Bertolt brecht
“Poverty makes you sad as well as wise.” So spoke Bertolt Brecht, a playwright in the modern theater whose highly political plays are starting to make a resurgence on a global stage.

Born in Bavaria, Brecht grew to despise and write plays denouncing the middle-class in Germany following World War I. He became a Marxist at a young age and spent his life satirizing capitalism and its marginalization of certain individuals. This political position was partly responsible for the drop in popularity of Brecht’s works during the 80’s and 90’s.

However, the 2008 global financial crisis, which enlarged impoverished classes and exposed flaws in the capitalist model, has lead theaters all over the world to stage Brecht’s plays. Producers have found that audiences are particularly responsive to Brecht’s political themes in today’s economic context. Al Jazeera America reported that stagings of Brecht have not only proliferated in the United States but have also increased in the UK, Ireland, France, Canada and Iran.

According to some scholars, Brecht has lost his status as “sage and prophet of the downtrodden and exploited,” but even if this is true, his works still scrutinize the dehumanizing impact of social, political and economic forces on the individual. This impact is keenly felt by the world’s poor, who figure prominently in Brecht’s plays.

For instance, arguably Brecht’s most famous work, “The Threepenny Opera,” contains some of the playwright’s most penetrating remarks on poverty and capitalism.

One character in the work, Peachum, manufactures fake beggars. His employees meander through London, making people with money feel guilty enough to donate it. This money, essentially stolen from the real beggars, then goes to Peachum. It is a sharp critique of capitalism’s potential to abuse people in the quest for profit.

While most people find Peachum’s methods contemptible, the character’s assessment of the problems facing anyone trying to stoke sympathy in others—a charity, for example—is pellucid. Peachum remarks that a man spotting another man in need will give him tenpence the first time, fivepence the second time and turn him into the police the third.

Thus, the things that “stir [people’s] souls” and make them care about others in need lose their effect over time.

These sorts of commentaries, along with Brecht’s subjects of “inequality, squalor, exploitation and the malleability of human nature,” are still germane in discussions of the modern world. The topics may be even more important as globalization pits developed and developing countries against each other, bringing entrenched models of capitalism to poorer populations.

Make no mistake, capitalism can help to alleviate poverty, but as Brecht’s works remind audiences, it must not alienate the impoverished people who stand to benefit from it.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Scribd, Book of Famous Quotes, Literature Criticism Online
Photo: SCE

money buy happiness
We are all familiar with the saying “money can not buy happiness.” It has been printed on bumper stickers, t-shirts and even pillows. People use it as a reminder to focus on the things they enjoy in life without a price tag, such as family and friends, rather than the material objects they can obtain with a swipe of their credit cards. But the link between happiness and money is complex, especially when it is evaluated on a worldwide scale.

The first person to develop a theory on the money-happiness connection was Richard Easterlin, a Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California. In 1974, Easterlin proposed that the wealthier people in a country are generally happier than poorer people in the same country, but wealthier countries, on the whole, are not happier than poorer countries. Known as the “Easterlin Paradox,” he found that the average reported national happiness level did not vary significantly with national per capita income.

The Easterlin Paradox is based on the difference between absolute and relative income. Happier people are those who are wealthier in comparison to their neighbors, and the divide between the rich and the poor is only widening in developed nations. According to a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year, the richest 10 percent of people across the 33 OECD member states earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent.

So it is no surprise that people living in wealthier countries are consumed with “keeping up with the Joneses,” and, moreover, that this affects their happiness. According to licensed psychologist Beth Golden, Ph.D., happiness is found in wanting what you have, a concept commonly found in the philosophies of Dalai Lama.

“Cultural pressure that glamorizes and idealizes wealth and celebrities creates a sense of dissatisfaction and inadequacy for many people who buy into this illusion that wealth buys happiness,” said Golden.

