Today in Germany hundreds of thousands of refugees arrive each year, looking for asylum and safety. Many are from primarily Islamic nations.

The massive influx of people has strained local officials— finding adequate housing for everyone is a challenge.

Many cities have put massive amounts of refugees in old schools or re-purposed shipping containers. Often, the refugees are not welcome in their new neighborhoods due to religious tension. According to National Public Radio, “The western German city of Schwerte even proposed placing 21 refugees in a barracks on the grounds of a Nazi-era concentration camp.”

Berlin Residents Mareike Geiling and Jonas Kakoschke believe that refugees deserve a more humane treatment than mass, impersonal accommodations. This prompted them to create the organization Refugees Welcome— a website that matches refugees looking for asylum with people in Germany and Austria willing to open their homes to these people in need.

“We don’t like the idea of putting these people into one place where many, many people live,” explained Geiling to NPR.

“Many asylum-seekers have to stay there for years … doing nothing, because they are not allowed to do anything. They are not allowed to work, they are not allowed to have German classes sometimes and sometimes it’s not a city, it’s a village and there’s nothing to do and so you get depressed after years and stuff like this,” said Kakoschke.

Kakoschke and Geiling are a couple living in Berlin, and they were the first to open their doors to a refugee in need. The couple matched with a thirty-nine year old Muslim man from Mali, who had recently applied for asylum and is waiting for a working permit. For this reason, Kakoschke and Geiling raise money to cover their new roommates cost of rent and utilities.

NPR reports that the Malian man is afraid to give his name for safety reasons, but said “It surprised me a lot because … the people here don’t want to see people like us in their land.”

Before Kakoschke and Geiling opened their doors to him, the roommate was homeless. “Sometimes I’d take the bus from different sector to different sector at nighttime until, you know, 2:30” in the morning, he says. Then he’d “get out and sleep for 20 minutes and go back on the train again sometimes and go back in the mosque and pray there for 30 minutes and sleep there for one hour.”

Refugees Welcome has been very successful so far on a small scale. The website has matched 122 refugees to welcoming German and Austrian flatmates.

Refugees Welcome reports, “Through Refugees Welcome people have moved in to 80 homes in Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Darmstadt, Dortmund, Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Konstanz, Leipzig, Marburg, Munich, Munster, Norderstedt, Offenburg and Wolfratshausen. Through Refugees Welcome Austria (our Austrian sister-organisation) people have moved in to 44 places in Eisenstadt, Knittelfeld, Salzburg and Vienna. The new flatmates are from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Tunisia.”

Aaron Andree

Sources: NPR, Refugees-Welcome
Photo: thegaurdian

Acrobats of the Road

Traveling the world since 2005, Acrobats of the Road Juan Villarino and Laura Lazzarino have enacted their Educational Nomadic Project in communities all over South America, southern Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The project is dedicated to documenting and spreading world hospitality to help overcome social issues domestic to different regions.

Juan Villarino is a writer and photographer originally from Argentina who has spent the majority of his life traveling the world and writing about the people he has met. Laura is a nomad who spent much of her youth traveling solo through South America, Western Europe and southern Asia. The pair met while abroad, and after traveling for a few years, they decided to team up and start Acrobats of the Road.

For each community the group impacts, Villarino self-publishes a book to inform readers about the importance of hospitality and social justice in rural villages throughout the world. His most recent book, Hitchhiking in the Axis of Evil, was picked up for proper publication and will be distributed internationally. The book follows Villarino’s journey through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and his contributions to increasing social justice in communities affected by war.

Acrobats of the Road have traveled to over 60 countries, crossing more than 1,500 borders and travelling over 160,000 kilometers. Throughout their journeys, they have stayed in monasteries, hostels, campgrounds and with locals. These experiences have allowed them to encounter firsthand the generosity that inspired them to create Acrobats of the Road.

For their Educational Nomadic Project, Villarino compiles slideshows of photographs and the pair present lectures and workshops on a variety of topics including the intrinsic goodness of human beings, community involvement and cooperation. In collaboration with the People’s Health Movement, the pair travels with a projector to teach to these communities.

