Finding Peace In Columbus, Ohio

When discussing peace and refugee resettlement, it is important to understand that the refugee resettlement program exists because there is a lack of peace in the world. Families from Somalia are fleeing an ongoing civil war; Burmese flee from government persecution; Sudanese flee the genocide in Darfur, and the list continues. The families that Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) serves come from all over the world, yet what is common among all is the persecution they faced in their home countries and their desire to live peaceful lives.

One might believe that for refugees, the United States is a place of redemption, yet the reality is more complex.

Even after resettlement, there are many hurdles families must overcome in order to successfully integrate into the community. After refugees come to the United States, they immediately must acclimate to local culture, begin learning English, navigate public transportation, enroll children in school, secure employment, and begin to repay their travel loans. All this, coupled with culture shock, and the stress of having family still abroad and possibly in danger is taxing for families. CRIS works closely with refugee families as they make this transition and establish themselves in the United States. We bear witness to both the triumphs and the struggles.

Working with families who are survivors of mass violence, we must grapple with the meaning of peace. Is it the absolute absence of war and unrest? Is it some enlightened state of tranquility?

None of these definitions seem complete.

Instead, we must look for peace in the everyday moments. There is peace when a family is reunited at the airport. There is peace on a child’s first day of school. There is peace when a refugee obtains their first American job. There is peace when a refugee becomes a U.S. citizen.

Too often immigrants are seen as a burden on society, people who take, but never give. This simply is not true. Up until recently, we could only speak anecdotally about the economic success of the families CRIS serves. With the release of a new study, The Economic Impact of Refugees in Central Ohio, the greater Columbus community can now appreciate what CRIS staff have known all along. Despite the need for initial assistance, the families we serve soon blossom and thrive.

The narrative of the refugee is not one of victimhood; the families resettled are survivors. They are resilient, even in the face of extreme adversity. They enrich the fabric of Central Ohio and the United States at large. They are excited and proud to be Americans, and the greater community should embrace them as such and help them settle into a life of peace.

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Elizabeth Thomas is the AmeriCorp VISTA Community Resource Coordinator for Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) in Columbus, Ohio.

World Water Day – A WaterWonk’s World

Happy World Water Day!

Since 1993, the world has celebrated 22 March as World Water Day. From the UN – Water website [http://bit.ly/1GdCkfc]:

World Water Day is an international observance and an opportunity to learn more about water related issues, be inspired to tell others and take action to make a difference. World Water Day dates back to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development where an international observance for water was recommended. The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. It has been held annually since then. Each year, UN-Water — the entity that coordinates the UN’s work on water and sanitation — sets a theme for World Water Day corresponding to a current or future challenge. The engagement campaign is coordinated by one or several of the UN-Water Members with a related mandate. [Note: this year’s theme is Water and Jobs.]

I must confess that I am not a big fan of special days. Would you believe there is a Lost Sock Memorial Day [9 May]? Flip-Flop (as in footwear, not politicians) Day [17 June]? And yes, there’s even a Pluto Demoted Day [24 August]. These are frivolous celebrations to be sure (although the frivolity of the last one might be argued), but there are days memorializing serious issues, e.g., National Organ Donor Day [14 February]. My sense is that when a particular celebratory or awareness day – even a serious one – is over, it slides back into oblivion for 364 days. I don’t want water to suffer that fate.

So is World Water Day just another day among hundreds or even thousands? No big deal, right? Water’s always there – it’s nothing special, so why celebrate it?

Actually water is quite special. When it comes to virtually all its uses there is not a substitute. Run out of oil? Use gas. Run out of gas? Burn coal. Run out of water? Hmmm…

Some might say, “Yeah, you’re right, but in the developed world there are no problems. We have plenty of clean water.” Let me rock your world. Think Flint, Michigan, where lead contamination of the tap water has plagued the populace and charted an uncertain future for many children: the effects of lead contamination are irreversible. How about the chlorine-resistant parasite Cryptosporidium parvum that contaminated Milwaukee’s drinking water supply in 1993? About 400,000 people – about 25% of the greater Milwaukee area – were sickened. Sixty-nine people died. The irony was that Milwaukee was generally considered to have an excellent water system. Yet it is now known for being the site of the largest documented waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. history [see http://bit.ly/1o377aN]. Has Milwaukee’s water system come back? Yes, but it took time. Would I drink Milwaukee’s tap water now? Sure would!

