place by the ecumenical coalition helped to restore the national cattle herd and reconstruct destroyed canals in the Mekong Delta. The canals irrigated rice paddies, which were the basic food source for the region.

U.S. carpet bombing during the war with Vietnam had caused massive destruction to the countryside. The Khmer Rouge made it worse.

Mass graves

The 1978 invasion by Vietnam had freed the country of Pol Pot but added to the damage. But for the Vietnamese administrators, Cambodia was a non-functioning country, driven backward into pre-modern status.

Land mines, laid during the war with Vietnam, were still in the ground, causing injuries and death. A grim census was underway exhuming bodies from mass graves.

Tensions between the occupiers and the Khmer were subtle but strong. Trust was broken. Hatred for the U.S. government was mitigated only by a more intense hatred for the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.

We traveled the country, under a curfew and tight regulation. We went to killing fields. In one particularly disturbing visit, we watched a worker exhume skulls and other bones. The odor of decay made the scene all the more horrific.

At a city hospital in the south, a modern stainless steel sterilizer for medical equipment sat upended on three rocks. Now it served as a boiling pot above a wood fire in a former operating room.

The building was a skeleton of its former self.

Sensitive work

The work of the ecumenical coalition was controversial at the time. Healing after the war between Vietnam and the U.S. was still in the future. But the ecumenical team was doing pure humanitarian work. It was the work of reconciliation and healing.

As in all wars, the suffering is not limited to the combatants. Those caught between the guns bear a tragic burden as well. This was especially true of the Cambodian people.

To enter Cambodia we had to pass through Vietnam. Vietnamese officials were suspicious of our film crew, but the Vietnamese people were hospitable and gracious.

The Cambodians were fearful we would make a misstep and cause problems for them with the Vietnamese occupiers.

U.S. authorities had sanctions against both countries. They required special approval for licenses and visas. And they confiscated and held my film for a brief time upon our return.

Eventually, however, the State Department purchased copies to place in libraries around the world as an example of the humanitarianism of the U.S.

Vision for a different world

Imagine how different the region is now. Cambodia is recovering from near-Stone Age conditions that prevailed only 36 years ago.

Vietnam is becoming an economic success story.

Thailand, despite disruptive political divisions, is a strong economic power and a tourist destination.

And Laos continues its reconstruction.

On this anniversary, I’m grateful for the courage of the ecumenical partners who carried out this humanitarian work of reconciliation and healing. I’m especially grateful for leaders who had the vision, perseverance and commitment to see the world differently, through a lens of compassion and reconciliation, and to carry out the vision.

How Would You Like Your News, Mam, On Paper or on Screen?

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 9.16.38 AMWe get two newspapers by home delivery and both have announced a price increase. This comes as no surprise. Costs are increasing. Readership is down. Revenue is in free fall. Readers are growing older and are not being replaced.

The formula is clear. Some day it will be too expensive to distribute news this way. Publishers will no longer be able to print and distribute news on paper, and I’ll no longer be able to afford it.

Millennials get their news in other ways, mostly from the web through social media and websites that package information specifically for them. If they want news in any form, it’s on a screen.

Losing Millennials

Allen Mutter, in his blog “Reflections of a Newsosaur,” concludes that “editors and publishers have only themselves to blame” for losing this generation. They are coveted not only for their current buying power, but because they are the future. Mutter says publishers talked to one another and did not engage millennials to discover their interests, attitudes, and media uses. That’s how they lost them.

To underscore his point, he compares demographic statistics from traditional media audiences to visits to websites that cater to millennials. He used: BuzzFeed, Circa, Mic, Upworthy, Vice, Vocative, Vox and the McClatchy chain. The handwriting is on the wall, or more aptly, on the screen.

The Era of the Screen

We’re in the era of the screen, and screens on various devices result in a sea change. The changes we’re going through are so widespread and disruptive they affect traditional business models, the way we go about our daily affairs, language and culture.

Predicting this would have required an ability to foretell the future with a skill few of us have. Who knew that in 2014 millennials would use four or more digital devices a day, or check their mobile phones 45 times a day? Who foretold that the primary way they would learn about new information is through social media? Or that sharing would come to mean more than letting someone else play with your toy?

The shift from broadcast to hypertargeted media is upending how we communicate. We no longer buy radios because we listen to news, podcasts, and music online, or download them to handheld devices. We watch videos on mobile screens. We select content based on our interests and needs. We’re overloaded with options and we’ve learned to filter out that which doesn’t appeal to our specific interests.