While travelling, the duo has received a lot of love and care from people of many races, religions and backgrounds, and the project focuses on giving back to those who have helped them along the way. The project was started in 2009 and has been used to spread empathy and care. Villarino’s photographs capture the everyday life, kindness and cultures of communities he has encountered while hitchhiking. Acrobats of the Road hopes that with this project, they can promote equality and happiness and show that the world can become a more harmonious place.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Blogspot, Mangomanjaro, Matador Network

Photo: Acrobatsoftheroad

Google Street View Depicts Mongolia - The Borgen Project
Since its launch in 2007, Google Street View, an extension of Google Maps, has provided users with realistic views of locations they might like to visit. People can actually navigate entire countries without leaving their homes thanks to these technologies and the number of popular tourist destinations has greatly increased.

Google Street View actually used their Google Trekkers—15 fixed-focus lenses with 360-degree panoramic shots every three meters—to capture incredibly important aspects of Mongolian culture. Nadaam, also known as the Three Games of Men, was going on in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar on July 11-13 this year as the Google Trekkers made their way through. They were joined by CNN who covered the story.

Nadaam is a type of Mongolian Olympics composed of archery, wrestling and horse racing. The horse racing event is particularly interesting because jockeys are generally ages five to thirteen and are raised to ride horses even before they can walk. According to residents, the competition itself focuses more so on the skill of the horses and their compatibility with their riders rather than the rider’s command over the horses.

“So far, Google has captured breathtaking landscapes across five cities and six provinces including Ulaan Baatar, Darkhan, Khenti, Dornogovi, and Selenge,” and they’ve been mapping the area since Oct. 2014. Though falling copper prices and low investor confidence has placed Mongolia in financial difficulties, Google hopes to raise tourism profiles.

“At Khursgul Lake, the second-largest freshwater lake in Asia, the team trekked across its frozen surface on a horse-drawn sled, providing breathtaking views of Mongolia’s landscape.”

Including its projects in Mongolia, Google Street View has also managed to capture remote islands, the Pyramids of Giza and the Amazon Jungle.

Anna Brailow

Sources: CNN, Sky
Photo: Discovery News

Preserving Tibet
For many centuries, Tibet lay peacefully on the Tibetan Plateau, its people cultivating a sense of community that lived a life of peace with their leader, the Dalai Lama. However, with increased globalization and pressure for development, their migratory way of life and secluded nature no longer seemed feasible in the grand scheme of things, and their neighbor China invaded them. This invasion forced several Tibetan people to seek refuge in the village of Dharamsala, a small part of northern India. It became home to the Dalai Lama and his followers, but several Tibetans still attempt to live on the Tibetan plateau and are constantly fighting the arrest and destruction that China has thrust upon them.

For those few remaining souls, life can be very difficult as they face increasing pressure to either join China, be arrested, or flee to Dharamsala, leaving their homes and families behind. The main reason these individuals must make a decision is because they have very limited means of supporting themselves. After living in a migratory way for the majority of their lives, adapting to the new landscape, which includes a train that goes directly to China, has become very difficult. Some Tibetans are attempting to preserve their culture by acting as tour guides and performers, but with limited access, this is becoming a job that only few can hold. Luckily, there is an NGO that is willing to help.

The Bridge Fund (TBF) is an organization that is “working to improve the lives of Tibetan communities in China through locally driven, integrated development programs and overarching initiatives. The program supports education, health care, cultural heritage preservation, environmental conservation and business development. TBF exists to literally bridge resources technical, financial and advisory for Tibetan communities so they can meet their own economic, social, cultural and environmental needs.”

TBF allows local Tibetans to produce goods that can be sold in stores throughout the world. It also strives to preserve Tibetan heritage and has recently launched a music and mural preservation initiative that has proven to be very successful. By providing business education to Tibetans young and old, The Bridge Fund is succeeding in making Tibetans more independent as they face hardships imposed by China. By providing counsel and connections, the organization is effectively creating business-savvy individuals who will be able to compete on the global market while simultaneously preserving their own culture.

Several other Tibet-based NGOs have come into effect and have been working alongside The Bridge Fund to help the Tibetan people preserve and protect what is rightfully theirs. While it is understandable that China may want to push their borders further west in order to accommodate a growing population, it is imperative to understand the importance of preserving a nation that is home to a rich cultural background. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you cannot help them, at least do not hurt them.” This is a prime opportunity to help people who, at the present moment, are struggling to help themselves.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: The Bridge Fund, International Campaign for Tibet
Photo: Karmapa

The U.S. Army's Failed Anthropology Experiment
In 2006, a program dubbed the Human Terrain System was introduced to the U.S. Army as an anthropological effort to learn more about the culture of the Iraqi and Afghan people. The program aimed to combine social science with military intelligence to gain more Intel on the cultural factors at play in the countries’ high level of extremism and terrorism. HTS faced substantial criticism from the start, from both experts in anthropology and war, as well as from both left and right-sided politics. The program cost taxpayers an estimated $700 million over a span of seven years before it was halted. The program ended in September of 2014, but the defeat of the program was widely unknown, at least from a public standpoint, until just recently.

