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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Unity in Diversity

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

By Sylvie Admore

ak47It doesn’t take swords and armies, or AK47 Kalashnikovs and military vehicles, to discriminate against someone. All it takes is for one person to treat you unfairly on the basis of your religion.

People of particular religions are often treated not on their own actions or merit, but on narrow stereotypes created by society and the media. Not every Muslim is a suicide bomber. Not every Jew is a banker. Not every Mormon rides a bicycle. Stereotyping is just one of the forms of discrimination many religious people face all over the world. Religious tolerance isn’t just having the freedom to choose what you believe in; it’s also having the freedom to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination.

st-bartholomews-dayThe right to believe
Thankfully, the global community as a whole is more accepting of religious diversity than ever before. In France 400 years ago, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, the massacres which took the lives of almost one hundred thousand people began. France’s streets ran red with the blood of Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) and Catholics alike. In the same country, two hundred years later on 26 August, 1789, the first ever document detailing the rights we have as human beings, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, was approved by the National Assembly. It states: No one shall be made to feel disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views. 150 years later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by most nations, included an article on religious tolerance (see ‘Article 18’ under Learn More).

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Walking the talk
While achievements like this should be acknowledged, we must realise that the fight for religious freedom is not over yet. “When you go through an airport, you know they are going to hardcore check you. [It’s not fair] to say that because you’re wearing a burqa or abaya, that you’ll be hiding weapons.” (Ayeesha, a Muslim girl living in New Zealand). To achieve religious freedom we must go beyond simply talking about acceptance and respect, and begin to practise this locally, nationally and globally. But in order to do this we must have a greater understanding of each other.

Interfaith Symbols

Across the world interfaith groups are trying to focus their work and discussions not on differences, but on shared values. The need of the moment is not One Religion, but mutual respect and tolerance of the devotees of the different religions. We want to reach not the dead level, but unity in diversity. The Soul of religion is One but it is encased in a multitude of forms. Truth is the exclusive property of no single set of scriptures. (Mahatma Gandhi).

Embracing difference
diwali-festivalAll over the world people’s horizons are widening as they are exposed to different cultures and beliefs. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have to come to terms with the growing presence of a range of religions that are quite new to our country. From 2001 to 2006, the number of Sikhs in New Zealand increased by eighty-three percent, whilst the number of Hindus and Muslims increased by fifty percent. In some cases we are embracing these changes. For example, the annual Diwali Festival (The Festival of Lights) on October 15 is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Newar Buddhists. But now hundreds of people with different beliefs gather together to celebrate the religious significance of the festival and our country’s increasing diversity.

Understanding is the key
Today in Aotearoa, and across the world, young people from many cultures and backgrounds learn and play together. We do not all follow the same religion. We may not practice any religion. We do not all celebrate our beliefs in the same way. But we do share a responsibility to increase our knowledge and understanding of those we share our world with and continue the work started in 1789.

We still have a way to go.

religious-tolerance-9TAKE ACTION!

  • Join Just Focus and discuss these and other global issues with other young people in Aotearoa
  • Check out interfaith activities taking place all over the country at
  • Get involved with the Youth Interfaith Core, a movement of young people building international relationships based on mutual respect and co-operation
  • Talk to people! Welcome the opportunity to meet people with different beliefs to your own.


Take time to find out more about different religions and those who practise them. Check out, or
Learn about human rights on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Read The Statement on Religious Diversity on the NZ Human Rights Commission website

declaration-of-human-rightsArticle 18
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.

A happy planet

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

By Megan Eldergirl-smiling

Someone once quoted to me “When I was in primary school, they told me to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down happy. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life.”

So what is it that makes us happy? And is it the same everywhere in the world?

Finding happiness
According to our parents money can’t buy happiness, love, friends etc. And do you know what? It really can’t. To me anyway, happiness is having my friends around me, a roof above my head and being content inside. To some, it might be knowing that you’ve studied enough to pass a test, played a great game of sport or simply have a moment to head to the beach and forget about study. For others it might be going on holiday, getting a new car, apartment or cell phone. In general people in the West tend to be more individualistic and being happy is often seen as a reflection of personal achievement or material wealth.

Global happinessrainbow-world
Around the world, happiness means different things to different people. In the more community based nations for example, China and South Korea, happiness and satisfaction is likely to come from fulfilling the expectations of family, self-discipline, cooperation and meeting social responsibilities. In some parts of the world, happiness is linked to religion. In Japan, the ancient Shinto religion is woven into the lives of all of the country’s citizens. A happy life is a gift given from the Gods above. For most Muslims true happiness is found in knowing their purpose in life and by following the commands of God. Happiness is an exclusive quality of the soul and therefore cannot be attained by material success - money, power, fame, etc.

In Bhutan, a country which is one of the most isolated and least developed countries in the world, the wealth of the country is measured in Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH was designed to protect the resources of Bhutan so they wouldn’t be exploited by the pursuit for development and national wealth. Law states that not less than 65% of the land must be covered in trees, and because of this law, 72% of Bhutan is covered in forest. The laws of GNH state that the government must conserve and promote Bhutanese culture, including language, art and national dress, to ensure that these traditions are not lost. In contrast most countries use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measures economic output only. Put simply, GDP measures a country’s level of happiness (or wellbeing) on its wealth, while GNH measures a country’s wealth based on the level of happiness.meditation

No one, in any part of the world, is going to be happy all the time, in fact it would be kind of weird to be happy 24/7, but despite our differences happiness is an integral part of people’s lives all over the world. In general it seems to depend less on what you have materially and more on your social, mental and spiritual resources.

