A month or so back, a friend of mine posted an article about Orphanage Tourism. In my mind I thought, what? Something like this really exists? But after looking into it more, I found that people looking to do good can easily be influenced in taking part in something so ridiculous.

Foreign arrivals in Cambodia have increased by 250% since 2005. In the same time, the number of orphanages have increased by 75%. To put this in perspective, the number of orphanages jumped from 153 to 269, with only 21 of those orphanages run by the state; the rest owned privately. The strangest thing about all these stats is that only 28% of the orphans living in these orphanages have lost both parents, the rest have at least one living parent.

So then what, if not the lack of parents, is causing an increase in these orphanages? It is the promise of a better future. This promise however, is often falsified.

It is not only important, but better for children to remain in family settings. It has also been shown that it is cheaper for children to live in a family setting rather than in an orphanage. A dollar given to the family rather than an orphanage helps out an entire community as it puts money into the community as a whole, through that family, rather than an institution. Children that live in orphanages and then leave them as young adults often face exploitation, homelessness, lost family connections and drug abuse.


With all these problems surfacing, one has to wonder why "orphanage tourism" is on a rise? The feeling of bringing change into another's life is a genuine intention of those who want to improve the lives of others. That's why tourist who want to give back while on their vacation feel as if donating their time and money to an orphanage is the best way to achieve that goal. The relationships they build with the kids and the money they invest into the orphanage is seen as giving back. But again, it is doing more damage than good. Constant severing and rebuilding of short-term relationships between these volunteers and children can be a cause of emotional loss within orphans.


So what can be done to avoid becoming part of orphanage tourism and actually help make a difference in the lives of these impoverished youth? "Good Intentions are not enough" is a blog and consultation service for those trying to provide impactful aid. For those who want more independence on their quest to bring change should do more research on where they decide to spend their time and money trying to help their children. Avoiding orphanages that openly solicit tourists to come in, working with orphanage staff instead of the children and avoiding volunteer organizations that don't ask for a resume are some of the many ways to ensure that your actions are producing the intended outcome.


It is easy to become prey to those who marginalize the poor for their own gains. Along with having a good intention, keeping a clear and informed head can help bring the change that is most necessary in these type of situations, potentially eradicating the system created by those out there for their selfish gains.
 
This is a picture taken from inside Kebun Binatang Surabaya (KBS), or Surabaya "Zoo of Death", one of the largest zoos in South East Asia, caging over 350 species. It has been widely condemned for mistreatment of animals, corruption and uncontrolled breading. The Sumatran tiger shown in the picture, along with other other animals face death due to negligent keepers who were stealing meat and animals from the zoo to sell to the black market. 

Malnutrition isn't the only problem. The animals suffer from preventable diseases, overcrowding and lack of exercise, creating chronic long term back and leg problems. With a low entry fee (approximating at $2) the zoo does not have enough money to provide for the uncontrolled breeding, leaving dim predictions of the survival of the animals. 

Amidst all of this, it isn't the only problem that animals South East Asia face. Due to widespread poverty in a region filled with exotic animals, the lucrative overseas market for these rare species creates a "commissioning" of hunting down these animals for their skins, bones, medicinal use, tonics, horns and other trophy parts. Trafficking tigers from South-East Asia and some parts of Africa is worth about $5 million per year. 

So what is to be done to prevent the extinction of these animals that could be gone with the coming of the next generation? Is the need of zoos more necessary than ever to, in a sense, protect these animals and stop poaching? Or do we need to regulate our forests and wild animals better and allow them to sustain their natural habitat? How can we do our part in trying to influence the next best outcome?

www.change.org provides a neat solution for not only getting the problem some attention, but also bringing our voices to those who can do something about the issue. The current problem facing the zoo of Indonesia is being brought to the attention of the President of Indonesia, Indonesian Embassy and Consulate-general of the Republic of Indonesia. Labelled as the world's petition platform, the website, with others like it, provides a voice to the globally linked community of the world wide web who want to bring about a change to a wrong doing they feel strongly connected to. 

Is this another fruitless method of trying to get the attention of those in power? Or could this be the new power of the people that politicians will have to reckon with?
 
Being a muslim immigrant from Pakistan, who has had the privilege to live in America, I’ve always wondered why immigrants such as myself, muslim, are perceived to be conspirators against democracy, an ideology that people back home in Pakistan would love to see practiced more.  

On numerous occasions while flipping through the news channels, I’ve seen reports of growing Islamic fundamentalists overseas that hate America for their freedom, for their way of life. Due to this promoted perception, many Muslims in America become target of hate crime, considered to be a threat to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Americans believe in and hold on to so strongly. Little do they know that the same rights and freedoms they believe should be upheld by everyone are not being upheld for others abroad.