Despite the criticism, a multi-sector approach to the conflict in the Middle East could have the potential for tremendous reward. The brisk implementation, lack of adequate organization and training and high level of criticism seemed to completely deplete any and all advantages that HTS could have brought to U.S. efforts. It is widely known and supported that investment in encouraging development in areas of underdevelopment is generally a long term investment in decreasing conflict and therefore strengthening homeland defense. In fact, 84 percent of military officers said that strengthening non-military tools, such as diplomacy and development efforts, should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts, and yet the U.S. spends a tiny fraction of foreign spending on alleviating poverty. Understanding the culture in which soldiers are living and interacting within would be of a tremendous value for U.S. troops. So, why, then, was the introduction of HTS faced with so little support?

For one, the program was developed and implemented rather quickly, and without adequate research and planning. There was little training for workers who would be immersed in an area of high combat, intense climate and a language barrier, which not only put the workers in danger, but also took away from their ability to adequately gather information and inform troops.

Additionally, posing the project as an anthropology initiative posed serious ethical concerns. Some viewed it as the U.S. army gaining knowledge of the culture and its people to more efficiently subjugate violence against them. The anthropological community strongly upheld that argument, which contributed to a lack of support and expertise in that area contributing to the program. Additionally, on the ground, this dilemma brought on varying degrees of suspicion among Iraqi and Afghan people, which could further put the HTS workers in danger.

Also, the lack of adequate leadership and development of the program left room for major problems in mismanagement, corruption, racism and sexual harassment. The program was cited for hiring unqualified workers at all levels. The impossible work environment and lack of general expertise and professional knowledge rendered the program nearly ineffective.

Overall, the program, at first glance, would seem potentially invaluable for both domestic military leaders and for the troops actively engaged on the ground. However, the mismanagement and lack of seriousness of the program made for an ineffective and potentially dangerous program. The quiet termination of the program was needed, but it also further complicated the issue of future efforts in combining social science with military activism. Instead of using the program as a one time effort that failed and from which we can move on, we should use the failure as a learning opportunity. Using experts from both fields to create a working program with credible leadership and intensive training could not only give the U.S. Army an advantage, but also decrease overall violence in the areas where implemented. We also need to remove some of the strict labels put on such projects due to the political associations they may have, which could influence the support of projects, something they really lack.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Bloomberg, Foreign Policy
Photo: Newsweek

Cuba
With the recent opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., things are looking up for people in both Cuba and the United States.

Ever since the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, US-Cuba relations have been on shaky ground. The Cuban Embassy was closed in 1961 and massive trade and travel embargoes were placed between both nations. Without access to many trading partners, several people in Cuba wished for a better life and attempted to travel to the United States. These journeys were quite costly and extremely dangerous and often led to death; however, the few that did make it to America spent lifetimes away from their families, with no way to reach them.

This is all going to change.

Over the past few years, the doors have been slowly pulled open as more and more people have been allowed in. Several American school groups were even permitted to enter Cuba. However, only a few months after President Obama released his decision to resume contact with Cuba, tourists have been flocking to the island. Hotels and cruise lines have already set up their plans for tourists, Airbnb has created profiles for people wishing for a comfy stay while in Cuba and Jet Blue has established a direct air route to Cuba. Along with this massive influx of tourism, some trade embargoes have been lifted, allowing tourists and companies to import Cuban goods, which are often made by small family-run businesses.

Cuba has always been a very culturally rich location: its music, dance and food can stun the senses, in the best way possible. Now, with an increase in tourism, the nation can become a fiscally rich one as well. Tourism has been known to be one of the best ways to increase a nation’s GDP, and as more and more companies bring their business to Cuba, their people will have more jobs and increased job security. They will also be given more of an opportunity to travel and establish a stronger international presence. With more tourists visiting and more foreign investors getting involved, Cuba will have a chance to share with the world its culture and its amazingly colorful heritage.