I definitely want to be happy when I grow up.


  • Laugh! You could even join a laughter club. The concept of laughter clubs was started in India about 10 years ago by Dr Kataria, who was doing research into the health benefits of laughter. He went to the local park gathering friends and family to come and laugh with him. It started with a few jokes with friends and has grown into a world wide phenomenon. There are now 5000 clubs all over the world, including a couple in NZ!
  • Talk to someone new. Talking to someone can bring unexpected surprises and you might make a new friend, or make a real difference in their life.
  • Join people around the world and celebrate World Laughter Day on 4 May.
  • Check out The Happy Planet Index which measures ecological efficiency alongside human well-being and happiness. Calculate your own happy planet index.


A blog of one woman who tested all the happiness tips, theories and experiments available for a year.
An interesting article about Gross National Happiness in Bhutan and the ideas and concepts behind it.
Check out the Gross International Happiness Project who want to take Bhutan’s idea to the rest of the world.
This website has a great summary of some important thoughts on happiness by some of the world’s great philosophers.

    Mapuche, the people of life

    Monday, December 3rd, 2007

    By Gonzalo Garcés
    Translated by AJ McDougall

    Mapuche CeremonyThe Mapuche, are a people originally from the south of Latin America, whose name means “people or persons of the earth”, and whose worldview has been intimately connected to the natural environment. It is said that “Mapu à‘uke”, or Mother Nature, has given the Mapuche culture and society the knowledge they possess. This knowledge is transmitted through conversation in sacred places of the natural world linking Mapuche to the earth and to family.

    SnakeEvery part of the natural world, including human beings and the dead, possess a spirit. Amongst them there are caring and guiding spirits of nature. For example, stones and serpents have an important role in the Mapuche way of life. Even now, the Mapuche ask permission to pass through certain places that are considered sacred. On such occasions, the Mapuche people take time to appreciate these places and ask for the protection of the earth and their families, as part of their attempts to overcome the unfortunate realities for their people.

    The sacred places, such as the paliwe and the nguillatuwe, are spaces where the Mapuche pray, give thanks, and share with the spirits their desire to see them respected and to see the Mapuche culture survive.

    The history of the Mapuche people is a history full of battles in defense of the earth. These battles have continued for more than 500 years, since the attempted takeover of the area by the Inka and the Spanish, and later the battles against the genocide attempts of Chilean and Argentinean governments at the end of the 19th Century. These attempts have not ceased, and Mapuche FarmlandChile and Argentina have increased their efforts to transform their culture into spitting images of Western society. Big business has also appeared on the scene. These businesses have claimed — and continue to claim — to those same governments that Mapuche land would be better utilised through the development of economic projects such as single-crop forestation. Yet they do so without planning nor providing for the harmful effects on both human and environmental health.

    Historically a system of private property did not exist on “Mapuche territory”. There weren’t any fences nor were there extensive plantations of single-crop forestation like that which exists today, but instead the people were free to roam. They could take freely whatever was needed for the continued sustenance of Mapu à‘uke.

    Mapuche DanceThe Chilean government has, throughout history, pushed through “social integration policies” which have attempted to destroy the unique customs of the Mapuche people, and in this way the Mapuche social organisation has been twisted and modified through the imposition of unknown and destructive social models. These politicians, who are not part of the Mapuche culture or way of life, do not understand or value the traditional lifestyles of the Mapuche people, instead imposing new lifestyles upon them.

    This is but a brief snapshot of the relationship the Mapuche people have with the state and big business.

    There currently exists a situation which is worrying. Seven Mapuche political prisoners are on a hunger strike that has recently reached 42 days. The strikers are our Mapuche peà±i (brothers) and lamgnen (sister). They are striking for: the freedom of all Mapuche political prisoners throughout various Chilean jails; demilitarisation and an end to the oppression of various roaming Mapuche communities so that they can exercise their political and territorial rights; and an end to the political-judicial conspiracies against Mapuche organisers and leaders.

    Mapuche ManTo speak of Mapuche political prisoners, and to speak of their ethnic, political, and territorial demands, has been criminalised by the Chilean government, placing the interests of big business over and above those of the Mapuche communities involved. Because of these events, Chile has received international condemnation and many recommendations to end the criminalization of the Mapuche people. One such recommendation came from the UN’s Rodolfo Stavenhagen.

    Mapuche men and women are not the violent people they are made out to be by the government through their utilisation of the media. The continued struggle of our Mapuche brothers and sisters tells us that they are not ready to renounce that which is most precious and beautiful to them: the earth, la mapu.


    You can find more information on how to support the Mapuche cause at:

    You can sign a petition to President Michelle Bachelet and the Chilean Government led by at

    Gonzalo Garcés is from Chile and is an Oxfam International Youth Partner. He recently attended Kaleidescope in Sydney, check out Pip Bennett’s article on her experience at this event.

    All photos are from


    Monday, December 3rd, 2007

    By Pip Bennett

    Four months after I had first submitted my application to become an Oxfam International Youth Partner (OIYP) I was informed that I was one of the 300 youths from around the world that had been chosen from over 3000 applications to join the programme.

    kaleidoscopeOIYP is a three year programme, which aims to build the capacity of the Action Partners (the name given to Youth Partners) by providing us with support and resources, and creating opportunities for dialogue, networking and learning. Our first opportunity came in October this year at Kaleidoscope, a festival where all of the Action Partners come together in Sydney, for nine days of workshops, dances, performances, art, theatre and meeting a zillion new people.