There are other water problems we face today – it’s not all about polluted drinking water. The USA’s aging water infrastructure is a hot topic. The overpumping of some of the world’s aquifers is generating concern.

Drought is perhaps the most publicized issue. California and much of the American Southwest are drought-ridden. Around the world parts of Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean island nations, South Africa, and North Korea are just a few of the places enduring droughts.

All bad news, right? Not so fast, my friend.

There is another aspect of water that is dear to my heart and deserves exposure. It’s what I call hydrophilanthropy, a form of philanthropy that focuses on the water, sanitation and related needs of people. Here is one definition:

Hydrophilanthropy is defined as the altruistic concern for the water, sanitation, and related needs of humankind, as manifested by donations of labor, money, or resources. [see http://bit.ly/1pYPREZ]

Many organizations and individuals are involved with this endeavor. A few of the well-known ones are: Water for People, Engineers Without Borders, Rotary International, World Vision; Catholic Charities; U.S. Agency for International Development; Oxfam; WaterAid; Save the Children; Agua Para La Vida; El Porvenir; Lifewater; Living Water; and individual churches. What’s impressed me is the number of students who want careers with hydrophilanthropies. They want to devote much of their lives to helping others help themselves.

I’m glad World Water Day will be around for a while. But do celebrate this precious liquid every day, and try to imagine a No Water Day.

I’ll close with one of my favorite water aphorisms:

“In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong, there is nothing that can surpass it.” — Lao-tze, 6th century BCE

2014_0321_worldwaterday_mapMichael E. Campana is Professor of Hydrogeology and Water Resources Management at Oregon State University [the ‘other OSU’] in Corvallis, OR, and Technical Director of the American Water Resources Association. He is an unrepentant 24/7 WaterWonk. He blogs at http:///www.waterwired.org and Tweets at http://twitter.com/waterwired His email is aquadoc@oregonstate.edu 

Here is a link [http://bit.ly/1RwfitU] to a presentation he made in Dr. Audrey Sawyer’s Exploring Water Issues class on 16 February 2016. Her students were thoroughly engaged. If you want to read more about hydrophilanthropy, visit this category on his WaterWired blog: http://bit.ly/25hpuKQ and the January 2016 issue of Water Resources IMPACT [http://bit.ly/21Ez7yB]

 

So what happened at COP 21 & what does it have to do with the 2016 US presidential election?

There were three main takeaways from the Paris climate change talks. First, the Paris talks showed that, more than ever, there is a consensus around the world that climate change poses a threat and needs to be addressed.  None of the delegations were denying the science or arguing seriously that we shouldn’t make a serious effort to tackle the problem.  This hasn’t always been true in the past.

Second, COP 21 showed the importance of finding solutions that appeal to both developed and developing countries.  We need both groups of countries to participate in order to address the climate challenge, and the Paris Agreement seems to strike a better balance than most agreements in the past.

Third, COP 21 demonstrated the importance of climate finance.  Rich countries like the United States, Canada, Japan and those in Europe are going to have to offer more aid, loans and investments if they want developing countries to engage in serious efforts to mitigate (that is, reduce greenhouse gas emissions).  Developing countries also insist on more financial help to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which they’re already feeling.  COP 21 was successful largely because increased North-to-South financing was a big part of the negotiations.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which imposed binding targets only on industrialized countries to reduce their emissions, Paris relied on a different approach: Each country determined its own mitigation goal, known as an “intended nationally determined contribution,” or INDC.  More so than the Kyoto targets, these INDCs should match the individual circumstances and political realities in each country.  Also, unlike Kyoto, which focused on a small number of rich countries, the Paris Agreement calls for mitigation actions by almost every country in the world.  This is critical because most future emissions will come from the developing world.