America has been instrumental in violating both international and national law by conducting drone attacks on foreign grounds and using them as tools of surveillance within U.S. soil. Not only are these drones being used to target “militants”, but they are also being used against the people the government has intended to protect. 

Since 2002, America has been using drones to attack Al-Qaeda and other militants that are a threat to national security. Total casualties by drone strikes in Pakistan alone counts for over 3000 killed, over 800 of which were innocent civilians. Yemen and Somalia have faced over 800 casualties with over 200 being innocent civilians. 

The argument made by the U.S. is that there are no geographical constraints in the war on terror. Citing Article 51 of the UN Charter, the American government says that the ensuing “war on terror” follows alleged terrorists wherever they may be found and that the war has no temporal limitations. Even still, the use of lethal force has rules and requires proof when being carried out. Yet these drone attacks are presuming those targeted as guilty without any proof, making them reasonable targets by their status rather than action. 

Following the guise that Article 51 provides, the U.S. has gained notoriety in establishing “black sites” around the world. This is an initiative facilitated by the CIA that establishes secret prisons in countries involved in the program to detain enemy combatants who may pose as a threat to U.S. sovereignty. Reason that the American public hears little of these establishments in their media is so that the U.S. government can manipulate and break code of ethics on how to deal with prisoners detained in these prisons.

All the while this is going on, hate crimes against Muslims are starting to erupt. Muslims are being attacked in mosques and in places they have been working for years for their livelihood. In addition to this, the stereotypical image of muslims that the media has created has put people of other religions in the crossfire of these hate crimes. This probably makes one wonder, why are Muslim’s being attacked on the outside and the inside? The answer is a simple one, media censorship. Flagship news publications over time have blatantly admitted to have formed partnerships at the federal level to withhold information from the public on such topics as the drone-assassination program, secret prisons, torture and unlawful surveillance of the U.S. public. 

In 2011, America tried carrying out one of the most daring operations, against one of its own citizens. It was a planned killing of American citizen Anwar Awlaki, alleged recruiter of terrorists. Both him and his 16-year-old son were killed without arrests, trials or presumptions of innocence being made. No news channel in America reported of this maneuver.

While the rest of the world continues to watch casualties and deaths being produced by U.S. drone strikes, the American citizens are left in the dark, unknowing of the dangers being brewed by their government. Their media outlets pour an onslaught of images of "radical" muslims from around the world, feeding their citizens an image of anger, resentment and threat towards U.S. sovereignty. Muslims that have been affected by drone strikes or other crimes perpetrated by U.S government become easy recruits for the actual radically minded, Al-Qaida.  The U.S. citizens have no idea where the anger and resentment is coming from and hence associate Islam to be this way. It would be wrong for me to assume that all U.S. citizen's operate within this mind-frame, but I can easily see why one would fall into this trap of misguidedness. It is important for transparency to be attached with all actions of the government so that people can remain informed and chose sides carefully because continuing on to the current path of an eye for an eye is surely to turn the whole world blind creating more and more misinformed and misguided individuals.

 
My first post on this blog was about competition vs. collaboration. For those who didn't get a chance to read it, I was basically arguing the importance of organization to convert from a competition based mindset to a collaborative model as it would allow for more things to be achieved with less being left out. With climate change becoming a visible reality and the world showing no signs of slowing down their consumption patterns, it is refreshing to see some institutions adopt the mind set that I was discussing. 

For my first example, i introduce to you the ingenuity of the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC), who teamed up with ad agency Mayo DraftFCB looking for a way to promote their application period of 2013. Mayo DraftFCB focused their marketing expertise on the expertise of UTEC and together, they made a billboard. 

Now this isn't just any ordinary billboard. Dropped along the Pan-American Highway near the city of Lima, the billboard hopes to capitalize on Lima's highly humid environment by using an inverse osmosis filtration system to produce a commodity that residents of the desert city seriously require; water. For those who don't know, Lima is one of the most humid and driest city in Peru and one of the driest in the world. With 1.2 million residents of Lima lacking running water, they have to rely on private-companies to deliver water that ends up costing 20 times more than what the wealthy pay for their tap water.

In three months, the billboard has been able to produce 2,500 gallons of water, quenching the thirst of hundreds of families per month. 

The only down side I saw to this project, was its inability of being self-sufficient. Requiring electricity, it is troublesome to think of how long electricity will be provided for the billboard by UTEC. Once the campaign for enrolment is over, will the billboard go along with it, or will the people at UTEC seriously adopt this as an initiative to further salvage the issue of scarce water?

Guess we will just have to wait and see.

The second example of collaborative innovation I want to bring to attention is Google's newest project, Loon. Much like the name suggests, Google is teaming up with Raven Aerostar balloons on a crazy conquest to bring wireless internet access to the most remote parts of the world. Using helium balloons, solar panels and wireless antennas, a coverage area of 1250 square km can be provided to those who want/need access to the internet, all you'll need is a special antenna fitted to your house. 