    Arriving in Sydney airport, we made our way to meet the Oxfam volunteers in charge of taking us to the school. We chatted with youth from Iraq and Lebanon about the war and George Bush, which was quite humourous at times because of the jokes they told expressing their feelings about Bush and his administration. Throughout the week, the situation in Iraq was certainly a feature of many discussions with many of the youth asking those from the region for their local perspective, and it seemed that the consensus was that it was detrimental to pull out U.S forces, whether or not they should have gone in the first place.

    We stayed at the oldest school in Australia, the prestigious Kings School, in Parramatta and were divided into various dorm houses. I was one of only three non-Muslim girls to stay in the Muslim side of my house. They tried to keep them separate in order to stop disturbing other non-Muslim participants while they got up early for Ramadan. Staying in this dorm was an excellent experience. Over the week I had many opportunities to discuss various topics, including religion, Islam extremists, and terrorism. The sharing of beliefs and experiences was enlightening, particularly because I have found few opportunities like this back home. There were participants from about 90 countries, from all over the world, Canada, the U.S, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Spain, Chile, and Honduras, just to name a few!

    Darug PeopleThe welcoming ceremony took place on the first night, hosted by the Darug people, the indigenous people of the area. There was Aboriginal song and dance, which was responded to by various groups such as Aotearoa New Zealand, Bangladesh, India, and First Nations of the Americas. It was an incredible start to the event, and was at times very emotional.

    The official opening ceremony was held on the Tuesday night, at the Carriage Works performance venue. It was a show by youth from the Australian Theatre for Young People and some members from Cirque du Soliel which had been inspired by world affairs and our applications for OIYP. Amongst other things, there was singing, acrobatics, and a young woman carefully balancing an spinning umbrella on her feet whilst lying backwards and upside-down on a chair.

    WorkshopDuring the week there were six plenary sessions, along with around fifty workshops, some of which were led by Action Partners. Some of the workshops were only two hours long, while others were four hours over two days. Topics ranged from project management, indigenous rights, land rights, to access to health, access to education, gender and equality, gender and sexuality, and using photography and film. They were helpful, although complaints arose due to their brevity and lack of international or easily transferable context. A complaint from the Latin Americans was that there was too great a focus on Western culture and issues, rather than a diverse representation

    There were a significant number of Spanish speakers from Spain, and Latin America, with many of them unable to speak much, if any, English. A significant proportion of Oxfam volunteers could speak Spanish, and were used during workshops as translators or at the help desk. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about Latin America, however, there were difficulties in meeting and talking with the participants outside of workshops because of the lack of linguistic understanding.

    One of the special things about OIYP was the support of indigenous participants, in particular the availability of an indigenous Australian who acted like a mentor, as well as a space available for Indigenous people to meet and discuss issues, the Indigenous Forum. Being non-indigenous myself, I was invited to attend the Indigenous Forum, which was an unforgettable experience. I heard unnerving stories, particularly from the Americas, where indigenous people are constantly ignored and their identity denied.

    Kaleidescope ArtWe had several opportunities to explore Sydney, predominantly in the evenings, although we did have one free afternoon. Many of us went to a salsa club on Friday night and some gay clubs on the Saturday. Art and dance was a significant part of Kaleidoscope, with Oxfam wanting to explore the power of various forms of art as a tool for development. There were large canvases for painting, dance, song, beat-boxing performances, all with opportunities to try it yourself. A particular highlight for me was watching dancers from Brazil, along with Capoeira performers.

    At the end of the nine days in Sydney, although ready to return home, we were all sad to leave. The opportunity to spend time with other young people with similar dreams and goals proved to us that we are not alone in our desire to see change in the world. The one thing that we keep telling each other is that this is only the beginning of our next three years as Action Partners, and that if we want to see change, we have to do it ourselves.


    For more information on OIYP, check out
    For more information about Oxfam and their work, check out

    All photos from Oxfam International, more here.

    I am a Muslim

    Thursday, December 7th, 2006

    mosqueIt is a Sunday and I am inside my first ever mosque. Today is a learning day where all the young people gather to learn about their faith. Happy laughing kids run around the corridors and burqa wearing women cook up a mean sausage sizzle. I am greeted by a pākehā woman (also in a burqa) who leads me to a group of teens willing to talk about growing up as Muslims in NZ. Where are all the terrorists, I wonder slightly disappointed by the obvious joy in the mosque. Clearly they are not all into blowing themselves up and abusing women. But I had to find out for sure. What is this thing called Islam?

    I talked to three New Zealand teenagers about their life in a largely agnostic/Christian country…

    Where are your parents from and have you ever lived in another country?

    Salma: Both my parents are Arabian. I grew up in Kuwait; I was born during the Gulf War. I also lived in india and Jordon before moving to NZ.

    Did your parents leave because of war?

    Salma: They found it hard to live in a country with so much conflict. They came as refugees.

    Alam: My parents are from Fiji and I was born here. And lived here till I was 14 before moving to Dubai. We moved there for a chance to live in a Muslim country. Actually the only difference is there are mosques everywhere and you can eat easily because all the meat is halal. (Especially prepared)

    Ayeesha: Both my parents are Iraqi and lived there till I was 6 years old. Then we moved to Yemen for a year and then came here. I’ve been here for about 7 years. Iraq is not the most secure place to bring up a child and opportunities are more prolific here.

    What are you doing here today?

    Salma: We start at about 10 and we have koranic learning. We learn about it and how to read it. The little kids have to learn the alphabet. In the afternoon we have religious studies and the history of Islam.

    What are the foundations of Islam?

    Salma: In terms of moral guidelines we have the same basis of the 10 commandments. It’s just common sense and what all society is based upon. But in terms of action we have the five pillars of Islam which dictates how we live our lives and the routines we go through every day. For example we have prayer five times a day and fasting once per month.