While things are generally looking up for Cuba and its people, there is still a long road ahead. Several trade embargoes are still in play and will take quite a few years to be lifted. Cuba also still utilizes a convoluted legal, tax and commerce policy, which will make it harder for businesses and governments to navigate through the intricacies of development. When Secretary of State John Kerry met with the press, he stated, “This milestone does not signify an end to the many differences that still separate our governments. But it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago and that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement.” He added, “Nothing is more futile than trying to live in the past.”

By accepting that the past is the past, America is extending an olive branch to Cuba and its people, and hopefully, we will soon see how incredible the Cuban culture really is.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: Affleck

Facebook in AfricaIn late June, Facebook announced it would be opening its first African sales office in Johannesburg, South Africa. This office will serve to cater Facebook’s services to its growing markets across Africa.

Facebook in Africa will focus on spurring African businesses to advertise on the social media platform. The company hopes to strengthen its connection to the continent through this mission. It will shift applications, metrics and advertising toward African users, who overwhelmingly depend on mobile technology to access Facebook. Nunu Ntshingila, former chairman of Ogilvy South Africa, serves as the new head of Facebook Africa and is leading the sales office.

According to Ari Kesisoglu, Facebook’s regional director for the Middle East and Africa, Facebook is aiming to help businesses expand their reach across Africa to better connect companies to consumers. The social media platform has grown tremendously in the region, with 20% more active users in June 2015 than in September 2015. Over 80% of the current 120 million African Facebook users access the social media platform using mobile technology. Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, stated that with data service costs decreasing and more Africans accessing mobile technology, there is an immense amount of potential for Facebook throughout the continent. With over half of the company’s advertising revenue coming from countries outside of the United States and Canada, she said that the company hopes to increase advertising opportunities for African businesses.

In its initial stages, the office is set to work on establishing partnerships with governments, telecommunications companies and regional organizations. The company hopes that through these partnerships, it can better understand both the advertising challenges and technological barriers faced in the region.

Expansion efforts are primarily focused in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Facebook is also looking to increase usage in Ethiopia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

This expansion is part of a similar initiative to help further expand Facebook’s reach across the continent. The company is striving to strengthen its connection to Africa in order to grant those in remote locations useful communication resources. The company’s partnerships with telecommunication companies allow easier and cheaper Internet access for basic services for those in remote areas. Along with Facebook’s Internet.org project, it has also developed Facebook Lite, which is a simplified version of the actual website that was designed for smart phones still on the 2G network in remote areas.

According to TIME, the company has also launched “missed call ads” to better allow successful advertising in remote areas in Africa and India. When users click links to an ad, the advertiser instead calls the user’s phone and plays an audio ad rather than forcing the user to use up cellular data. The advertiser takes the cost of the call.

In its current stage, the new office is working to develop effective solutions to advertising challenges in ways like these. The office hopes to explore other advertising methods that would be more convenient and useful for African businesses and users.

Arin Kerstein

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg Business, IT News Africa, IT World, TIME
Photo: Tafia Network

artsLast year, the U.K. Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure published a literature review that summarized research regarding poverty and its impact on people’s engagement with culture, arts and leisure. While it drew some fairly obvious conclusions, other findings were insightful and thought-provoking.

The first object of research was measuring how much poverty impacts people’s participation in sports. It found that adults who lived under the poverty line played fewer sports for far less time. These findings replicated those in similar studies in Canada and Australia. The lack of involvement in sports is believed to increase health risks such as obesity that are already present in lower income groups.

Some people blamed the lack of sports facilities provided in their neighborhoods. Financial and logistical barriers are a constraint. Sports equipment and transportation to and from facilities may cost extra money that the family cannot afford to spend. Moreover, parents who work more than one job find it difficult to take the time out to supervise their children, especially if their neighborhood is perceived as unsafe.

Another reason for poorer people’s reluctance to take part in sports is that they are simply not interested in them, as a study in Ireland concluded. Research in Australia demonstrated that even with ease of access to facilities and training, lower income children and adults were still less likely to play sports than their middle and upper income counterparts.

The second objective of the research was to determine how poverty impacts people’s engagement with arts, libraries and museums. Unsurprisingly, people living under the poverty line were less likely to be interested in or involved in their community’s culture. Even libraries, which are free and open to the public, see lower levels of engagement from poorer people. Children living in poverty are more likely to use the computer or TV for entertainment.

In addition to the obvious barriers of transportation costs and time constraints (for adults), poorer people frequently voiced the view that arts were for “other people and not for them.” They reported feeling out of place and uninterested. In their daily lives, art was perceived as being completely irrelevant.