A further impediment to happiness in wealthier countries is materialism. People in these countries have more aspirations because of advertising, social media, television and their peers to strive to acquire “things” or material wealth. “This may not exist in poorer countries where there is less exposure to technology and a great deal of daily energy is spent just trying to meet basic human needs for food, water, shelter and safety,” said Golden.

In 2011, Gallup conducted a poll which measured positive emotions in 148 countries and areas using five questions: (1) whether people experienced enjoyment the day before, (2) whether they felt respected, (3) well-rested, (4) laughed and smiled a lot, and (5) did or learned something interesting. The results were shocking to analysts who solely focus on “traditional economic indicators.”

Data showed that residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world in terms of GDP, reported the highest positive emotions with 85 percent answering “yes” to all questions asked. Residents of Singapore, which ranks 37th in the world in GDP per capita, reported the lowest positive emotions with only 46 percent answering “yes” to all questions asked. From the numbers, Easterlin appears to be right.

However, every survey has its flaws, and every theory has its challengers. In this case, the challengers are Wharton business and public policy professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, who published their own paper on the money-happiness connection titled “Subjective Well-Being, Income, Economic Development and Growth.”

In their paper, which analyzes data spanning over 40 years, 155 countries, and hundreds of thousands of individuals, Wolfers and Stevenson argue that “richer countries on average have higher levels of life satisfaction” and “as countries grow, their citizens report higher levels of life satisfaction.”

Wolfers and Stevenson maintain that absolute income is the strongest contributor to happiness while other aspects, including relative income, are of lesser importance. They further state that wealthier countries can afford investments in scientific research that contribute to lower child mortality and higher life expectancy rates, as well as improved public health.

Political leaders are also taking into account the strong link between a country’s level of economic development and the happiness of its people. British Prime Minister David Cameron regarded society’s sense of well-being as the “central political challenge of our times” and encouraged policies to focus “not just on GDP but on GWP–general well-being.” Initiatives to determine accurate worldwide levels of happiness have also increased in recent years.

But what really makes people happy? Though the answer is subjective, Golden believes that work that provides meaning and purpose and love through the availability of caring and supportive relationships is the key to happiness for many.

So can money buy happiness? The simple answer is maybe. But the connection between the two will only strengthen as national leaders begin to take “gross domestic happiness” into equal consideration to a country’s success as GDP.

– Abby Bauer

Sources: [email protected], Gallup, NBER, The Guardian, CDDEP
Photo: Daily Finance

timbuktu renaissance
In 2012, Jihadist forces invaded and occupied Northern Mali, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians into exile. Among these individuals were musicians, artists and scholars.

Timbuktu is a city in the country of Mali, a western African country. Timbuktu is historically important as a trading post on the trans-Saharan caravan route. It was also the center of Islamic culture from 1400-1600. In 1988, the city was designated as a World Heritage Site.

Extremists invaded and immediately targeted Mali’s culture, notably music, including the world-renowned Festival Au Desert, as well as historic manuscripts that document Timbuktu’s position as the center of Islamic civilization in Africa during the Renaissance period.

The established culture is especially crucial in Mali, as it provides a guard against fundamentalism and the rigid Sharia law that outsiders have attempted to impose on the Mali people.

In an attempt to snuff out Mali’s culture, Islamic Jihadists sought to gain increasing levels of control. The extremist’s work to break down Mali’s culture was a strategic move, as culture is necessary for collective identity. When the collective body breaks down, a culture loses its cohesive nature — which is exactly what the extremists were trying to achieve. Due to the strength and perseverance of the Mali people, however, they were unsuccessful.

Invaders sought to silence the musical Internet for much of Mali, destroyed unique mud-brick shrines and tore down UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Despite Jihadist efforts, the Malians continued to blend music in hiding and in exile in neighboring countries. Under the leadership of Abdel Kader Haidara, a scholar and member of the Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group, individuals saved thousands of precious historical manuscripts, risking their lives to transport hundreds of cases on donkey-back.

Luckily, French forces worked to assist Mali in expelling the Jihadist takeover in the North. Now, as the country is working to re-unify the North and South, the current course of action comes in the revival of the Mali culture.

Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, speaks openly about the crucial role culture plays in reunifying the country. The president spoke of Timbuktu’s symbolic importance as a major center of Islamic history during the concert of Malian music held during the UN General Assembly last September.

President Keita leads distinguished members of the Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group to revive and strengthen Mali’s rich cultural environment. This effort is for more than historical preservation, but works toward harvesting the potential for unity. Mali culture has the capability to promote peace, spur economic growth and attract tourists back to the region.

The Timbuktu Renaissance is alive and in full swing — and as the movement continues to grow, so does the potential for peace.

— Caroline Logan

Sources: Britannica, Brookings 1, Brookings 2
Photo: Flickr

project creo

Creo. Language: Spanish. English translation: I believe or I create. Metaphorically speaking, it has incredibly optimistic implications. How fitting that an initiative focused on the belief that children can utilize the creative process of the arts to escape the evils of poverty would take the name this inspirational term.

Project Creo is an organization based in Quito, Ecuador that aims to empower children experiencing poverty through visual art, music, dance, theatre and film. With the help of project facilitators, the children’s creations emphasize their self-worth and the undeniable existence of love in the world. Facilitators include volunteers from the United States and Ecuador, prominent artists and the world’s leading fine arts teachers.

U.S. native Michael Sample founded the organization in 2001 when he visited Quito and felt a strong desire to live in the city and help its citizens. After returning to the U.S., Sample became a professional actor and choir director. He also earned a position with the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Despite all of his success in New York, he still felt his true vocation was with the people of Quito.

In 2011, Sample began the first art project with children in Quito. This was the humble beginning of Project Creo. Its partnership with the Metropolitan Opera Guild added a base in the U.S. and brought more attention to its positive effects on poverty in Ecuador.

Other U.S. contacts were enlisted through a partnership with ASTEP, Artists Striving to End Poverty. ASTEP is an organization originally established by Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and students from Julliard. It does research and then takes action to make a child more successful, socially and academically, with the arts. Many of the Project Creo volunteers come from ASTEP, making them more than adequately qualified.

Much of the time, volunteers work directly with children on their projects. Together, they create murals, musical compositions or other artistic projects to be displayed in their community. The projects showcase Project Creo’s message of total love or ways to improve life in the community. For example, one project focuses on ways that recycling and eco-friendly lifestyles lead to progress in society by forming art from reusable materials.

Other projects in Ecuador have included an art exposition promoting healthy living and informative approaches to starting small businesses with art. By working with the Secretary of Education in Quito, Project Creo also works to integrate art into curricula in Ecuador. The in-school programs allow Project Creo to reach a large number of children and introduce artistic methods for the learning process to teachers.

Artists and teachers help the cause by teaching children in person, if possible, or providing free online art lessons. They work through the online component of Project Creo, called iCreo. iCreo invokes technology to make art lessons accessible to impoverished children and share the initiative’s mission with people all around the world.

Since its beginning, Project Creo has expanded beyond Quito. First, the project organized programs in other Ecuadorian communities. Once large enough, centers were established in Africa and India. Now, through information available on iCreo, lessons and project ideas are available to anyone with internet access.

As stated on Project Creo’s website, “if you have a body, you have a child in there somewhere.” The initiative’s efforts embrace anyone seeking liberation through creativity, regardless of age. Music, visual art and other projects initiated by Project Creo provide hope for Ecuadorian “children” on both individual and societal levels.

 — Emily Walthouse

Sources: ASTEP 1, Project Creo, Youtube
Photo: Project Creo

educational rankings
Although a recent study indicates that the United States spends more on student’s education than other developed nations, a report by Pearson only ranks the U.S. 14th in the world for educational performance.

Pearson’s The Learning Curve 2014 report uses a “global index” to measure the educational rankings of 39 countries. This global index was gathered by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The ranking of the countries is based on cognitive skills and outcome of students, which balances a number of factors such as test scores, school attendance, teacher salaries and employment rates.