    How do you fit praying five times a day into a normal life?

    Ayeesha: We just pray at school. We have a room.

    How long does a prayer last?

    Alam: Five minutes. But it’s quite good because it keeps you focused. It’s a very good time for reflection and you can go over your own faith.

    Do you ever get to sleep in?

    Ayeesha: Well you get up and pray and then go back to bed for a sleep in! You can live your life with praying.
    Salma: We don’t even think about it. We get raised that way. It’s not forced upon you until puberty but by then it’s just such an entrenched habit that you don’t really think twice about it.

    How could you want to get up at 6am to pray?

    Ayeesha: It’s a want. I know I will be accounted on this on the day of judgment. I’m pretty religious so I know I’ll be punished in the hereafter.

    How do you know this?

    Ayeesha: Because it’s written in the Koran.
    Does stuff going on overseas affect you?

    Ayeesha: We see what other Muslims do overseas and we think they’re going to represent Islam in a bad way and they’re going to make it look bad. If a non Muslim steals something, it’ll be he’s just a thief. But if a Muslim does it, they’re a Muslim thief and they’re distinguished big time. If you have massive numbers of Muslims dying it won’t be mentioned, but if 11 Americans die it’s a huge deal.

    Salma: The main thing that people really understand is that the reason why extremists do what they do is it’s not religious. It’s mainly political. In terms of political differences, people turn to religion. At the same time you’ve got cultural factors influencing how you understand religion. We see these people on TV, we understand they don’t mirror our sentiments and our actions but most people don’t see that. They’ve become caricatures now. I think people have to realise that what’s being shown in the media doesn’t represent. It’s in the papers constantly, on the news but those people are not the majority of Muslims. You don’t hear about the rest of us because we just lead normal lives.

    Last month national MP Bob Clarkson opened his gob and said “Islam religion-type people’ who wear burqas could be crooks hiding guns. Do you understand why he might have that attitude?

    Ayeesha: When you go through an airport, you know they are going to hard core check you. You can’t really say that because they’re wearing a burqa or abaya, they’ll be hiding weapons. They’ve got all this technology to check. They just have to pick it up and use it. You could be hiding a bomb under a jersey. Really it’s just all clothes, not just burqas.

    Have you been flying?

    Ayeesha: I went to Auckland. I wore my black abaya. They checked me hard core. She checked my bag. I was definitely being checked way more than other girls. It hurts but because of what politicians say and what’s going on, you just have to deal with it.
    muslim girl
    Could you help me understand why a female body should be covered?

    Ayeesha: It’s to do with attraction. If it’s not covered properly then the guy would be attracted and then you’d start dating and it would lead to more problems. If you start off with basic rules and you apply them, you’ll be safe.

    What if a woman feels attracted to a man? Would that be bad?

    Alam: We have our coverings as well. Most people don’t understand that it was ordered to the women to cover up but before that, the men were ordered to lower their gaze.

    Can you be attracted to someone’s personality?

    Salma: The thing is we’ve all known each other for a long time so we’re just really good buddies and we don’t think of each other that way. It’s just a good place to come and hang out with like minded people.

    How do you meet someone you could love? Do you ever dream of romance?

    Alam: All these feelings are normal for human beings and you can’t be blamed for them. What you can be blamed for is how you act on them.

    Salma: What people normally do when they want to get married is find someone else in the community who is ready to get married.

    Alam: My mother might talk to her mother.

    Salma: It’s through the grapevine of the mothers. We all know what’s going on each others lives.

    How if you’re not allowed to date. How would you meet your husband?

    Ayeesha: You don’t have to date to find a husband. We do talk to guys but you have to know your limits. My parents and I will eventually decide oh this is a good guy for me’ so I’ll sit there and talk to him, try to understand to understand what he knows about Islam. If he’s a good Muslim then he has what I’m looking for in a husband. We’ll get engaged to get to know each other a bit more and eventually we’ll get married. You don’t have to date someone to marry them.

    So it’s arranged?

    Salma: A lot of people think that arranged marriages are part of Islam. But they’re not. It’s cultural. It isn’t just Islam. Islam doesn’t force you have to arranged marriages; it’s just part of the culture. Just optional.

    So falling in love comes later?

    Ayeesha: Is he a good Muslim, that’s the first question? Does he pray in the mornings? Some people if they’re not religious, they’ll be like oh it’s so early, screw this, I’ll pray later’. But if they’re deeply religious, they will get up and pray and do the things that Muslims do.

    Is it hard to fit in here?

    Ayeesha: It was hard for me to grow up in a Muslim society and then move to NZ. There are all the actions of what New Zealanders do, such as going out and having boyfriends. Then there’s me having to apply what I learnt as a young child. It’s very difficult. But things that have made it easier for me are coming to the mosque and doing all the traditions that my parents have taught me. They keep it with them. They like tell me ok you have to pray now, so I do. It’s hard but…

    Do you ever feel like an outsider?

    Salma: I think you have be very convinced of what you’re believing in. If you’re just living your faith for the sake of it and you don’t really believe in it, you’re just doing it because you have to, it’s not going to be a very successful attempt to assimilate into a culture. If you are very strong in your convictions and you understand why you don’t do it, you can explain it to them. Most people don’t bother you too much about it. A lot of times you can have a normal social life, you know, going to the movies and stuff.

    You must hear people talking about boys and going out…

    Ayeesha: Of course but I’m very used to it now. But I tell my friends look this is part of my culture, I can’t be with you at this time because you’re going to be drinking or doing drugs and it’s against my religion. Most friends try and understand my religion but others are just like oh that’s so weird, how could you not have a boyfriend’. They say all these things to make you feel bad about yourself but then I realise these aren’t friends.