Institutional Change

Institutional authority is changing. It’s too soon to know how this will shake out, but it’s clear that what we’ve known as traditional institutional models must change. And businesses that traffic in information and entertainment such as movies, radio, television, music and news are challenged to change their business models.

Population by Generation

Researchers say millennials want socially responsible information relevant to them. They want entertaining information, often packaged in graphics or video. They rely on friends and sharing to help them filter content options. They are less interested in dispassionate, objective journalism than in writing with a point of view.

Demographics Don’t Define Us

But ad executive David Bohan makes the point that millennials, like the rest of us, are not a lump of demographic similarities. They’re people with distinct interests and lives. Millennials have different interests at different stages of life. They are loyal to brands they trust but also discriminating and savvy.

If there is a message to be gleaned from this complexity it is that we cannot reduce people to their demographic and psychographic profiles. Life is more nuanced than this. We have distinct interests, desires and expectations. Some of us are native to this new communication environment. Others are digital immigrants, subject to the changes that media bring to our lives, uprooting us from the security that institutions provided in the past.

The New Challenge

And if there is a constant in this mix it is that one-way communication has given way to conversation. Multiple conversations, in fact. Communication is about relationships. The new challenge is to venture from the familiar and find a place in the new landscape. It calls for listening and learning. We can talk to ourselves but risk that the rest of the world will pass us by.

The challenge that virtually every institution based on mass membership, mass circulation or mass audience faces today is to find a place in the new landscape and converse with those who inhabit it, and find ways to communicate relevance, authenticity and responsibility. And to do it in an appealing way.

Relating to Cuba

Doctors attend to newborn in pediatric hospital in Havana

Doctors attend to newborn in pediatric hospital in Havana

A nurse slowly squeezed a manual respirator to keep the newborn breathing. Two physicians worked quietly and methodically on the distressed child. We were in the critical care unit of the central pediatric hospital in Havana, Cuba. It was more than 15 years ago, but as I hear criticism about the normalizing of relations with Cuba today, it makes me wonder how much has changed since then.

A Grave Situation

I was photographing medical care for children at the invitation of a pediatrics official as part of a visit with friend and colleague Joe Moran of Church World Service. We were documenting the humanitarian work of Cuban Christians and others. Cuba has long emphasized quality health care and many South American nations send patients to the island nation for care.

As I concentrated on photographing them, I was not aware of the gravity of their efforts. An X-ray negative was taped to a window. It revealed the baby had been born with a single lung.

As I looked through the viewfinder, concentrating on focus and composition, one doctor stood erect after having leaned over the child’s bed. The nurse put down the respirator. The three laid their equipment aside and looked toward me. The child had died.

I leaned against the wall, shocked and humiliated by my lack of awareness. Tears welled in my eyes. And these people who had just completed heroic efforts to save this child came over to console me!

Embargo Results

As we talked, they explained the difficulties of caring for the child. His chances of survival were dire. One of the challenges was a lack of needles small enough for the tiny veins of  newborns. As with many other medical supplies and equipment, they attributed the shortage to the U.S. embargo that had been in effect for the past 30 years.

Except for case-by-case humanitarian exemptions, medical supplies made in the U.S. were blocked from entering Cuba. And this had recently been extended to equipment under U.S. patent. This meant that materials from third party sources could not be imported if they were patented in the U.S.

This was only one of the hardships visited on the vulnerable, like this infant, that resulted from the embargo. The Cuban economy was anemic. Travel to the U.S. was  prohibited. Remittances from family in the U.S. were limited. Trade with the U.S. was restricted.

Tourism from other nations was just beginning to attract foreign exchange, but a dual economy–one for tourists and one for locals–only highlighted financial inequality.  Life was hard for most people.

Putting the Past Behind Us

I thought of this experience when I heard of the agreement to normalize relations between Cuba and the U.S. I thought of the Cuban people: the children in the pediatric hospital, the pleasant old woman in a senior residence who told me with a smile as I was leaving, “Remember, you have a grandmother in Cuba,” the teachers and children in the schools I visited, the farmers and the health care workers.

They are everyday people seeking to live meaningful, purposeful lives like you and me, under difficult circumstances made unnecessarily more difficult by political differences that have festered now for a half century.

I understand the Cold War ideology. I lived through it: the missile crisis, the political detainees, the human rights violations. But this baby had nothing to do with that. He was simply born into this world of hubris and hatefulness, without a fighting chance for survival.

Things have changed since my visit, but slowly and incrementally. And not enough to greatly improve the lot of most Cubans. The normalizing of relations will notch up the change. But it does not end the embargo. That requires an act of Congress.