The Paris approach to accountability and compliance is what might be described as a “pledge-and-review” system. Each country commits publicly to a mitigation target, or at least mitigation actions, and then they are subject to a combination of national reporting and centralized monitoring to see if they’ve lived up to their commitments.  Because the targets and actions aren’t legally binding, this is more of a political model of accountability than a legal model of compliance.  Nevertheless, the expectation is that there will be considerable pressure—from NGOs, publics and other governments—to follow through on these public pledges. The delegates in Paris also agreed that governments will be expected to increase the ambition of their commitments every five years.  This will provide regular opportunities for the application of added political pressure, domestically and internationally, to take on more serious commitments.

The success of the agreement in the United States will depend largely on the powers and political will of future presidents. President Obama quite intentionally sought a more informal agreement that could stand on its own without requiring ratification by the U.S. Senate, which is the normal procedure for formal international treaties.  That insulates the Paris Agreement from being vetoed at the domestic level.  Because he has faced so much opposition from Republicans in Congress when it comes to implementing climate policies at home, President Obama has relied on regulations under his control to reduce emissions, such as the EPA’s rules on emissions from power plants.  This means that a future president could indeed reverse many of these decisions.  The outcome of the 2016 presidential election could have a profound impact on the extent to which the United States is able to follow through on its international climate commitments.  While the United States is an important global leader, even if the future president decided to overturn President Obama’s actions, the Agreement as a whole may not be totally undermined. After all, it was adopted by 196 countries.

Alexander Thompson (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Political Science and a Faculty Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University. Thompson’s research addresses the question of why states create and how they design institutions at the international level.  Recent and ongoing projects focus on the evolution of the global climate regime, the negotiation and ratification of international investment agreements, legalization in the world trade, the politics of multilateral weapons inspections, the determinants of international organization performance, and the enforcement of international law.

The slogan "FOR THE PLANET" is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

International Women’s Day: Holding up half the sky

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and, depending on the circles you run with or the country you live in, you probably heard about it. In many countries, International Women’s Day is somewhat similar to a combination of America’s Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Friends and family celebrate the women in their lives with flowers and chocolates and warm wishes.

As a student involved in international affairs inside the classroom and out, yesterday was a great day to remember just how far women’s rights have come in many countries and how much work still needs to be done. My friends and I jokingly asked, “What about International Men’s Day? Does that exist?” And the reply was a sarcastic “Every day is International Men’s Day.” While this was obviously a joke and we all chuckled to ourselves, I can’t help but think about how true that is. In the same way that different ethnic groups have been fighting for rights in various countries for ages, the fight for women’s rights has too often been sidelined.

Women have made tremendous progress in the last century by redefining the words feminine and feminist; leading movements for the education of girls everywhere; becoming leaders in local, national, and global institutions; and showing everyone, everywhere that being a girl is a good thing.

Yet there’s so much more that we can do to aid the development of women. My call to action came when I saw the documentary Half the Sky. First of all let me say that this documentary is amazing, and it’s on Netflix so you should definitely check it out (it’s also a book, which is equally if not more brilliant). I watched the documentary in horror and disgust and so much hope.

“Women hold up half the sky.” What could be truer? Women make up half the population. There are quite literally billions of us, and nothing in this world would work if women didn’t help make it work. That alone was enough to make me want to jump up and do something, but I had to finish watching the documentary. I reached a part about Cambodia and the women there being trafficked into the sex industry. One woman, Somaly Mam, who had managed to make it out of the system turned around and charged right back at the problem. She helped locate and raid brothels, shut down trafficking rings, and opened up a sanctuary for girls to grow and learn and educate others. When she said, “Everyone can help. Everyone can do one thing. Start with your heart, what it wants,” I heard her. I decided that I would do something, so I applied and accepted a virtual internship with the U.S. State Department’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Now I submit open source reports on human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. And I do it all from my couch at home. It turns out that doing one thing is far easier than it sounds.

So what’s my point? My point is that holidays to celebrate women are nice, very nice even, but action, even a small action, is far better. You can join a movement or NGO, or help a little girl learn how to read, or provide school supplies for girls in underprivileged areas, or support women in politics, or stand up for a girl being hit on at a party. You can do any of that and so much more. Be a part of the solution. Women will not be sidelined any longer.

Beautiful Images by Tharasia

DeAnna Miller is a senior at The Ohio State University studying International Studies, Russian, History, and Political Science. She also works for the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and U.S. Department of State.