The study found that the countries that had the best educational performance focused more on basic skill development than other countries. The top three countries, the study found, were South Korea, Japan and Singapore.

The results of the study also indicate that countries that spend the most on education do not necessarily have the highest educational rankings.

In 2010, the U.S. spent over $11,000 on each elementary student in the public school system and over $12,000 on each high school student. While the U.S. moved up since the last rankings — when it was ranked 17th in 2012 — based on the amount of spending on education, a ranking of 14th out of 39 countries is lower than would be expected.

The U.S.’s education ranking was negatively affected by its low college completion rate of 50 percent. This college graduation rate is 20th in the world.

The leading countries in the study had graduation rates of up to 90 percent.  

In addition, the report indicated that the countries with the best educational performance have a “culture of accountability.” This “culture” means that teachers, students and parents all play a key part in education and holding students accountable for completion of work. The leading countries also tend to value teachers more than in lower ranked countries.

Although the U.S. allocates a large amount of spending toward education, teachers are not compensated well compared to the compensation they receive in other countries. In the nations where teachers’ salaries were tracked between 2000 and 2011, salaries increased between 17 percent and 20 percent. In contrast, in the U.S., teachers’ salaries increased by only three percent in this time period.

By putting more of the educational spending on encouraging college completion and higher teachers salaries, causing better quality teachers to be attracted to the teaching profession, the U.S. could potentially rise in the global education rankings by 2016.

 — Lily Tyson

Sources: Education Week, Forbes, Huffington Post, Pearson
Photo: EDC Compass Blog

culture stipend
Ask an average Brazilian what they like to do in their free time, and 85 percent will tell you they turn on the TV. Brazil’s Minister of Culture, Marta Suplicy, is working to change this phenomenon by making arts and culture more accessible to Brazil’s poorest. Through a 2013 program called Vale Cultura, Brazilians are being offered a rechargeable, state-issued culture stipend that allows them to participate in cultural events for free.

The target enrollment set by the Ministry of Culture is 42 million. As recently as February, 356,000 Brazilians had already enrolled in Vale Cultura.

The 50 reais provided monthly by Vale Cultura, equal to about $20, is enough to buy books, movies, newspapers, dance lessons or tickets to theaters, cinemas, museums and circuses. The card can be attained by Brazilians who earn up to five times the country’s minimum wage. Employers have the option of signing up for the program, under which they provide 90 percent of the stipend in return for a tax break on that amount. Employees can opt in or out, paying the remaining 10 percent out of their own paychecks.

A video created by the Ministry of Culture to introduce Vale Cultura clearly points out the need for this kind of program to foster deeper cultural connections among Brazilians: 96 percent of Brazilians have never been to a museum, 78 percent have never attended a live performance, only one in nine cities has a theater and three of every four municipalities lacks a bookstore.

Minister of Culture Suplicy believes that the Vale Cultura program will even the cultural playing field, providing a feeling of social inclusion for people of lower socioeconomic classes. Suplicy, a member of the Workers’ Party, is hopeful that by offering poor Brazilians “food for the soul,” art and culture will become more democratic. She also claims that the stipend program could introduce as much as 25 billion reais, or $3.5 billion, into the cultural sector.

Yet the culture stipend has attracted criticism as well. Some charge that it is simply a populist ruse put in place by the Workers’ Party to garnish mass support. It could also cost Brazil close to $10 billion a year at a time when protests over the allocation of public funding are already raging. Suplicy replies that “[t]he point is social inclusion. But I am under no illusions that it will happen quickly. It is a big challenge, and it’s going to take time.”

Others believe the policy should be given a chance. After all, the Workers’ Party has a record of imaginative social policy-making, including the Bolsa Familia program which provides monetary incentives to poor families who faithfully send their children to school. Bolsa Familia is said to have lifted upwards of 20 million Brazilian families out of poverty. Similarly, Vale Cultura has great potential to lift poorer Brazilians out of cultural stagnation. The program won’t be without those who misuse it, but providing the poor with access to art can equalize cultural opportunities and enliven societies.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: The Art Paper, The Guardian, Hyperallergic
Photo: The Guardian

When a country is in turmoil, the arts can be the first thing to go. Fortunately for Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain Arts is reviving traditional Afghan arts, architecture and crafts.