It will be a political struggle. But this, too, must happen. So long as it continues, it undermines our best values, and punishes the innocent.

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The National Council of Churches in the U.S. and Cuban Council of Churches have issued a joint statement about normalization nd future steps: http://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/news/2014-12cubastepsforward.php

We must support Dr. Salia, Ebola caregivers

Dr. Martin Salia, shown at the United Methodist Church's Kissy Hospital outside Freetown, Sierra Leone, in April, has tested positive for Ebola. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Dr. Martin Salia, shown at The United Methodist Church’s Kissy Hospital outside Freetown, Sierra Leone, in April, has tested positive for Ebola. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

In an interview with United Methodist Communications in April, Dr. Martin Salia explains why he works in Sierra Leone. He provides health care to all who come to the hospitals where he serves. “I took this job not because I want to but because it was a calling and that God wanted me to,” he said.

Like many health care workers across the African continent, Dr. Salia’s motivation is deeply religious.

Dr. Salia is a key figure at Kissy Hospital run by The United Methodist Church of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has three physicians for every 100,000 persons in the country. Kissy is one of the facilities that Dr. Salia has been serving.

The average income in Sierra Leone is $347 per year. According to the U.S. State Department, this translates to “over 72 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day, in extreme poverty.”

Kissy serves those who cannot afford to pay for medical care. It is one of the faith-based hospitals that provide 40 percent of the health care across Africa. In the course of my work in reporting on Africa, I’ve been in clinics and hospitals like Kissy. I’ve seen people pay for services with chickens, goats and mangoes.

The world owes a debt of gratitude, and more, to health care workers like Dr. Salia. We should do all in our power and our resources to assist them.

At great personal cost, Dr. Salia’s spouse has arranged for him to come to the U.S. for treatment for Ebola. A physician who has given so much of himself in treating others, Dr. Salia is now an Ebola patient himself. Kissy Hospital has been forced to close temporarily.

This complicates the challenge of controlling this virus. It also adds to the burden of untreated cases of malaria, diarrhea and other killer diseases of poverty.

Tragedy upon tragedy. And yet, heroic individuals like Dr. Salia put themselves in harm’s way to bring well-being to West Africa.

Dr. Salia is going to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment. I’ve had intimate experience with this medical center. It’s among the nation’s best. I think the state can take great pride in its personnel to care for Dr. Salia.

We know that with proper care, equipment and interventions, the survival rate for Ebola patients treated in the U.S. is favorable. It’s understandable that people fear Ebola, but we know that control of the virus is possible. And after missteps in Dallas, the health care community has shown it can self-correct. It has demonstrated a capacity to care for this disease responsibly.

If ever there were a time for welcoming and hospitality, it is now. And if ever there were a time for the world to contain its fears about Ebola and act responsibly toward those who are working under extraordinarily difficult conditions to contain this virus, this is it.

______________________

The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund. With your help, we can provide communications support in the event of a crisis or disaster. Donate here.

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The Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church has established a fund to receive gifts toward the cost of his transportation to Omaha and related medical costs not covered by other sources.  Contributions can be made through any United Methodist church, or sent directly to: Great Plains Conference Office, 4201 SW 15th, PO Box 4187, Topeka, KS 66604.   Please put “Dr. Salia Fund” on the memo line.

The Music of My Youth as a Commercial Shill

Union Bus Station, Oklahoma City

Union Bus Station, Oklahoma City

I wrote my master’s thesis on the interaction of media, culture and theology. My point was that culture and theology intersect. We can learn much about the human condition by listening to cultural expressions such as contemporary music, and reflecting on them theologically.

The idea wasn’t well-received by my review committee. They asked me to re-write it. I argued and won small concessions. But they rejected the basic proposition that popular culture and theology intersect.

They did not buy my argument that Paul Simon’s song “America” held theological content. I said it is about the search for meaning. It informs our understanding of alienation, loneliness and the search for community. We seek relationship with each other and with God.

The song describes this search, not for God, but for relationships; about how tentative and faltering they can be. It draws a plaintive word picture of youth searching for America. Young adults trying to find their place in the world.

I like to think my struggle with the committee just indicates I was ahead of the times. But whatever the case, I defended Paul Simon and his songs. They meant something more than jukebox background music, or so I thought.

When I heard this song used in a commercial for a credit card company recently, my heart sank. Paul Simon shilling for corporate America. Is this where the search ends? Is this what the young man was looking for–a lucrative licensing fee?

This is America?

I’m wondering. Is this what I fought for, or was the committee correct after all?