    Are you ever tempted?

    Ayeesha: Of course. It’s just the way your hormones work. You can’t really do anything about it. Sometimes I get pressured but my true friends know it’s wrong for me. They’ll do it themselves. Everyone does it and I’m used to it. But I want to stick to what I believe.

    Your parents must have done a great job to keep you on track

    Ayeesha: I grew up very religious and I competed in Koranic readings. All the centres have competitions for the best readers. I just flew up to the nationals in Auckland. I always enter them. I love doing things like that. It keeps me on track. I got 3rd nationally.

    What do you think of kiwi chicks who wear tight jeans and short skirts?

    Ayeesha: I’m fine with it. This is their culture. I just do my thing. I’m not against anyone. Deep inside I know it’s wrong for me. You can’t change someone.

    Do you know what it’s like to be a Muslim woman in Afghanistan and what’s the difference?

    Salma: Most people don’t realise that what you see with regards to Muslim women over there is related to the culture of being an Afghani. It’s a lot more restrictive for them. Ayeesha and I really don’t feel as restricted as people’s impression that we are. We live slightly different lives in that we can’t do some things but we can do other things. But it doesn’t make this huge impact on our lives that most people would believe.

    This article was originally written for and published in the October 2006 issue of JET magazine. It is reproduced here with their kind permission.

    My PYF experience: a reflection

    Monday, October 30th, 2006

    TeRito Peyroux

    TeRito, Jacob and Rosie
    In March of this year, before even sending an application to be part of the New Zealand delegation attending the inaugural Pacific Youth Festival (PYF) in Tahiti, I was already excited. I suppose it was almost as if I knew that my going would be a liberating home-coming of sorts, to a place in Polynesia which (like Rotuma, Rarotonga and Aitutaki) is a significant part of both my family heritage and cultural identity “Liberating” in the sense that I would be returning to Tahiti without the comfort and security of my parents or ma’piga on hand, should I want it.

    So with my own cultural identity being at the root of initial thoughts and feelings from the very beginning, it was quite natural (after finding out that I had actually been accepted to go and would therefore need to look for funds) that my attitude, learning and overall experience of the PYF were strongly influenced by things pertaining to cultural identity. My cultural identity–as a multiethnic, urban New Zealand born and raised, Methodist young woman, in 2006.
    For sure, the PYF provided a myriad of conferences and workshops ranging from health and education right through to governance and sustainable development, which were designed to be all very relevant to the 1000 or so youth participants in attendance. There was even a representational group that met devotedly every evening to help piece together a Pacific Youth Charter, on the PYF’s behalf.

    Of course, no Pacific gathering would be complete without the flamboyance, richness and celebration of cultural dance, songs, stories and friendships, and in a land so well versed in creative Maohi performance and hospitality, Tahiti was certainly no exception. This was superbly complemented by the nation’s annual Heiva festivities as well.

    I suppose I could also dedicate a paragraph of my reflection to the political woes of French Polynesia and other Pacific Island nations that were shared from the perspectives of those whose portrayals when shared in the media aren’t usually very comprehensive (if they’re shared at all). However, due to my fear of digressing, with regard to politics, I’ll stop right here.
    Still bearing all of the above in mind, the main highlight for me is something that even up until now I pleasantly continue to unwrap. From this PYF experience, my highlight came in the realisation that regardless of things measurable, predictable or linear, my sense of belonging and cultural identity is something that I journey toward discovering, understanding and accepting for myself, and thus I need not anyone else to demarcate for me.

    Regardless of whether I’m a son or a daughter; whether I’m a first, last or even only child; whether or not I can fluently speak my mother/father/or ma’piga tongue for that matter; whether I’m half, quarter or an eighth of an ethnicity, whether I can sing hymns or chant ri jaujau; regardless even of my religion or whether my theology is orthodox, liberation or otherwise influenced …by birth and by upbringing, I am a part of all of these types of variables and they are all a part of me.

    Thus in relation to my ethnic identity for instance, despite the arithmetic and despite any explanations or justifications, I am Rotuman. I am Tahitian. I am French. I am Scottish. I am a Cook Islander. I am a New Zealander. I belong and have just as much of a right and responsibility to each of these different groups as anyone else whose journey through understanding their own sense of identity and belonging leads them to these places also.
    And so, with very cherished experiences in heart, a host of stirred understandings in head, heaps of awe-inspiring new friends on hand, and a nurtured spirit in tact, I certainly look forward to the next Pacific Youth Festival which is expected to be held in Fiji.

    eating taro ice-cream with friends
    TeRito attended the Pacific Youth Festival as part of the Just Focus contingent. This reflection was originally shared in the NZ Rotuman Association Quarterly and also put up on the Rotuma Website.

    DRUGS: Nobody’s is winning the war

    Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

    Phoebe Borwick and Amy Donohue

    opium poppiesThe trade behind cocaine (or coca, as the plant of origin is known) and heroin (which comes from opium poppies) is a global issue. An estimated four million people depend on income derived from the cultivation of illicit drug crops. In the year 2000, the global drug trade was estimated at a value of US$400 billion. It’s an issue worth more than the price of feeding the planet over the same period of time.

    From the rainforests of South America to the remotest parts of Afghanistan to Pete Doherty’s honker, we trace the journey of the most profitable crops in the world.

    From the dark ages…
    Way back when we were still running around with leaves covering our lower regions, South Americans chewed the leaf of the coca plant. Often incorrectly considered a narcotic, cocaine is actually a stimulant and when chewed suppresses hunger, while increasing strength and energy.