To fight the main barriers to engagement in sports and culture — a dearth of facilities, extra costs and a lack of interest — the literature review recommends a few solutions: community-based solutions, personal and trusting relationships between mentors and participants, and lower costs.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: UK Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Art Council of Wales
Photo: PxHere

white_mans_burden
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling published “The White Man’s Burden,” a poem that seemingly outlines the necessity for White help to countries that were not, in his eyes, as far along as those in Europe.

Although what initially spawned was colonialism—wherein the African continent was forced to be subject to European powers while living under deplorable conditions—the White Man’s Burden turned into something more: a white savior complex, the need to rescue people of color from what is assumed to be a horrid status.

Many have viewed Western celeb aid to developing countries as just that.

Since movie stars were famous, it has been a commonality for successful stars to go to Africa and Asia to ‘help’ the children and countries. Many see this as a win-win for the celebrities—they get a tax write-off for donating money, they get good press and they ease their conscience.

Celebrities in these countries also affect those in America. When people click on pictures showing celebs like Bono, Madonna and Audrey Hepburn, they admire their charity and the things they are doing.

However, when Americans see these faces among black and brown children in poverty, it can stimulate a savior complex. Although Kipling’s poem influenced the white man’s complex, it has turned into a Western savior complex.

Americans are no strangers to the ‘Africa the country’ phenomenon. Many assume most of Africa is an underdeveloped jungle full of natives who need help. When media only shows the parts of Africa that are in trouble coupled with the infrequency to learning about it in school, many Americans feel the need to save them from themselves and their conditions.

While this condescending attitude may seem harmless on a small scale, it is dangerous on a national scale.

When politicians are discussing sending aid and support, it is often times not done properly, sometimes worsening the situation. Earlier this summer, Pastor Rick Warren urged the Senate to have a different type of attitude towards those stuck in extreme poverty.

By changing the narrative and the education, aid can be properly and respectfully given to countries in Africa, developing mutually beneficial relationships between the U.S. and the East.

Erin Logan

Sources: History Matters, Newser, LA Times, Senate
Photo: The New Yorker

All You Need to Know About Soft PowerSoft power is a term that was coined in the late 1980s by Joseph S. Nye Jr., an American political scientist. As Foreign Affairs states, soft power refers to the ability of a country to influence and persuade others to do what it wants without the use of force or coercion. It’s the opposite of hard power, in which a country uses coercion and military strength in order to influence other countries. It relies on economic or cultural influences rather than military strength.

Soft power is an indirect way to exercise power and control. A country with a lot of it can convince other countries to adopt some of its morals, values and prominent institutions. Essentially, a country exerting a large amount of soft power can persuade other countries to want the same things it wants and therefore use their influence to advance its own political agenda. It is getting the outcome one wants through persuasion rather than coercion.

Origens of Soft Fower

Power is the ability to get others to do what you want, and soft power is an essential form of power. Nye states that it can come from three resources:

  1. A country’s culture (where it’s attractive to others)
  2. A country’s political values (where it lives up to them at home and abroad)
  3. A country’s foreign policies (where they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)

Its Importance

Soft power is important because, according to Foreign Affairs, it can be used to gain supporters and partners. For example, United States companies, institutions, churches, foundations and other institutions of civil society all play a part in projecting it, and the cultures and values that the United States have are a form of soft power that allows the U.S. to gain allies. Even things that one may not view as important, like Hollywood movies and American pop culture, are forms of it that can help shape other countries attitudes’ and choices in the long-run.

BBC discusses how soft power can be exerted in one of their articles, in which they talk about a woman named Iryna Olova who grew up in Kiev in the Soviet Union. Olova talks about how fascinated she was with movies such as the Wizard of Oz as a child and states that movies made her feel that America was a happy and sunny place. She eventually left Ukraine and moved her family to America. Even though parts of American culture, like movies, may seem inconsequential to International Relations, according to Nye and the theory of soft power, they are anything but. Some political scientists even say that it helped the United States win the Cold War.

Limitations

According to Nye, the limitations of soft power are that it is not easily channeled toward a specific outcome and that it can have diffuse effects on the outside world.

Other Examples

In his book, “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics,” Nye gives some examples of it, including the high number of foreign students enrolled at United States Universities and the prominent consumption of American media products worldwide.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Foreign Policy 1, Foreign Policy 2 BBC, Diplomacy Education Oxford Dictionary 1, Oxford Dictionary 2 Foreign Affairs
Photo: Flickr