Turquoise Mountain Arts is an institute that seeks to bring back traditional Afghan art by training artisans in four schools: calligraphy and miniature painting, woodwork, jewelry and ceramics.

Historically, Afghanistan was an important cultural center for a variety of Islamic arts that have unfortunately fallen to the wayside under the various conflicts that have disrupted life in the country. Traditionally, the Afghan arts and crafts industry is a source of pride and a respectable way for a person to make a living.

Turquoise Mountain Arts helps the Afghan community in more ways than preserving traditional art forms. Since the institute was fully established in 2006, nearly 1.5 million dollars of traditional Afghan crafts have been sold, with that money going back to Afghan artisans.

When the institute turns a profit, it reinvests in itself, putting the money back toward artisans and students so that they can continue to learn and produce art. Additionally, the different arts practiced at Turquoise Mountain Arts help keep valuable natural resources, such as wood, precious stones and metals within the country. The institute also “provides education and employment for over 400 students, teachers, engineers, architects, and construction workers.”

The heads of each of the individual colleges are all Afghan citizens, and whenever there is an opening for new professors, representatives from the institute head straight to Kabul’s craft district.

Before Turquoise Mountain opened, there were no schools focused on preserving and teaching traditional art in Afghanistan. However, since its founding, smaller schools and programs have opened up throughout the country.

The apprenticeship style program is highly beneficial for artisans, who are taught for three years before going out on their own, and are given internationally recognized “City and Guilds” accreditation upon graduation.

Graduates also receive support as they go into the craft market to start their own businesses and further preserve cultural heritage by transferring their knowledge to new workers.

With growing national recognition in addition to international markets in Canada, Britain and Arab countries like Qatar, Turquoise Mountain Arts Institute is helping to preserve Afghan culture and art, and provide respectable employment for citizens.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: Turquoise Mountain Arts, Islamic Arts

Zimbabwe National Dish
Food is deeply integrated into all cultures, and it’s often the poorest countries who take the most pride in their meals. Food brings people together, even if the distance never changes.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Cassava, being available year round, is the staple food, though there are Arabic, French and Asian influences in Congolese cuisine. It’s common to grill or boil insects such as caterpillar, crickets and grasshoppers while bananas and local vegetables are common. A simple dish, called saka saka is made from cassava leaves cooked with palm oil and peanut sauce.


The national dish, called sadza, is based on cornmeal and generally served with a vegetable stew. Meats such as beef, springbok, kudu and goat are consumed regularly by those who can afford it, but those who cannot rely on a wide variety of fried insect for protein.

The majority of Zimbabweans are Christian, so Christmas is widely celebrated. Often an animal is roasted on a spit for hours to be shared by the entire village.


The Burundi diet is heavy in carbohydrates such as corn, millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes. Cassava is typically boiled and mashed into a porridge that’s used to school up a vegetable sauce. Beans are the most common source of protein as meat is rare, though fish is regularly eaten by those who live beside Lake Tanganyika.

Locally-brewed beers are common and accepted as part of the social interaction when families negotiate over a marriage. There are many food customs that revolve around cows, which are considered sacred. Milk cannot be heated or drunk on the same day that peas or peanuts are eaten, and when a cow dies its horns are planted beside the family’s house to bring good luck.


Typically found in Liberian meals are cassava, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, palm oil and no meal is complete without rice. Cassava is sometimes boiled and then pounded into what is called a dumboy, and sauces made from the Cassava leaf over beef or chicken are a traditional favorite.