    Cue the Spaniards arriving in South America and branding coca a plant that the devil invented for the total destruction of the natives’. Or, that’s what one prominent Catholic artist declared.
    They changed their minds a bit when they discovered it really did stimulate quite nicely thus legalising it and charging a nifty little tax for their own economic benefit. For a time, coca was even the main source of income for the Roman Catholic Church. Sneaky, sneaky!

    …to today…
    Ironically, the two most fatal drugs are still legal today and taxed to the hilt by governments around the world. Alcohol and tobacco kill more people than illicit drugs every year and are both widely accepted and available.

    The very fact that other drugs are illegal increases the profit to be made. With criminals running the show, the prices skyrocket.

    …to leafy fields…
    Cocaine is an economical crop for farmers not only because of its high selling cost and ever-present demand, but its quick maturation period. Within one to two years of planting the seed, the coca plant’s leaves will be ready to harvest with a drying period of only six hours. And opium poppies have an even quicker yield.

    …to environmental destruction…
    More than 30 years ago, the US came up with the superhero tactic to rid the world, and especially their own country (where the demand was coming from), of the evil empire of narcotics. They called it the War on Drugs.
    george bush
    The most widespread method of destroying the coca plant in the 90s, and the opium poppy still today, was to manually pull up every single plant in a field. Time consuming and tiring, there must have been an easier way?

    Consequently, air eradication with herbicides became rather popular. In as little as ten days after spraying, the plants are stripped bare of their leaves and within around 70 days, the plant will be completely dead. RIP, indeed. US-sponsored Plan Colombia was, to effect, an aerial fumigation of this country — the second most ecologically diverse in the world. Spraying caused poisoning and environmental damage.

    Herbicides have been linked to diarrhoea, hair loss and skin rashes on children. Also, legal crops like bananas, coffee and pineapples are often destroyed along with the coca plant. Yes, we have no bananas. Not quite the lycra and rippling muscles the US had envisaged. In Afghanistan, post the US-led invasion, local and international troops are enlisted in eradicating poppy crops — as are schoolchildren in some provinces. This is dangerous work.

    Imagine you’re a farmer who’s invested cash and time in a poppy field. How would you feel if you saw it being literally stamped out? Might make you want to protect your only chance of making a living. Where’s that gun that’s been lying around since the war? Further problems arise as more coca plants and poppies are eradicated. Demand for the drug remains constant (or grows) while there are fewer crops, resulting in the existing crops becoming more lucrative. More farmers then begin to grow the plant to take advantage of the price increase. What a conundrum!

    …to poverty…
    With secrecy comes vulnerability and international drug rings are not covered by fair trade agreements. Globalisation of the drug trade has led to even greater exploitation of the crop farmers along with cheaper and easier international trafficking. The globalisation of the drug trade forms a connection between organised crime, small arms, terrorism, human trafficking and all kinds of criminal and seedy life.

    In 1999, nearly 80 per cent of opium cultivation took place in Afghanistan. Chances are, a gram of coke purchased in the US, Europe or New Zealand comes from a coca bush grown in the Andean countries. In fact, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru account for more than 98 per cent of the world supply. Already in poverty, working with poor soil and unempowered to change their circumstances — not to mention the influence of drug lords and anti-government groups — farmers often have no choice if they want to keep food on the table.

    Yet, the War on Drugs is not being won. The US’ efforts to strip Latin America and Afghanistan of their coca and poppy crops are also stripping the livelihood of millions. While thrill-seekers in the west demand the drugs, and their governments react by trying to stop the supply, farmers will continue to grow the illicit crops unless they are offered a real alternative way to make a living.

    ….to terrorism…

    Yes, that’s right. Terrorism. Stop or they’ll shoot (up). The links between terrorism, drugs and war are extensive and very real. In 2001, just weeks before two planes barrelled into the Twin Towers, the US pledged a further $1.5m to plump out the reported $140m in ‘humanitarian’ aid it sent to Afghanistan. Why?

    Because western methods of enforcing drug cultivation laws proved ineffective, but groups with violent means available to them could whip out grenades and guns willy nilly, without a thought for morality. The Taliban was limiting drug production by threatening to shoot farmers of illicit crops. Thus, they were held in high American esteem until everything went to custard on September 11.

    But the corruption ran deeper. After the attacks, the Taliban turned tail to force farmers to grow the poppies. They, and other anti-government organisations, act as trafficking middlemen and a defence force, making profit out of the trade and protecting drug smugglers with weaponry and vehicles.

    Still wanna get high, butterfly?
    So, you still down with shovelling that candy up your nose this Friday? Are you quite content to continue your involvement with one of the world’s deadliest industries? You don’t need to rent Traffic, Requiem for a Dream or Maria Full of Grace to understand the true repercussions of your habit on the developing countries of the world. And if you still don’t get it, then you must be wasted. Go blow your nose and have an OJ.


    Afghanistan country profile
    Colombia country profile
    Drugs: an overview
    Drug Policy Alliance is America’s leading organisation working to end the war on drugs.
    The worldwide collective of committed scholar-activists at Transnational Institute
    Illegal Drugs: Scourge or Globalization’s Great Equalizer? by Baylen J. Linnekin

    This article was originally published in Tearaway magazine as part of the Global Focus project.


    Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

    Eva Lawrence, Just Focus Coordinator

    angel wingsReligion and spirituality are a huge part of our world, and help form the culture and values of many millions of people within it. Religion is a really contentious issue… probably because it is so essential to so many people. The discussion board on the Just Focus website, which I regularly visit, has a thread on religion that has been going now for almost a year with heaps of comments and heated debate. I felt a bit ignorant about religion, so I thought I would do some exploring.

    taj mahalReligion is a way for people to connect to a power greater than themselves, to try to make sense of the things that are difficult, or impossible to explain purely with logical reason. It offers solace in hard times, and an avenue to give thanks for the good stuff. It provides teachings on how to go about that difficult task of living right’, and gives comfort when we think about our own death, and that of our loved ones.

    But despite all the peaceful behaviour taught, religion can be, and has been, used as an excuse for war and all sorts of human rights abuses. Religion is incredibly powerful because followers often believe that their own religion is the only “truth” and therefore they are sanctioned by their god to act in a particular way, even if this hurts other people.
    Buddha statue
    Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “Religion is like a knife. When you use a knife for cutting up bread to prepare sandwiches, a knife is good. If you use the same knife to stick into somebody’s guts, a knife is bad. Religion in and of itself is not good or bad.”

    Therefore, religion can be a power for good but also has the potential for evil — depending on how it is interpreted by humans at particular times and in particular circumstances. Perhaps one way to maximise the positive side to religion, and minimise the negative is to increase understanding of what different religions exist and what they are all about.
    inside a mosque
    World Snap Shot
    So what does the world look like?

    If the world contained 1000 people, it would include 315 Christians, 195 Muslims, 165 “non religious” people, 56 Buddhists, 135 Hindus, 59 Chinese Traditionalists (or folk religion), 2 Jews, and 49 other religious/spiritual believers.

    Potato Religion
    “Religion is like a potato restaurant — it’s the same food served different ways”.
    This epiphany came from my wise friend Heather one day while we were eating fish and chips. I tend to agree. I don’t mean to discount the importance of each belief system, or to say they are all the same. What I mean is that basically the teaching intrinsic in all world religions is “be a good person”.
    The rules’ of various religions usually include: don’t steal, don’t commit adultery and don’t murder anyone.

    Religion in Aotearoa
    In God-zone’/Aotearoa, the diversity in religious beliefs is increasing according to the 2001 census.

    Over half the population affiliate with a Christian religion. While this is a lot, it is much less than even 50 years ago.
    christian statue
    From 1996 to 2001 there was about a 50% increase in the number of Buddhists and Hindus in NZ. The number of Muslims increased by around 75% and the number of people who identified with a form of spiritualism’ increased by around 60%. However as of 2001, each of these groups still made up less than 1% of the population. In this same census, almost 4 out of 10 people did not specify a religious affiliation. Do you?


    When I started writing this piece I wanted to write an idiot’s guide to religion — a basic snapshot of what the major religions are about and what beliefs each have. But after doing a whole lot of reading, I realise I would have to simplify stuff so much it would be meaningless. So…you will have to do your own homework to become an expert!

    • Find out about other religions — the more understanding, the less confusion and fear. is a website with info on many different religions
    • Beliefnet is the largest spiritual web site. They are independent and not affiliated with any spiritual organization or movement. They say their only agenda is to help you meet your spiritual needs.
    • hannukahPeople of Faith - Here you can begin to explore the rich diversity of the world’s main faiths and religions from the viewpoint of individuals from each faith and religion. They’ve included details of some of the main features of each religion together with a ‘personal’ view of what is ‘believed’, what it means to ‘belong’, and how a person’s belief affects what they do and say
    • Global Issues magazine on religion
    • Just Change Magazine on religion

    This article was originally published in Jet magazine in the Focus column.

    War on liberties

    Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

    Eva Lawrence, Just Focus Coordinator

    hands behind barsThe world, since September 11 is a different place. The media permanently talks about the latest terrorist threat’ and we have a whole new vocabulary: war on terrorism’ and WMD. There is a lot of fear, and in this state of fear we are quietly allowing our freedoms to slip away.

    We are being scared with potential terrorist threats and this is being used as justification to strip us of some of our most precious and hard won rights including our freedom of expression, movement and association. Historically tyrants have always stamped out free speech before anything else. These are part of our human rights that are sanctioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and our so integral to our way of life we often take them for granted.

    However changes to laws worldwide are threatening our rights. The changes have tended to be gradual and quiet, presumably so we do not notice or become quickly alarmed. They are happening now.

    Liberties under threat overseas
    In December 2005 a 25 year old woman in the UK was convicted for reading out the names of the 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq, under the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. In another case in the UK last September, An 80 year old WWII veteran was arrested, under the Terrorism Act, for wearing a T-shirt that said that Bush and Blair should be tried for war crimes (Pilger). Both these examples impinge on our freedom of opinion and expression.

    The US Patriot Act has allowed for the arrest and imprisonment of suspected terrorists’. They have been denied access to US legal process; most still held without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. A recent United Nations report has also found that prisoners have been tortured. Where is their right to be free of arbitrary arrest and exile?

    What about here in Aotearoa?
    According to human rights lawyer Rodney Harrison, despite the fact that the threat of terrorist’ attack is virtually non existent in Aotearoa New Zealand, a number of laws (eg. The Citizenship and Travel Documents Bill ) have been created and altered in the name of security and the war on terror’ that have reduced our freedoms. Also, with the exception of the Terrorism Suppression Act, they have no sunset clause’ which means the restrictions to our freedoms are not until the supposed threat’ has past, but permanently.

    Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian was imprisoned on the justification that he was a security threat but there was no expression of what he actually was accused of doing, as it was called classified security information’. Still now, he is under curfew in his home and awaiting the review of the security risk certificate issued against him.