Why the FCC should turn on FM radio chips in mobile phones

Having radio chips activated in their mobile phones would enable users to listen to over-the-air radio in the event of an emergency. Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry,  photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications

Having radio chips activated in their mobile phones would enable users to listen to over-the-air radio in the event of an emergency. Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, typhoon aftermath photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications

When Typhoon Yolanda caused extensive damage in the Tacloban region of the Philippines a year ago, it wiped out major parts of the communications infrastructure. Mobile phone and Wi-Fi towers were so damaged these communications systems were inoperable.

The result was that people across the region were unable to communicate, and those who came to provide emergency aid were unable to locate people in great distress. The situation led the Philippines government to issue a request for assistance to rebuild the communications infrastructure.

April Mercado, United Methodist Communications staff in the Philippines, told the Game Changers Summit last month that in the earliest days of the emergency the most reliable means of communication was radio.

In most emerging nations, radio is the most effective and efficient way to reach broad numbers of people, and it becomes even more important during emergencies. For example, The United Methodist radio station, “Voice of Hope,” in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, remained on the air during an armed conflict in the country a few years ago, one of the few stations to continue broadcasting during that crisis.

In the United States, floods, ice storms, tornadoes and other disasters often require emergency communications, so emerging nations aren’t alone in using radio for good ends.

I reflected on this recently when I learned that mobile phones in the U.S. come with a chip that will receive FM radio signals over the air, but many service providers disable them. The chips allow mobile phones to act like a transistor radio, without data charges.

As we move to all-in-one handheld devices such as tablets, cellphones and “phablets,” this function becomes more important, it seems to me. As a resident in an area where Internet service is frequently down, and satellite television can be interrupted by thunderstorms, over-the-air radio is a useful way to get important information.

As a result of this concern, I wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to request that the Federal Communications Commission consider requiring these chips to be activated on smartphones sold in the U.S., so that we all can benefit from this important function. It’s a feature that we should have not only for convenience, but for our well-being when emergency circumstances demand it.

Here is the letter:

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

I write to request favorable action by the FCC to require mobile telephone manufacturers and operators to provide access to FM radio through mobile devices including smartphones, tablets and “phablets.”

This is a matter of public safety in addition to convenience for individual users of these devices. A report from the International Telecommunication Union states the need succinctly:

“For many decades, radio and television broadcasters have been the primary source of critical information to the public in the event of disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, snowstorms, earthquakes, tsunamis, solar storms, terrorist violence, mass transportation accidents, and industrial or technological catastrophes. This important role can be both before an impending event and also after an event. On these occasions, radio and television broadcasting provides reliable point-to-everywhere delivery of essential information and safety advice to the public, to first responders and others via widely available consumer receivers, both mobile and fixed. In many cases the major broadcasting facilities have their own independent power supply facilities to maintain communications even if utility supplies are lost.”

Examples abound of the need for this service on mobile devices from ice storms in Kentucky to tornadoes in the Midwest to hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. When residential power is out, often cell service and Internet are also out.  The only battery device may be a smart phone, but it is useless without cell service.  With an activated radio chip, however, it will function similar to a transistor radio providing people with information essential for survival.

This includes where food, water and shelter are available; where FEMA and other humanitarian assistance is located; when there are curfew hours and road closings; when there are school closings and the status of hospital physical plants.

Portable radios as we have known them are important, but society is depending more and more on smart devices as a primary tool to receive information. Today, societies the world over are transitioning to mobile handset devices for their information. FM receivers in smart devices should be activated as a matter of public safety just as air bags and seatbelts in automobiles were required years ago. While information increasingly flows through mobile devices, broadcast services remain the most effective and efficient means of reaching the widest audience.

In an emergency, the role of broadcasters is even more important because they serve local communities with essential, fact-checked, reliable information, and they distribute it to all within the broadcast signal.

When cell signals are not in service, over-the-air FM radio is the most reliable means of delivering information in critical events. It is our experience at United Methodist Communications, which is the global communications agency for The United Methodist Church with audiences in the Philippines, Eastern and Central Europe, Africa, and the United States, that radio is a key tool to deliver life-saving information. Our experience in Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines and in the current Ebola crisis in West Africa reinforces the value of radio as a means of informing persons about circumstances essential to their well-being in emergency situations such as those the ITU report identifies.

For these important reasons, I request the FCC mandate that over-the-air radio chips be activated in mobile phones in the United States so that FM radio is available to all who desire and who would benefit from this important service.

Sincerely,

Larry Hollon

General Secretary

United Methodist Communications

 

 

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