The main issue with this project is the demographic that is being reached out to. Targeting remote areas of the world that don't have internet is a pretty good indicator of the level of technical aptitude in those areas as well. Flight time is another issue, as the balloons have a maximum flight time of 55 days, meaning that they'll either have to be replaced or refuelled. Critics of this endeavour suggest that such top-down hardware distribution techniques, historically, are prone to failure and focusing on what is available in the areas being targeted would be a more viable solution.

Regardless of the flaws associated with the project, I think Google's initiative is a commendable one and helps bring the world a little closer. Can you think of alternative solutions to the posed problems? Is trying to get everyone on the internet a feasible initiative? Does everyone need to be on the internet? I don't have the answers to all of these questions, but I do know having a vast amount of knowledge at the tip of your finger and being aware of it is a future that can help tackle problems more efficiently than we are able to today.

 
Apologies for not making regular posts in the last little while. Getting in the habit of writing consistent and meaningful blog posts is something I'll have to work on more. But for now, some thoughts on an issue that has been bothering me after my travels to Makkah (Mecca), Saudia Arabia.

Being a muslim from birth, I've been brought up with values that resonate with the teachings of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Often times, in the media, these teachings are misconstrued to be thought of as extreme ideologies, when in reality the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) draw parallels with the teachings of the Prophet Isa (PBUH), better known as Jesus (PBUH). 

With that being said, I expected the values that I had been taught to be exemplified in the country that hosts the holiest of sites for Muslims. 

I was disappointed upon arrival. 

Arriving in Jeddah's airport, I saw a line dedicated to Sudanese and other African muslim's trying to get into the country, and then I saw a line for "everyone else". Needless to say, our waiting time was much shorter than theirs.

On our way to Makkah, Saudia Arabia, I saw countless poor and homeless people on the street, mainly of African decent. In Makkah itself, people of South Asian decent held low-skilled position with the consistent theme of poor and homeless African population. 

I didn't want what I saw to be the lasting impression I had of a place that is tied to my spiritual beliefs, so I decided to do a bit of research, only to be further disappointed. The Human Rights Watch has condemned the middle east on numerous accounts of domestic worker abuse that the immigrant population faces. Maid's are driven to the point of insanity due to this abuse, resulting in deaths of their employers by their hands and consequently, their own deaths by the government once they are convicted for murder. These behaviours are the result of exploitation of migrant workers by employers who behave as sponsors of the immigrants at first but end up exerting power, resulting in the workers being unable to change jobs, leave the country or having to work with no pay for years.

Religion has often been viewed as a tool of development, as it has the ability to reach communities like no other groups. This can be viewed in two ways, faith-based aid (Christian Children's Fund or Islamic Development Bank) or moral-based development. Since my issue has nothing to do with need of monetary involvement  we can leave faith-based aid alone for this conversation. My point of moral-based development is this; religion, where ever originated, stemmed from a void that needed to be fulfilled. Moses (PBUH) and the Pharoah, Jesus (PBUH) and the Romans, Muhammad (PBUH) and the Quraish. All of these stories told a tale of oppression,  victimization, senseless violence and a carnal lifestyle that plagued the people of their time, with the Prophet's (PBUT) acting as a beacon of guidance to resurrect morality and humanity where it least seamed possible. 

The message it seems, at least in the Muslim world, has once again been lost in the sands of time. Instead of spending money to feed the poor, more money is being spent to glamourize places of worship that only need glorification through spiritual devoutness, not gold and silver. People are not being treated as equals, but as a means to an end to benefit those who already lead a life of comfort, belittling their rights as human beings. Women are once again seeing the oppressive nature of man that Islam sought out to erase from its very inception. 


Religion isn't a set of rules, but an underlying theme of peace and love that has been repeated throughout history. If we digress from the true meaning of Islam, we are left with the current situation in Saudi Arabia and much of the middle-east. The message can be easily used to not only improve the lives of others, but ones own life as well. Kindness, charity and compassion are a few examples of the many good deeds that one can perform to improve ones utility of life. Something as little as smiling at another person can improve ones day instantly, so imagine what would happen if you took the extra step and fed a hungry stomach. 

I pray that in this month of Ramadan, more Muslims are brought closer to the true meaning of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) message and our societies can once again flourish with equality and justice. 

And with that, I leave you with a verse from the Holy Qur'an:

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Al- Quran 49:13




    Zain

    As an avid listener of instincts and humanity, I strive to do things that put me out of my comfort zone. Cherishing the growth that comes along with this habit and all the beauty that life has to offer, I'd like to share my experiences with you. 

    All posts and opinions expressed are mine and completely independent of the University of Waterloo and the International Development program.

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