    What is a terrorist threat?
    The word terrorist’ conjures up images of crazed fanatics killing indiscriminately. However there is no one terrorist’ group and the term is often used by those in power to describe those that they oppose. We need to understand what each of the separate groups is about and why they take the actions that they do. To understand the causes does not mean that you think the actions are acceptable or justified.

    Also, think about how some of the actions of political leaders and media impacts on the risk of terror attacks. Creating a climate of intolerance and hyper-fear around religious difference or systems of government can exacerbate or create a threat where there was little or none to begin with.

    It is understandable to have laws in place to be able to monitor and intercept possible threats to people. However, many of the definitions of threat are so vague that they could be used to justify interfering with people or groups, with no intent for violent acts, from expressing their opinion or taking part in groups.

    For example, in February, British police cited the Prevention of Terrorism Act when they arrested and interrogated three actors from of a recent film based on the true story of three men imprisoned and finally released from Guantanamo Bay. The actors and the three men the story was based on were arresting when returning from the Berlin Film Festival where the film was screened. They were questioned about their travel, who they had met with and the political convictions of the film’s director. The actors had no specific political connections and seemed to only be singled out due to their Asian ethnicity.

    Protect Your Rights
    While it is important to feel safe from danger, what ever that may be, it is also equally important for people’s civil and political rights to be protected. We don’t need to give up our freedoms to do this. In the words of the United Nations Secretary General: “Our responses to terrorism as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism — not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension.”

    It is our responsibility to know our rights and continue to exercise them. As Madonna once said: Express Yourself!

    Some of the Articles in the Declaration of Human Rights

    Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

    Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

    Article 20: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

    Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”

    Article 12 “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence…”

    Article 13 “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country’

    Article 14 “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”


    • Read the media critically, don’t buy into the fear
    • Understand your rights and use them


    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    Amnesty International

    UK police arrest stars of award-winning film “The Road to Guantanamo” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

    This article was originally published in Jet magazine in the Focus column.

    Hate ain’t sexy

    Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

    Daniel Dearnley

    prejudice1Sexuality prejudice —what is it, why does it happen, and how can we stop it?

    A 16 year-old Tennessee boy, Zach, recently came out’; he told his parents he was gay. Naturally, his parents only wanted to help their child in any way they could. They sent him to a Christian fundamentalist refuge programme’ to try to counsel him out of his homosexuality. He is still there, being treated as though homosexuality is a mental illness.

    As unfair as it seems, it’s not the worst that could happen. American man Matthew Shepard was beaten up one night in 1998 and left tied to a fence to die because he was gay.

    When AIDS victims in the U.S. died, a very dedicated Fred Phelps would picket their funerals with placards bearing slogans like God hates fags’.

    When things like this happen, prejudice is the problem.

    prejudice2Where does it come from?
    This prejudice can stem from many causes. A lot of people attribute it to ignorance and lack of understanding. It could also be fear: because they’re gay, they must be checking me out and have AIDS. This shows the influence of misinformation; for example, that all gay men have AIDS, whereas, in reality, the biggest form of transmission of HIV is heterosexual sex.

    This may also threaten or make people question their own sense of sexual identity. It could just be that some people need someone to bully, and people with a different sexuality or gender identity are seen as easy targets.

    Maybe people fixate not on sexuality, but on sexual practices they see as icky, such as anal sex, even though when you think about it any type of sex, homosexual or hetrosexual, is kinda gross.

    Sometimes the prejudice can be exacerbated by religious intolerance; people use religious texts to justify their prejudice and persuade others of their views — although there are also many religious people who oppose all prejudice.

    What does it look like?
    This kind of prejudice can cause anyone who doesn’t fit in a heterosexual box to feel ashamed, excluded and hurt. It can have an intense affect on their self-esteem and thought processes. Gay, lesbian, questioning and transgender people can be constantly teased and bullied, making it very difficult for them to come to terms with their own identity. They can be hurt by stereotypes, or diminished by assumptions and misinformation, like only gay men have HIV’. They are often victims of hate crime.

    Homosexuality is illegal in more than 80 countries (and was illegal in New Zealand until 1986). Even where it is legal, homosexuals are still often denied rights such as marriage or guaranteed equal opportunities in employment.

    But the good news is Civil Union Bills or legislation allowing gay marriage have been passed in several countries including, New Zealand, Canada and Spain.

    And in some countries and cultures, diverse sexualities and gender identities are accepted — like the fa’afine in Samoa, or in Thailand some people believe God created three genders, not two.


    All this low self-esteem, hate crime and discrimination can be a bit of a downer. And I know this sounds cheesy, but prejudice ultimately affects everyone, because we are excluding and alienating people who could be well worth knowing.

    • Challenge your own prejudices: everyone has prejudiced thoughts, so don’t feel guilty, just recognize that you have them and work to think and act differently.
    • Get to know people from groups who are discriminated against. It will help with understanding and not being scared.
    • School yourself up with the Prejudice Institute’s factsheet.
    • Write letters to Editors or to politicians — make sure they know it’s something you care about.
    • Link up with other people or organisations to organise pro-diversity, anti-prejudice events or groups
    • Call it when you see it.


    Zach’s protest site

    Rainbow Youth for some other young gay, lesbian and transgender stories about coming out.

    Understanding Prejudice — this is a great website for getting your head around prejudice.

    Oxfam International Youth Parliament- check out some of the cool things other young people are doing around the world — disproving the stereotypes.

    Illustrator Martin Wilkinson

    This article was written as part of the Global Focus a collaborative project of Tearaway Magazine and the Global Education Centre. It was first published in Tearaway magazine and is reprinted here with their permission.