Goats, cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens are all commonly raised and eaten while fish consumption is low, regardless of Eritrea’s proximity to the Red Sea. The base of most meals is either kitcha – a thin wheat bread – or injera – a spongy pancake made from taff. Food is typically served in a communal bowl and eaters use the kitcha or injera to pinch out some of the main course.

Since Eritrea was once an Italian colony, tourists often find spaghetti, lasagna and pizza in the country’s restaurants. Blended drinks with bananas, mango and papaya are common, and three drinks share the title of ‘national beverage’: suwa, an alcoholic drink similar to beer; meis, a fermented honey drink; and Araki, an anise-flavored liquor.

Central African Republic

Meat is scarce and expensive, so nuts and insects serve as daily protein. The base of most meals is usually millet or sorghum, and vegetables and spices such as garlic, onions, chiles, okra and peanuts are gradationally used to add flavor.

Specialties include palm butter soup, futu – pounded cassava – and foutou – pounded plantains. Palm wine and banana wine are the favorite local beverages.


As a desert country, Niger’s citizens rely on grains that can be stored for long periods of time like millet and rice. Beef and mutton often serve as the main interest in the meal, and a local favorite is dumplings made from crushed and fermented millet and cooked in milk, sugar and spices.

Those who border Lake Chad have access to fresh mish and the vegetables used in European, Asian and African dishes. The country is predominantly Islamic and so alcohol isn’t easily available. Instead, tae is the drink of choice and is available from carts beside the road.


Rural Malawian families all play a part in growing maize, the staple of their diet. Cooked maize is shaped into patties that are called nsima, and family members eat from the communal bowl while sitting in a circle on the ground. The bowl typically contains a variation of ndiwo, a sauce made with beans, meat or vegetables, and the nsima is used to scoop out a mouth-full at a time.

Those who boarder Lake Malawi eat a great deal of fish, and they dry what they don’t eat to sell to the neighbors. Chambo (the same fish used to make Western tilapia) is a popular favorite.


Those who have a history in Madagascar have left their mark on the cuisine; therefore finding dishes that belong to France, parts of Africa, the Indonesians and Arabs is common. Traditional meals are eaten on the floor and eaten with spoons from a large communal plate. Ro – rice mixed with herbs and leaves – is the base of most meals, and Ravitoto – meat and herbs – is generally its counterpart. No beverages accompany the meal, but there is a popular drink called Ranonapango which is made by burning rice.


The country’s neighbors, the Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks, heavily influence Afghanistan’s menu. India’s spices such as saffron, coriander, cardamom and black pepper are also prevalent as well as naan, an Indian flat bread that can be made in a wide variety. Rice is present in most meals, and lamb is the preferred meat.

Perhaps the most popular dish in Afghanistan is qabli pulao, a streamed rice dish topped with raisins, carrots and some kind of meat. Kababs are also a local favorite, ranging from lamb, ribs or chicken and served with a side of naan. Qorma is a dish made up of a bed of fried onions and layered with fruit, meat, spices and vegetables.

In many of the world’s poorest countries, there is only one meal a day. The women in a family traditionally will start cooking first thing in the morning, and the day’s meal is eaten in the early afternoon. Many times food is eaten with the hands out of communal bowls, making clean water a great necessity for public health and hygiene. Sharing food is a sign of respect and welcome so that guests are often fed at the cost of the family going hungry. Food is important in every nation as it binds us together at the same time that it allows us to demonstrate our heritage and creativity.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources:  MapsOfWorld, SAARC Tourism, Our AfricaThe Borgen ProjectEritreaLiberian ForumEveryCultureFoodByCountry, FoodSpring
Photo: The News Gastronomes

The current Ebola epidemic in Guinea has drawn doctors, nurses, and epidemiologists from across the globe to help prevent the further transmission of the virus. Not surprisingly, it has also drawn anthropologists.

Many international healthcare workers don’t understand the importance of anthropologists in a disease-outbreak setting, but they are critical in communicating with locals about the body and disease.

An anthropologist’s job is to understand local customs and fears, in this case regarding disease. They work to get communities to cooperate with healthcare workers, which is often very difficult in a foreign setting where the local people have a different understanding of health and disease.

Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at Washington State University, states that today efforts to contain outbreaks such as Ebola must be “culturally sensitive and appropriate…otherwise people are running away from actual care that is intended to help them.”

Hewlett was invited to join a World Health Organization Ebola team during the 2000 outbreak in Uganda. His experiences there prove the vital role that anthropologists play in disease outbreak efforts.

In a report on his experiences in Uganda, Hewlett noted that healthcare workers in the field were having a difficult time convincing the local people to bring their sick family members to clinics and isolation wards. They feared the healthcare workers and thought that once their family member went into the isolation ward they would never come out. Not only that, but the deceased were often disposed of quickly to prevent transmission and relatives were often uninformed about the death of their family member.

“The anger and bad feelings about not being informed were directed toward health care workers in the isolation unit. This fear could have been averted by allowing family members to see the body in the bag and allowing family members to escort the body to the burial ground,” says Hewlett.

The other job of anthropologists is to help doctors understand how the local people perceive the disease.

For example, in the case of Uganda, the locals saw Ebola as a “gemo”, or a bad spirit, which killed people who didn’t honor the gods. Doctors used this traditional belief to show that the gemo could catch you if you stood too close to a sick person.

The current outbreak in Guinea has attracted hundreds of field workers, including anthropologists, to curb the spread of the disease. It is the Zaire strain of Ebola, which is the most dangerous, killing 9 out of 10 of its victims.

Healthcare workers in Guinea have their work cut out for them and anthropologists will be key in communicating with the local people.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: MSF, NPR
Photo: RT

Many educated people casually assume that the human species has grown more advanced over time. After all, the developed world is full of modern conveniences that were not even conceivable two generations ago.

Meanwhile, a wealth of traditional knowledge, skills and information forged over thousands of years of human experience are being lost in our exhausting race forward. As intuitive as modern progress and development seems, many defenders and practitioners of traditional knowledge see it differently.

There’s an argument to be made that that the developed world’s blind reliance on modern technology is largely inferior to the practicality of low-tech traditional knowledge. In many cases traditional methods of agriculture and resource usage is simply more responsible and better for the environment than modern practices.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD,) for one, supports traditional agriculture, claiming that, “Many [indigenous communities] have cultivated and used biological diversity in a sustainable way for thousands of years. Some of their practices have been proven to enhance and promote biodiversity at the local level and aid in maintaining healthy ecosystems.”

The CBD argues that these eco-managerial roles are important for the developed world to look to as a model in how we perceive our environment. The West, in particular, often looks down on these otherwise poor, and undeveloped communities because of their lack of modern convenience.

Certainly indigenous communities have many challenges with health and sanitation that advanced societies do not, but these differences are not so imbalanced in favor of modernity as we might think.

In fact many organizations like the CBD have begun to advocate for preservation of traditional practices. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has also drafted international legislation aimed at protecting and promoting the right of indigenous communities and there traditional practices.

At its roots, traditional knowledge is science in its purest form. It is simple, with empirical observations about the land and its inhabitants. It extends in all areas of scientific pursuit: geology, ecology, astronomy, and physics. You name it, there is an indigenous understanding for it across cultures.

Unfortunately, many of these practices are already lost forever. The loss of traditional knowledge is not just the lost of antiquated techniques, it’s also a loss of culture. As traditional knowledge is crowded out by more efficient and modern practices, it is not just the environment that suffers, but it is also the people who identified themselves by an ancient way of life.

Without some thread of connection to the past, people can become really lost. And though not all ancient practices are worth adopting, not all of them are worth rejecting either.

In this global age where there is such a tremendous convergence of culture, it is important to look to (and retain) the understanding of indigenous peoples. The ecological and cultural gain we have in preserving traditional knowledge is tremendously greater than any gain we might acquire from ease of modern technology.

Chase Colton

Sources: ICSU, CBD, WIPO
Photo: WFP